The four technological revolutions that fuelled a ‘moral revolution’

Jeroen Hopster in Philosophical Disquisitions

Een biggetje. Foto: Christopher Carson, via Unsplash

Over the years of history, human morality has gone through some major changes. Jeroen Hopster, assistant professor at the Ethics Institute, identifies at least four technological innovations that spurred such a development, namely the rise of the plough, the pistol, meat pigs and the contraceptive pill. In the podcast Philosophical Disquisitions, he discusses these moral revolutions and the role of technological innovations.

Technological and moral revolutions

Dr. Jeroen Hopster. Foto: Giuseppe Guagliardo
Dr. Jeroen Hopster. Foto: Giuseppe Guagliardo

“Traditionally, philosophers have approached morality as a set of immutable, timeless principles,” Jeroen Hopster says. “But morality has a history. It has evolved through time, in processes of revolution and disruption. It has a future, too. Moral norms and values are constantly changing.”

Together with colleagues in the gravitation project Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies, Hopster wrote the paper ‘Pistols, Pills, Pork and Ploughs’ on “the structure of technomoral revolutions”, in which they outlined the four technological innovations.

“Technology can be an instrument of oppression,” Hopster says, “but also of resistance. It can make things visible, but also invisible. And technology can make practices more or less accessible, and thus more or less elitist. To understand processes of moral transformation, it is crucial to understand how technology stabilises morality, or disrupts it.”