Ethical Theories and Computer Ethics

Ethical Theories and Computer Ethics

Matthew Charlesworth (The Jesuit Institute, South Africa) and David Sewry (Rhodes University, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-022-6.ch013
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The development of cybernetics and digital computers prompted the need for a greater exploration of computer ethics. Information ethics, as described by Floridi and Sanders (2003), offers a conceptual basis for such an exploration. This chapter provides an historical perspective on the development of a foundation for the study of computer ethics. A brief explanation is provided of a number of ethical theories (Divine Command; Ethics of Conscience; Ethical Egoism; Ethics of Duty; Ethics of Respect; Ethics of Rights; Utilitarianism; Ethics of Justice; Virtue Ethics) followed by a number of perspectives on the development of computer ethics. The Innovative Approach proposed by Floridi et al concludes the chapter.
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Ethical Theories In Brief

Often we have to make decisions when all the facts cannot be known with certainty. In such cases we have no choice but to rely on the best information we have, and when we are not experts ourselves, this means deciding which experts to trust. (The Elements of Moral Philosophy, p. 9)

Lawrence Hinman, Director of the Values Institute and Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Diego provides nine bases upon which moral or ethical decisions are made (Hinman, 2002, p.3-11).2

Divine Command Theories

Divine Command Theory is an ethical theory that states that to be good one must do what God commands you to do. Teachings from the Bible, the Qur’an or other sacred texts are considered to present authoritatively that which leads to what is right. The problem of the Divine Command Theory is summed up in the Euthyphro Dilemma – in short, is it right because God commands it, or does God command it because it is right? With regards to the issue of piracy, one might say that in terms of the Judaeo-Christian commandment ‘thou shalt not steal’, piracy is proscribed.

The Ethics of Conscience

In this theory, what is right is defined by one’s ‘inner voice’. Whilst this can often have a religious source and operate out of a religious context, it may also be founded solely on human nature. However, in both cases the conscience must be properly formed. In its negative dimension, conscience tells us what is not right and makes individuals feel guilty, facilitating the possibility of atonement. With regards to piracy, our conscience would compel us to feel guilty for doing something that is immoral, provided we recognised that piracy is illegal and a form of theft, and that we accept that violation of this illegality does not serve a higher good.

Ethical Egoism

In this theory, each person ought to do whatever will best promote his or her own interests. Ethical egoism is often argued to be self-defeating in that, a society of egoists do worse for themselves than a society of altruists (see for example the classical philosophical game – the Prisoners Dilemma). Another fundamental objection is that it is inconsistent with the nature of trust and friendship that each party should be motivated solely by self-interest. With regards to piracy, an ethical egoist might pirate software because it would be in their own interests to acquire the software in the most expedient and efficient way to themselves (that is without paying for it). However, it could be argued that in the long-term, should one be caught, the consequences of pirating software are not in an individual’s own interests or indeed if pirating undermines the business it may undermine the egoists own interests in new up-to-date software.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Macroethics (opp. Microethics): Ethics seen in macrocosm (Macroethics) or microcosm (Microethics), and that a hierarchical relationship exists between them. A macroethics (e.g. concerning society) is more corporate, encompassing and general than a microethic (e.g. concerning an individual) which is more specific ( Spong 1977 , p. 1). Computer ethics is frequently simply taken to be what is called microethics, that is, the kind of ethics that relates to individual conduct, the rights and wrongs of it, and the good and bad. ( Ladd 1997 , p. 8). In this chapter information ethics is argued to be a macroethic.

WTO: An acronym for World Trade Organisation .

Software Piracy: “Software Piracy is the distribution of counterfeit software and/or use or distribution of authentic software constituting the intentional violation of intellectual property laws.” ( Scott 2007 , p. 1).

Applied Ethics: “ The term ‘applied ethics’ and its synonym ‘practical ethics’ came into use in the 1970s when philosophers and other academics began to address pressing moral problems in society and in professional ethics (especially medical ethics and business ethics). Prominent examples, then and now, are abortion, euthanasia, the protection of human and animal subjects in research, racism, sexism, affirmative action, acceptable risk in the workplace, the legal enforcement of morality, civil disobedience, unjust war, and the privacy of information.” ( Beauchamp 2003 , p. 1)

Right (opp. Wrong): “Rightness’ refers to the way of living and the specific acts that conform to the moral standard of the community. Moral theology is built on goodness and badness, not primarily on the rightness and wrongness of actions. This is because goodness and badness is concerned with the vertical relationship with God” ( Bunch 2005 , p. 2).

Computer Ethics: The area of ethics examining the use of computers on actions and operations that were possible before, or only possible because of, computers.

