Carrol O. Buttrill ’38 Endowed Fund for Ethics Lecture: Michael Bess

Wednesday, 3 October 2012 • 4-5 p.m. (reception begins at 3:30 p.m.)

Glasscock Center Library, Room 311, Glasscock Building
Lecture is free, open to the public, and refreshments will be served.

Chancellor’s Professor of History, Vanderbilt University

“Scientists and their Moral Responsibility for their Inventions: The Cases of Leo Szilard and Bill Joy”

Michael Bess is the Chancellor’s professor of History at Vanderbilt University. His awards include the Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the Ellen Gregg Ingalls Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the Chair of Teaching Excellence. His publications include: Choices under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II (Knopf, 2006); the award-winning The Light-Green Society: Ecology and Technological Modernity in France, 1960-2000 (University of Chicago Press, 2003), and Realism, Utopia, and the Mushroom Cloud: Four Activist Intellectuals and Their Strategies for Peace, 1945-1989 (University of Chicago Press, 1993).

About the Lecture
Leo Szilard was one of the creators of the atomic bomb during World War II; he spent the last twenty years of his life frantically seeking ways to control the potentially catastrophic force he had helped unleash.  Half a century later, a prominent computer scientist named Bill Joy publicly called on his fellow scientists to consider halting all work on genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics.  Joy argued that these three scientific domains held too great a potential for spinning out of human control, generating cataclysms of a magnitude that might threaten the survival of the biosphere itself.  In this lecture I explore the ethical questions raised by these two men and the choices they made.  To what extent should an individual scientist bear responsibility for the possible unintended effects that her work may cause at a future date?  And how much control does our society have over the social and economic processes that propel the advance of scientific knowledge and technological invention?


About the Carrol O. Buttrill ’38 Endowed Fund for Ethics

Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research and the Carrol O. Buttrill ’38 Endowed Fund for Ethics promotes on-going investigations into ethical questions of significance to the Texas A&M community. The fund supports annual lectures, roundtables, special events, and course activities.

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