Varieties of responsibility: two problems of responsible innovation

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The notion of responsible innovation suggests that innovators carry additional responsibilities (to society, stakeholders, users) beyond those commonly suggested. In this paper, we will discuss the meaning of these novel responsibilities focusing on two philosophical problems of attributing such responsibilities to innovators. The first is the allocation of responsibilities to innovators. Innovation is a process that involves a multiplicity of agents and unpredictable, far-reaching causal chains from innovation to social impacts, which creates great uncertainty. A second problem is constituted by possible trade-offs between different kinds of responsibility. It is evident that attributing backward-looking responsibility for product failures diminishes the willingness to learn about such defects and to take forward-looking responsibility. We will argue that these problems can be overcome by elaborating what it is exactly that innovators are responsible for. In this manner, we will distinguish more clearly between holding responsible and taking responsibility. This opens a space for ‘supererogatory’ responsibilities. Second, we will argue that both innovation processes and outcomes can be objects of innovators’ responsibility. Third, we will analyze different kinds of responsibility (blameworthiness, accountability, liability, obligation and virtue) and show that the functions of their attribution are not necessarily contradictory. Based on this conceptual refinement, we will argue that accountability, responsibility-as-virtue and the willingness to take responsibility are crucial for responsible innovation.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Accountability
  • Engineering
  • Ethics
  • Responsibility
  • Responsible innovation
  • Technology
  • Virtue


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