Does technological advancement justify exploitation?   

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This really depends on the type of technological advancement and the type of exploitation. Every situation is different and must be analyzed in terms of actual trade-offs.

The Industrial Revolution, for example, involved widespread use of child labor in factories. The conditions of factory workers during the early nineteenth-century were inhumane. Extremely low wages resulted in huge profits for the owners of factories. On the one hand, industry continued to progress after child labor was made illegal. On the other hand, industrialization might have proceeded at a slower pace had child labor and working hours been restricted earlier. The rapid industrialization of Britain created wealth that eventually improved the lifestyle of the nation as a whole, but that was probably not worth having eight-year old children working 12-hour shifts in factories.

Medical advances often require animal and human testing. Exploiting animals for experiments that might cure cancer or provide a safe vaccine against Ebola seems a valid choice, although one should make sure that the subjects of such experiments are treated humanely. Causing pain to animals to test cosmetics seems to me wrong, in that there is no humanitarian need for cosmetics at all, and thus causing distress to any living being to create them seems unjustifiable. 

In terms of deciding individual cases, one should use the following criteria:

  • whether the advance genuinely benefits humanity or simply makes a limited number of people wealthy
  • whether exploitation means minor inconvenience or genuine harm
  • whether, in the case of exploiting the environment, the harm caused is short term and can be remedied or whether it causes long term effects
  • whether tangible, measurable benefits outweigh potential harm

 

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