CRIS -Creative Research Institution- Hokkaido University

【Division of Innovative Research】Koji ISHIHARA

Koji ISHIHARA Trans-disciplinary Humanity, Social and Natural Science
Phenomenology of technology, risk, and cultural values
Koji ISHIHARAAssociate Professor (Doctor [Letters])

This research seeks to make a comprehensive examination of the relationships between science/technology and society from viewpoints, such as the risk culture theory and science/technology ethics. Modern society relies heavily on science and technology. However, major problems faced by modern society are how to utilize science and technology and how to cope with scientific/technological risks. Over the past ten years, there have been great changes in the awareness of science/technology and the concept of regulation, particularly in Japan. In view of this situation, this research looks into problems peculiar to Japan, as well as universal problems concerning the relationships between science/technology and society. More specifically, this research will

1) Examine science-/technology-related risks from the perspective of comparative culture and comparative system theories,
2) Present current situation surveys and models regarding the ethics of technologists (engineering ethics), and
3) Conduct basic research on the philosophy of science and technology and science/technology ethics.

It also will seek to establish a research center for the study of the ethics of science and technology. The center will serve as a research facility for studies of science/technology ethics within the university, as well as in Japan and overseas.


Comparative study on the cultural, political, and societal basis for the regulation of technological risks

Contemporary society has been often called a grisk-society. h However, it is difficult to say that the quantity of risk has increased now compared with pre-modern society. The expression grisk-society h suggests that risk in contemporary society is much more artificial than natural. ( g A rtificial risk h includes risks by omissio n.) In Japan, since 1995 many natural disasters, accidents, and incidents such as the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, a critical accident at JCO's nuclear fuel producing plant, and the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy have occurred which have influenced the general Japanese perception of risk and have motivated people to introduce various methods of risk analysis and risk management. Recently, the importance of risk communication has also drawn attention.

Douglas and Wildavsky fs book Risk and Culture (1982) pointed out that our perception and handling of risk depend on societal systems and cultures. Societal and cultural background, such as political culture, economic situation, and public understanding of science and technology influence the ideas concerning who is to be responsible for risk analysis and risk management and what are desirable ways of carrying out risk regulation. This study aims at conducting a comparative study of the relation between risk governance systems and the cultural and ethical aspects of technology based on case studies such as the cases of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and nuclear power generation. Moreover, in cooperation with Asian and Western scholars we will try to develop a theory of acceptance of technological risks and clarify the ethical issues included herein.


Developing an engineering ethics in the Japanese context.

Since the latter half of the 1990 fs engineering ethics has been gradually introduced into Japanese engineering societies and higher education facilities. This introduction was partially motivated by the international trend toward the standardization of the qualifications of engineers. (The international standard of engineering education, which came from the North American standard, includes engineering ethics education.) However, there has also been an intrinsic interest in engineering ethics on the part of societies of engineers. The background Japanese situation which raised interest in engineering ethics seems to be associated with the situation which caused the introduction of risk regulation systems in Japan.

The social status of Japanese engineers and North American engineers are quite different. It is often said that Japanese engineers cannot be regarded as professionals because they have a stronger sense of belonging to firms and less independence than North American engineers. However, recently we have begun to see some institutional changes which will lead to the establishment of engineering as a profession.

This study aims at clarifying the circumstances of the past decade and current situation concerning engineering ethics in order to propose models of engineering ethics suitable to both the Japanese situation and the global environment.


Basic research on philosophy and ethics in technology

Sub-project One focuses on the societal-political aspects of risk analysis of technological risks while Sub-project Two deals with engineering ethics from the perspective of governmental- and self-regulatory systems. Sub-project Three develops a fundamental theory of philosophy and ethics of technology in order to lay the foundation for the precedent two sub-projects, drawing on their results. Traditionally, many approaches have been developed in the fields of the philosophy and sociology of technology: Classical theories of technology, social constructivism, STS, Actor-Network-Theory, etc. Sub-project Three tries to develop a new approach to the philosophy and ethics of technology on the basis of concrete research in technological activities. Making ethical issues in decision making on technology policy, risk analysis, risk management, and risk communication will be given particular consideration.


Organizing a research group for ethics in technology

Organizing a multidisciplinary research group for ethics in technology through these projects is also one of the aims of our laboratory. This group would cover ethical issues concerning technology in almost all areas and deal with societal concerns over technology as well as on-campus issues of research and development.