People and Culture

Nobuo Kurata

Ethics, Science & Technology

Nobuo Kurata , Professor

Graduate School of Letters

High school : Ikeda Senior High School Attached to Osaka Kyoiku University

Academic background : Graduate School of Letters, Kyoto University

Research areas
Applied Ethics (Bioethics, Environmental Ethics, Ethics of Science and Technology), Normative Ethics, Metaethics, History of Philosophy
Research keywords
Philosophy, Risk, Duty, Good, Happiness, Meaning of Life

What is Ethics?

My research area is a branch of philosophy, called ‘Ethics’ and ‘Moral Philosophy’. I analyze philosophically such concepts as ‘ethic’, ‘action’, and ‘morality’ and also study ethical problems caused by new biotechnology, modern medicine, environmental pollution, and technology. Ethics, especially normative ethics, is a research area in which such questions as ‘what kinds of conduct are just?’ or ‘if an action is not permitted, why it is not?’ are treated. In the branch of normative ethics, such concepts as freedom, good, happiness, justice, duty, responsibility, rights, virtue (courage, integrity), and human dignity are analyzed. And the branch of philosophical ethics which examines in what ways does good exist and whether or not human beings are capable of recognizing good is called metaethics. The branch in which real ethical problems are analyzed is called applied ethics (bioethics, environmental ethics, and ethics of science and technology).


Discipline using such terms as duty and happiness is dubious

Interdisciplinary Books on
‘Sustainability’: I wrote a 
chapter of this book.

Indeed, it is depressing to think about ethics or morality and the persons who wield such words often appear to be suspicious. And those who say “Let’s just be happy” are more trustworthy than those who claim that we should be morally good. If someone tells you “I will teach you the meaning of ‘true happiness’,” he or she might try to trap you in some way, so you have to be careful (perhaps it might be a new form of marriage fraud).
 But please think a little bit. What is happiness? Is it to enjoy much pleasure? Is it to own many properties? Is it to be highly estimated by others? If someone believes she is happy, is her belief the evidence for her true happiness? Is to obey a moral duty (e.g. not to tell a lie) a necessary condition of ‘true’ happiness? Those words sound suspicious (I’m afraid that these might look like the sentences in the solicitation brochure of religious cult), but if you don’t stop to analyze such problems, your thought will belong to moral philosophy (and some of your friends will leave you saying you are too logical, and your family might dislike you).

left: Kant, a German Philosopher
right: Mummy of J. Bentham (on display at University College, London), a British Philosopher who argued ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’


What do you study?

There are various styles and methods of research in ethics, and I put some of those methods together to push forward my research. For example, I read papers and books on cutting-edge arguments of ethical theories. I also analyze new problems of bioethics and environmental problems. And I sometimes read classics, such as works by Kant.
Philosophers and ethicists have been thinking about similar problems for two thousand years since ancient Greece, but new problems come one after another in this field, and new theories and tools are being created. It is the same as in research of the sciences.
For example, if you say to your brother “Don’t shoplift!”, is this statement just an expression of emotions or is it based on rational grounds? Such a problem is called that of expressivism in contemporary metaethics. I push forward analysis about such problems.
And other subjects of my research are new ethical issues. In the 21st century, we face new ethical problems that human beings have never faced, which have originated from the spread of new medical technologies, global warming, genetic engineering, and nuclear technologies. Is it permitted to abort an impaired fetus? Does it impair human dignity to use human fertilized eggs for experiments? In order to protect the environment, how much will we have to consider the interests of future people? Thinking about such new ethical issues will also lead to thinking about philosophical problems. For example, does everyone share equal responsibility concerning the risk of nuclear power plant accidents? If we examine the problem of risk in this way, we will be lead to questioning the concept of equality.
One of the pleasures of studying classical texts of philosophy and ethics is that to analyze them in relation to such new problems enables us to read them in a new light. For example, one of my research areas is an ethical theory of the philosopher, Kant. When we read the texts by Kant from the viewpoint of contemporary metaethics, we can find new problems in his ethical theories.


What are your future aims?

Lately various philosophical frames and tools to argue about meaning of the life are submitted. And in the light of the philosophical thoughts concerning the meaning of life, I would like to reconsider some problems concerning bioethics, environmental ethics, ethics of science and technology, and also reanalyze Kantian ethics.



(1)Takahiko Nitta, Nobuo Kurata and Kouji Ishihara (eds) For Those Studying the Principles of Ethics of Science and Technology, (kagakugijutsurinsi wo manabu hito no tameni) Sekai shisosha