Ethics: The science, or philosophy, or more modestly, the study of moral conduct. By moral conduct in turn is meant conduct regarded as right or wrong, or as what “ought” or “ought not” to be done; or as involving deliberation and choice between ends viewed as “good”. (Mathews et al 1921, p. 152 AU32: The in-text citation "Mathews et al 1921" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Good (opp. Bad): A term referring to the person who constantly strives to do right actions. Obviously, good persons may do wrong acts; we call these mistakes. But upon learning of the mistake, the good person will immediately admit it and attempt to rectify these mistakes because he or she is constantly striving to do right. In this line of thinking, a bad person is one who simply does not strive to do right. Calling a person good means that this person is striving to do the right; it does not mean that he or she has achieved it in every situation. The good doctor constantly strives to make the correct diagnoses and to develop the proper treatment plan. Unfortunately, the good doctor makes more mistakes than anyone would wish. But if they are good doctors, they will discover the mistakes and correct them ( Bunch 2005 , p. 2).

Metaethics: “Metaethics investigates where our ethical principles come from, and what they mean. Are they merely social inventions? Do they involve more than expressions of our individual emotions? Metaethical answers to these questions focus on the issues of universal truths, the will of God, the role of reason in ethical judgments, and the meaning of ethical terms themselves.” ( Fieser 2006 , p. 1)

ICT: An acronym for information and communications technology .

Information Ethics: The theoretical foundation of applied computer-ethics - a non-standard, environmental macroethics, patient-oriented and ontocentric, based on the concepts of data-entity/infosphere/entropy rather than life/ecosystem/pain. (Floridi 1998 AU33: The in-text citation "Floridi 1998" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ; 1999, p. 37 AU34: The in-text citation "Floridi 1999" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ; and Floridi and Sanders 1999 AU35: The in-text citation "Floridi and Sanders 1999" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ; 2001, p. 55 AU36: The in-text citation "Floridi and Sanders 2001" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. )

TRIPS: An acronym for the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights , negotiated in the 1986-94 Uruguay Round that introduced intellectual property rules into the multilateral trading system for the first time ( WTO 2007 , p. 1).

