Do we have an ethics of nuclear energy? The answer is, unfortunately: “It depends.” To be somewhat more precise it depends on what we mean by having an ethics of a social sector or activity. In one sense, we have an ethics of X if there are important ethical issues concerning X. In that sense, this volume as a whole bears witness to the existence of an ethics of nuclear energy. In another sense, we have an ethics of X if there is already a reasonably well-developed and focused discourse on ethical issues concerning X. In this latter sense, we do not yet have an ethics of nuclear energy (but we may have so in the future, something this volume can possibly contribute to). The distinction between these two senses of “an ethics of” is important since it helps clarifying the rather fragmented nature of ethical deliberations and discussions in our societies. On the one hand we have “fundamental” ethics, which dominates in philosophy departments. It is concerned with general, often rather abstract, problems such as the nature and sources of ethics, the structure of ethical statements, and whether such statements can be true or false in the same sense as factual statements. Many of these issues were discussed already by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. On the other hand, we have disciplines of area-specific ethics, such as medical ethics, research ethics, engineering ethics, business ethics, and environmental ethics. (I use the term “area-specific ethics” rather than the more common “applied ethics” that gives the misleading impression that work in these areas consists in applying theories from fundamental ethics, cf. Hansson [2003b].) With the exception of medical ethics, these subdisciplines are relatively new. They cover only a very small part of the human activities in which ethical issues arise. Some of the lacunae are notable. For instance, we do not have a specialized ethical discourse on traffic safety although about 1.2 million people per year are killed in road traffic accidents and another 20–50 million are injured (World Health Organization 2013). Neither do we have a specialized ethical discussion on welfare provision, insurance, building and architecture, or foreign aid, to mention just a few examples.
Cambridge University Press, 2015. 15-34 p.