Social Ethics

Macroethics (from the Greek prefix "makros-" meaning "large" and "ethos" meaning character) was coined in the late 20th century to distinguish large-scale ethics from individual ethics, or microethics.[1] It is a type of applied ethics. For example, emerging technologies present both macroethical and microethical challenges. A microethical decision related to nanotechnology would be that a researcher ensures that all experiments be conducted with integrity and results reported honestly and completely. A macroethical decision would be whether certain types of nanotechnologies be avoided until there is sufficient information regarding their risks. An extreme example of macroethical failure is the grey goo scenario.

The major emphasis in biomedicine, engineering and other technical professions to date has been on issues within a particular profession, with insufficient attention to larger societal problems.[2] Pharmaceuticals present particular macroethical challenges. Drug designers seek to prevent and treatment diseases by modifying of stem cells and producing targeting drugs that have specific targeting mechanisms.[3] However, these technological advances must be balanced possible contravening risks (e.g. side effects, transgenerational adverse impacts in progeny, and unwanted genetic expressions), as well as ethical challenges (e.g. immorality of treating unborn human beings as objects to be harvested). Thus, researchers are obliged to advance technologies, but must do so within acceptable ethical boundaries. If a researcher only acts within the bounds of one's research, i.e. exclusively microethical, the research may still be unacceptable from a societal perspective if it violates macroethical principles.


  1. ^ Vallero D.A. (2007). Beyond responsible conduct in research: new pedagogies to address macroethics of nanobiotechnologies. J Long Term Eff Med Implants. 2007;17(1):1-12.
  2. ^ Bassingthwaighte J.B. The macro-ethics of genomics to health: the physiome project. Comptes Rendus Biologies. 2003 Oct-Nov;326(10-11):1105-10.
  3. ^ Herkert, J.R. (2004). Microethics, Macroethics, and Professional Engineering Societies. In National Academy of Engineering, Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering: Papers from a Workshop, October 14-15, 2003. ISBN 978-0-309-09271-5

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