Gone with the Wind: Conceiving of Moral Responsibility in the Case of GMO Contamination
Genetically modified organisms are a technology now used with increasing frequency in agriculture. Genetically modified seeds have the special characteristic of being living artefacts that can reproduce and spread; thus it is difficult to control where they end up. In addition, genetically modified seeds may also bring about uncertainties for environmental and human health. Where they will go and what effect they will have is therefore very hard to predict: this creates a puzzle for regulators. In this paper, I use the problem of contamination to complicate my ascription of forward-looking moral responsibility to owners of genetically modified organisms. Indeed, how can owners act responsibly if they cannot know that contamination has occurred? Also, because contamination creates new and unintended ownership, it challenges the ascription of forward-looking moral responsibility based on ownership. From a broader perspective, the question this paper aims to answer is as follows: how can we ascribe forward-looking moral responsibility when the effects of the technologies in question are difficult to know or unknown? To solve this problem, I look at the epistemic conditions for moral responsibility and connect them to the normative notion of the social experiment. Indeed, examining conditions for morally responsible experimentation helps to define a range of actions and to establish the related epistemic virtues that owners should develop in order to act responsibly where genetically modified organisms are concerned.
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