Andrew Chignell, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Religion and the University Center for Human Values, believes that philosophers and ethicists can play a critical role in the development of blockchain technology.

“One thing I would like to do with the DeCenter is convene a group of scholars from these normative and humanistic areas and have a workshop that, hopefully, engineers would be happy to attend,” said Chignell, a member of the DeCenter steering committee who has appointments in the departments of religion and philosophy. Fundamental topics include the role of trust and the relation of decentralization and societal power.

Chignell said development of crypto-currency, the most prominent use of blockchain to date, has raised fascinating philosophical questions. Is it possible to trust a system designed to eliminate the need for trust? Is power in some way about trust? What is the nature of currency and exchange, and does trust play a role this?

Princeton has a long history of asking philosophical questions about technological and societal change, Chignell said. Understanding the problems blockchain is designed to address will help guide the development of the technology.

“I think it is a fascinating technology,” Chignell said. “Whether it is going to be great depends on how it is used, which is true for most things in human experience.”

Related Center

  • Center for Decentralization of Power Through Blockchain Technology (DeCenter)