ground between the fundamentally
different values that people hold and
consider processes of incorporating
and resolving value conflicts.
To respect individual agency, we
should hesitate to replace human
judgment and decision making. And
if we make decisions that affect others, we should keep their interests in
mind and try to decide for them as they
would for themselves.
To respect legitimacy, corporations
should democratize decisions that affect basic goods such as individuals’
liberty, safety, or opportunity. Options
to democratize corporate decisions can
involve government regulation, stake-holder participation, or deliberative input from the public, among others.
How such political concerns bottom
out in policies in detail is a question
rife for interdisciplinary cooperation.
We should no longer overlook political
philosophy when deliberating about
the social challenges that arise from
new technologies but make pluralism,
agency, and legitimacy central pillars
of the discussions.
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Johannes Himmelreich ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
is an assistant professor of Public Administration and
International Affairs at Syracuse University’s Maxwell
School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse, NY, USA.
Copyright held by author.
policies and institutions. Policies and
institutions result from collective decisions and form the domain of political philosophy.
Political philosophy adds three basic
concerns to our conceptual toolkit. First,
political philosophy starts with the idea
of reasonable pluralism, or the recognition that people often disagree for good
8 Almost all issues are complex,
and a large amount of considerations
and evidence can be brought to bear on
the issues. At the same time, every one
of us has different life experiences that
inform our values. We might disagree
for good reasons—perhaps we should
cherish such a pluralism of values.
Second, political philosophy needs
to balance values with a respect for human agency and individual autonomy.
Even if everyone agreed that eating
meat is morally bad, we would still
need to ask how eating meat should be
regulated. Within reasonable limits,
individuals should be free to decide
for themselves. We should not confuse
questions on the individual level—
What is wrong with eating meat? How
should your self-driving car drive?—
with questions on the collective level:
How should we regulate meat consumption? How should we regulate
Third, political philosophy worries
about legitimate authority and why
we are obliged to abide by decisions
of our political institutions. What is
regulated, how it is decided and by
whom makes a difference. For example, even if we all agreed that eating
meat is wrong, we might still hold that
a private company lacks the authority
to regulate meat consumption. Maybe
certain issues need to be left unregulated. Maybe certain things should be
done only by the government. These
are all issues of legitimate authority.
These three concerns—reasonable
pluralism, individual agency, and le-
gitimate authority—are central themes
in political philosophy. They have so
far been largely overlooked in the de-
bate on the ethics of self-driving cars.
To illustrate this idea, think of the
cases that have captivated the public
discussion on the ethics of self-driving
4 These so-called trolley cases ask
you to imagine that a self-driving car
needs to choose who has to die. If a car
has a choice between running over five
pedestrians or only one, when all pe-
destrians are identical in all relevant
respects, what should the car do?
A major problem with such trolley
cases and other such dilemmas is that
they look at these choices as if they
were exclusively a moral problem even
though they raise a distinctively politi-
cal problem. Trolley cases ask: What
is the right thing to do? What would
you do? What should the car do? But
instead we need to think more broadly
about value pluralism, individual agen-
cy, and political legitimacy when devel-
oping self-driving cars.
Self-driving cars—whether it is
about trolley cases or left turns—raise
the question of how we get along as a
community or people. We now have a
chance to regulate traffic systems to
a degree that was just technically im-
possible before. When we think about
good regulation, we can import con-
cepts from political philosophy to in-
form our collective decision making.
For example, letting passengers of
self-driving cars set at least some of the
driving parameters themselves would
be one way of achieving greater respect
for reasonable pluralism, individual
autonomy, and legitimacy.
This point generalizes to other is-
sues, such as the ethics of artificial in-
telligence. How do recently heralded
AI ethics principles respect reasonable
pluralism, individual agency, and le-
gitimate authority? How do corporate
ethics principles reflect the diversity of
values in society?
To respect reasonable pluralism,
our responses to ethical challenges
of technology should find common
When we think about
we can import
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