Printed: 2020-09-20

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Futurist Ethics of Immanence

Melanie Swan

Broader Perspective

June 06, 2014

The ethics of the future could likely shift to one of immanence. In philosophy, immanence means situations where everything comes from within a system, world, or person, as opposed to transcendence, where there are externally-determined specifications.

The traditional models of ethics have generally been transcendent in the sense that there are pre-specified ideals posed from some point outside of an individual’s own true sense of being.

The best anyone can ever hope to achieve is regaining the baseline of the pre-specified ideal (Figure 1). Measuring whether someone has reached the ideal is also problematic tends to be imposed externally. (This is also an issue in artificial intelligence projects; judgments of intelligence are imposed externally).

 Figure 1: Rethinking Ethics from 1.0 Traditional to 2.0 Immanence.

There has been progression in ethics models, moving from act-based to agent-based to now situation-based. Act-based models are based on actions (the Kantian categorical imperative vs utilitarianism (the good of the many) or consequentialism (the end justifies the means). Agent-based models hold that the character of the agent should be predictive of behavior (dispositionist).

Now social science experimentation has validated a situation-based model (the actor performs according to the situation (i.e., and could behave in different ways depending on the situation)). However all of these models are still transcendent; they are in the form of externally pre-specified ideals.

Moving to a true futurist ethics that supports freedom, empowerment, inspiration, and creative expression, it is necessary to espouse ethics models of immanence (Figure 1). In an ethics of immanence, the focus is the agent, where an important first step is tuning in to true desires (Deleuze) and one’s own sense of subjective experience (Bergson). Expanding the range of possible perceptions, interpretations, and courses of action is critical. This could be achieved by improved mechanisms for eliciting, optimizing, and managing values, desires, and biases.

As social models progress, a futurist ethics should move from what can be a limiting ethics 1.0 of judging behavior against pre-set principles to the ethics 2.0 of creating a life that is affirmatory and expansive. 

Melanie Swan, MBA, is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET. Ms. Swan, principal of the MS Futures Group, is a philosopher, science and technology futurist, and options trader.


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