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Friday, June 9 • 11:55am - 12:15pm
How to stimulate moral imagination about new technologies? A narrative-based experiment.

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In John Dewey and Moral Imagination, Steven Fesmire argues that imagination allows us to “concretely perceive what is before us in the light of what should be” (Fesmire, 2003). The practice of imagination indeed enables one’s perception to be amplified beyond the immediate environment and this is how moral judgment and moral deliberation are possible (Johnson, 1983). In the context of digital technology, the enhancement of moral imagination is generally suggested for helping engineers to discern the moral relevance of design problems, creating new design options, and considering the possible outcomes of their designs (Coeckelbergh, 2006).

Yet, how do we get the stakeholders of tech design (such as the scientists, engineers, designers, tech entrepreneurs but also the society in its whole) to practice moral imagination? How do we raise interest in this matter and especially, how do we stimulate moral imagination with the ambition to develop an ‘ethical culture in Tech?
Among the various paths that are envisaged for stimulating moral imagination, narratives are surely worth to be considered as a tool. As a matter of fact, they are seen as a ‘productive form of imagination’ that allows new possibilities rather than copies (Ricoeur, 1983; Reijers 2020).

In this line of arguments, this paper presents a design-based experiment where narratives are used as a heuristic method, as well as for their educational function. The experiment consists in gathering tech people, narrative specialists, visual artists as well as linguists and philosophers, and to invite them to create imaginary science-fiction movie posters and pitches.

In this way, we aim at observing how such an imaginative exercise foster moral judgment and deliberation by creating sensitivity towards the issue of moral imagination about new technologies. We then discuss how this narrative practice could enable participants to question various notions such as the one of an ‘ethical culture’ in tech.
In the context of the HASTAC conference, we wish to present the objectives and the methodology of this narrative-based experiment and to discuss its relevance.

Coeckelbergh M., Regulation or Responsibility? Autonomy, Moral Imagination, and Engineering, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol.31, May 2006
Fesmire S., John Dewey and Moral Imagination: Pragmatism in Ethics, Indiana University Press, 2003
Johnson, M. Moral imagination: Implications of cognitive science for ethics, University of Chicago Press, 2014
Reijers, W. et al., Narrative and technology ethics, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020
Ricoeur P., Time and narrative, volume 1, The University of Chicago, 1983


Céline Pieters

University of Vienna

Friday June 9, 2023 11:55am - 12:15pm EDT