Mediating between morality and technology: legal values as a channel for communication

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


The concrete starting point for our contribution on ethics, technology and law is the regulation of genetic modification. Currently, the EU regulatory framework on genetic modification is under pressure. The European Commission (EC) received several calls to amend EU GM regulation after a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union that genome-edited organisms fall under the scope of European GMO legislation. It is questioned whether the current regulatory framework can still adapt to recent developments in GM-technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9. As a response, the EC requested a study on Novel genomic technologies (NGTs) which was recently published (April 2021). This study includes both a broad ethical reflection on NGTs as well as various stakeholders’ perspectives. The latter merely focused on the regulatory framework, and how it can facilitate and accommodate experiences and future expectations of legal regulation. In other words, this study concerned legal regulation as an instrument to promote innovation. It exemplifies that regulatory issues concerning emerging technologies are characterized by the need to promote scientific objectives on the one hand, and technologies moral limits on the other. The role of legal regulation of technology is regarded instrumentally: being a facilitator of innovation and a gatekeeper protecting the moral limits of technology. From a scientific perspective, law’s facilitative role is often regarded negatively as hampering innovation. Regarding law merely as an instrument may therefore not be the most productive perspective.
In this paper, we focus on law’s own internal values and additional functions to law. We argue that these does not stand in the way of innovation, but can bring together the diverging perspectives of morality and emerging technology. The thesis we put forward is that legal values express law’s regard for a variety of expressive functions relating to law’s procedures and relations, which enables communication about moral and social values and technology. While law can serve as a safeguard for basic human interests through strict rules (as in criminal law), it can also be a channel for moral change through open standards and general principles. Especially when issues are characterized by rapid technological developments, diverging viewpoints and moral controversy, law can function as a communicative framework. We conceptualize legal values as the points of orientation of legal practices, i.e. the guiding values of actors engaged in processes of legislation, regulation and adjudication. Although the subject matter of legal practices may differ greatly, they share a commitment to rule of law values such as predictability, fairness, justice and accountability. Building on the legal theories of Lon Fuller, Philip Selznick and Jeremy Waldron, we argue that, while these values have a procedural character, they are underpinned by a commitment to respect the agency and dignity of law’s subjects. Thus, they are open to incorporating substantive input from other social practices. Shaping the links to moral and technological practices through the internal legal orientation, use of legal values can enable a process of value change.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021
EventChanging Values Changing Technologies - TU Delft, Delft, Netherlands
Duration: 11 Oct 202113 Oct 2021


ConferenceChanging Values Changing Technologies

Research programs

  • SAI 2010-01 RRL


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