Book section Open Access

Ethics and Complexity: Why standard ethical frameworks cannot cope with socio-technological change

Clément Vidal; Francis Heylighen

Abstract: Standard ethical frameworks struggle to deal with transhumanism, ecological issues and the rising technodiversity because they are focused on guiding and evaluating human behavior. Ethics needs its Copernican revolution to be able to deal with all moral agents, including not only humans, but also artificial intelligent agents, robots or organizations of all sizes. We argue that embracing the complexity worldview is the first step towards this revolution, and that standard ethical frameworks are still entrenched in the Newtonian worldview. We first spell out the foundational assumptions of the Newtonian worldview, where all change is reduced to material particles following predetermined trajectories governed by the laws of nature. However, modern physical theories such as relativity, quantum mechanics, chaos theory and thermodynamics have drawn a much more confusing and uncertain picture, and inspired indecisive, subjectivist, relativist, nihilist or postmodern worldviews. Based on cybernetics, systems theory and the new sciences of complexity, we introduce the complexity worldview that sees the world as interactions and their emergent organizations. We use this complexity worldview to show the limitations of standard ethical frameworks such as deontology, theology, consequentialism, virtue ethics, evolutionary ethics and pragmatism.


Keywords: Complexity, philosophy, ethics, cybernetics, transhumanism, universal ethics, systems ethics.

Vidal, C., and F. Heylighen. 2019. "Ethics and Complexity: Why Standard Ethical Frameworks Cannot Cope with Socio-Technological Change." In Investigating Transhumanisms and Their Narratives, edited by P. Jorion. To appear.
Files (253.3 kB)
Name Size
Vidal Heylighen - Ethics and complexity - ST change V1.3.pdf
253.3 kB Download
All versions This version
Views 357356
Downloads 289289
Data volume 73.2 MB73.2 MB
Unique views 331330
Unique downloads 253253


Cite as