Disruptive Innovation and Moral Uncertainty

Philip J. Nickel (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
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This paper develops a philosophical account of moral disruption. According to Robert Baker, moral disruption is a process in which technological innovations undermine established moral norms without clearly leading to a new set of norms. Here I analyze this process in terms of moral uncertainty, formulating a philosophical account with two variants. On the harm account, such uncertainty is always harmful because it blocks our knowledge of our own and others’ moral obligations. On the qualified harm account, there is no harm in cases where moral uncertainty is related to innovation that is “for the best” in historical perspective or where uncertainty is the expression of a deliberative virtue. The two accounts are compared by applying them to Baker’s historical case of the introduction of mechanical ventilation and organ transplantation technologies, as well as the present-day case of mass data practices in the health domain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-269
Number of pages11
Issue number3
Early online date1 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Data ethics
  • Disruptive innovation
  • Disruptive technology
  • Ethics of organ transplantation
  • Moral disruption
  • Moral uncertainty
  • Withdrawal of life support


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