2. Institutions and Values – Readings

Course subject(s) 2. Institutions and Values

The readings for this lecture set are listed below, with a small explanation accompanying each title:

  • Readings for Moral Overload
    ‘Ethics can be the source of technological development rather than just a constraint and technological progress can create moral progress rather than just moral problems.’

    This is one the conclusions of our suggested reading: the Open Access article Engineering and the Problem of Moral Overload by Jeroen Van den Hoven, Gert-Jan Lokhorst and Ibo Van de Poel. It also gives some examples of how technological innovations can deal with moral overload. For the engineers among you, the reading also includes a more mathematical approach to the problem of moral overload.
  • Readings for Emotions & Values
    ‘As you have seen in the web lecture, Sabine proposed a different perspective to look at emotional responses to risk. Risk perception (i.e. emotions evoked by subjective tolerance to risk) can help to draw attention to morally salient aspects of risks that might otherwise escape more objective processes.

This alternative approach can shed new light on various controversial debates about risky technologies by showing the reasonableness of risk emotions. In addition, it can provide a new approach to address emotions in debates about risky technologies. By taking the emotions of the public more seriously, the gap between experts and laypeople could eventually be overcome, leading to more fruitful discussions and responsible decision-making.

This chapter titled Moral Emotions as Guide to Acceptable Risk from the Handbook of Risk Theory will describe this in detail..

  • Readings for Institutions & Values
    As seen in the web lecture, values are also embedded in the institutional context and in the processes of interaction between stakeholders. Hence, the prevention of controversies over conflicting values may be pursued by redesigning the institutional context, and by taking the dynamics of stakeholder interaction explicitly into account.

In this chapter titled Responsible Innovation in Energy Projects: Values in the Design of Technologies, Institutions and Stakeholder Interactions, the authors take as a starting point the supply of energy. Traditionally, the supply of energy is associated with many problems. Today, three principal problems can be identified.


  1. Firstly, the use of fossil fuel causes air pollution which directly jeopardizes human health while the CO2 emissions adversely affect the Earth’s climate.
  2. Secondly, there is the perception that the resources that can be exploited easily and at low cost are being depleted rapidly, thus driving up the price of energy.
  3. The third problem is that the uneven regional distribution of energy resources is causing international geopolitical and economic frictions.Such problems foster new initiatives and technological developments to produce, store or transport energy in novel, unconventional ways. But new energy initiatives repeatedly give rise to problems of societal acceptance because their implementation and operation have national or local repercussions.

    NB: This reading is a draft of a chapter that will form part of the forthcoming book titled: Responsible Innovation, Volume 2: Concepts, Approaches, and Applications(Springer)

In this article, the ‘Four Layer Model’ introduced in the web lecture will be explained in more detail. The article also describes the interrelations between technological and institutional change from the perspective of re-structuring (liberalization) of the electricity sector. Liberalization means different rules, different players, different (more economic) values.

The article explains that – in order to make this liberalization a success –  it might be necessary to stimulate certain technical developments. This aspect of technology regulationhas not been very well acknowledged until now in the liberalization debate.

If there is a strong political desire to let liberalization succeed, regulation should stimulate certain technologies to enable the development of a technologically decentralized and fragmented electricity system. We are thinking micro-grids, smart meters and renewables.

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Responsible Innovation by TU Delft OpenCourseWare is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://ocw.tudelft.nl/courses/responsible-innovation/.
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