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Cogs in the Machine: Individual and Collective Morality in Science and Technology

(16) Cogs in the Machine: Individual and Collective Morality in Science and Technology - Cody Leary, Department of Physics

Just prior to the beginning of World War II, self-declared pacifist Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt warning him of the scientific possibility that Nazi Germany may develop nuclear weapons, thereby planting the seeds for the U.S. Manhattan project.  Shortly after Germany’s surrender six years later, the first nuclear weapons were completed and used to kill hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens, against the petitions of many of the scientists who had themselves contributed to the bomb project.  Like these wartime scientists, we all act as cogs in the complex machine of modern society, with our individual actions sometimes contributing to collective outcomes to which we have a moral objection.  In this seminar, we will explore the ways in which we can become “cogs in the machine” within the context of science and technology, through readings such as the science fiction novel Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and the historical narrative The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes.  For the final research paper and presentation of the term, each student will choose a controversy of current relevance, and explore the individual actions, collective outcomes, underlying science, and moral implications that contribute to its role in modern society.