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Rocci Luppicini, Rebecca Adell
Rocci Luppicini, Rebecca Adell
Chapter 1
Rocci Luppicini
Over the last 30 years, an amassing body of work has focused on ethical dimensions of technology in a variety of contexts impacting society. This... Sample PDF
The Emerging Field of Technoethics
Chapter 2
Marc J. de Vries
In this chapter it is argued that a multidisciplinary approach to technoethics is necessary to do justice to the complexity of technology.... Sample PDF
A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Technoethics
Chapter 3
Daniela Cerqui, Kevin Warwick
Common ethical issues related to technology are formulated in terms of impact. With an anthropological approach, every technological device is... Sample PDF
Technoethics: An Anthropological Approach
Chapter 4
Michael S. Billinger
Despite the fact that analyses of biological populations within species have become increasing sophisticated in recent years, the language used to... Sample PDF
A Technoethical Approach to the Race Problem in Anthropology
Chapter 5
Andy Miah
This chapter outlines a technoethics for sport by addressing the relationship between sport ethics and bioethics. The purpose of this chapter is to... Sample PDF
The Ethics of Human Enhancement in Sport
Chapter 6
Darryl Macer
This chapter examines some of the cultural variation in the ethical factors associated with the use of science and technology. The issues discussed... Sample PDF
Education of Ethics of Science and Technology Across Cultures
Chapter 7
Seppo Visala
Within the organisational development people’s arguments rise from their personal or group interests, which in turn are based on the systemic... Sample PDF
Planning, Interests, and Argumentation
Chapter 8
Alireza Bagheri
This chapter elaborates on some of the existing concerns and ethical issues that may arise when biomedical research protocols are proposed or funded... Sample PDF
Ethics Review on Externally- Sponsored Research in Developing Countries
Chapter 9
Gerrhard Fortwengel
At the beginning of this section the authors provide a definition of biomedical research and an interpretation of the meaning of ethics and social... Sample PDF
Social and Ethical Aspects of Biomedical Research
Chapter 10
Stefano Fait
In assessing the ethical implications of genomics and biotechnology, it is important to acknowledge that science, technology, and bioethics do not... Sample PDF
Ethical Aspects of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
Chapter 11
Timothy F. Murphy
Military researchers are working to exploit advances in nanoscale research for military uniforms, medical diagnosis and treatment, enhanced soldier... Sample PDF
Nanoscale Research, Ethics, and the Military
Chapter 12
Keith Bauer
This chapter reviews key debates about the meaning of telehealth and also considers how new and emerging systems in telehealth work to protect... Sample PDF
Healthcare Ethics in the Information Age
Chapter 13
Matthew Charlesworth, David Sewry
The development of cybernetics and digital computers prompted the need for a greater exploration of computer ethics. Information ethics, as... Sample PDF
Ethical Theories and Computer Ethics
Chapter 14
John P. Sullins
This chapter will argue that artificial agents created or synthesized by technologies such as artificial life (ALife), artificial intelligence (AI)... Sample PDF
Artificial Moral Agency in Technoethics
Chapter 15
Pilar Alejandra Cortés Pascual
‘What positive and negative aspects are perceived of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT)?’ and ‘What dilemmas arise regarding these... Sample PDF
Ethical Controversy over Information and Communication Technology
Chapter 16
Martin Ryder
This chapter provides a brief summary of the technical and social hurdles that define the so-called ‘digital divide’ and it considers the celebrated... Sample PDF
The Cyborg and the Noble Savage: Ethics in the War on Information Poverty
Chapter 17
Mike Ribble
In todays changing global society, digital technology users need to be prepared to interact and work with users from around the world. Digital... Sample PDF
Becoming a Digital Citizen in a Technological World
Chapter 18
Deb Gearhart
Are we developing a (global) society where our youth think it is ok to copy and paste whatever they see on the Internet and turn it in for homework;... Sample PDF
Technoethics in Education for the Twenty-First Century
Chapter 19
May Thorseth
The purpose of this chapter is to discuss important ethical aspects of online communication of global scope. We focus particularly on procedural... Sample PDF
The Ethics of Global Communication Online
Chapter 20
Cameron Norman, Adrian Guta, Sarah Flicker
New information technologies are creating virtual spaces that allow youth to network and express themselves with unprecedented freedom and... Sample PDF
Engaging Youth in Health Promotion Using Multimedia Technologies: Reflecting on 10 Years of TeenNet Research Ethics and Practice
Chapter 21
Samantha Mei-che Pang
In Hong Kong, end-of-life practice ideally adheres to values that include respect for the patient’s selfdetermination and an understanding shared by... Sample PDF
Ethical Challenges of Engaging Chinese in End-of-Life Talk
Chapter 22
Busi Nkala
An estimated 39.5 million people are living with HIV worldwide. There were 4.3 million new infections in 2006 with 2.8 million (65%) of these... Sample PDF
Community Education in New HIV Prevention Technologies Research
Chapter 23
Makoto Nakada, Rafael Capurro
In this article we give an overview of the range and characteristics of intercultural information ethics (IIE) focusing on the public/private debate... Sample PDF
The Public / Private Debate: A Contribution to Intercultural Information Ethics
Chapter 24
Arsalan Butt
Consumer software piracy is widespread in many parts of the world. P2P based websites have made it easier to access pirated software, which has... Sample PDF
Ethical, Cultural and Socio- Economic Factors of Software Piracy Determinants in a Developing Country: Comparative Analysis of Pakistani and Canadian University Students
Chapter 25
A. Anderson, S. Allan, A. Petersen, C. Wilkinson
Recent evidence on genetically modified crops, cloning and stem cell research suggests that the news media play a significant role in shaping wider... Sample PDF
Nanoethics: The Role of News Media in Shaping Debate
Chapter 26
Russell W. Robbins, Kenneth R. Fleischmann, William A. Wallace
This chapter explains and integrates new approaches to teaching computing and information ethics (CIE) and researching CIE education. We first... Sample PDF
Computing and Information Ethics Education Research
Chapter 27
Jennifer Candor
The allocation of resources for assistive technology does not have to result in a gap between general and special education. This case study... Sample PDF
The Ethical Dilemma over Money in Special Education
Chapter 28
Pilar Alejandra Cortés Pascual
Educational orientation should be set within a specific socio-historical context, which is nowadays characterized by the Society of Information.... Sample PDF
Educational Technoethics Applied to Career Guidance
Chapter 29
A.K. Haghi
In this book chapter, the authors summarize their retrospections as an engineering educator for more than 20 years. Consideration is given to a... Sample PDF
The Scholarship of Teaching Engineering: Some Fundamental Issues
Chapter 30
Antoinette Rouvroy
The aim of the present chapter is to elucidate the paradoxical position of the individual legal subject in the context of human genetics. It first... Sample PDF
Which Rights for Which Subjects? Genetic Confidentiality and Privacy in the Post-Genomic Era
Chapter 31
Eduardo A. Rueda
This chapter focuses on showing legitimate ways for coping with uncertainties within the informed consent process of predictive genetic testing. It... Sample PDF
Predictive Genetic Testing,Uncertainty, and Informed Consent
Chapter 32
Soraj Hongladarom
The chapter argues that there is a way to justify privacy without relying on the metaphysical assumption of an independently existing self or... Sample PDF
Privacy, Contingency, Identity, and the Group
Chapter 33
Y. Ibrahim
This chapter situates the current debates on pornography in the virtual realm and its ethical and legal implications for users and researchers. It... Sample PDF
The Ethics of Gazing: The Politics of Online Pornography
Chapter 34
Neil C. Rowe
We examine the main ethical issues concerning deception in cyberspace. We first discuss the concept of deception and survey ethical theories... Sample PDF
The Ethics of Deception in Cyberspace
Chapter 35
Cyber Identity Theft  (pages 542-557)
Lynne D. Roberts
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) provide substantial benefits to governments, organizations and individuals through providing low... Sample PDF
Cyber Identity Theft
Chapter 36
A. Pablo Iannone
This chapter asks: What is information overload? At what levels of existence does it occur? Are there any features common to information overload at... Sample PDF
Walking the Information Overload Tightrope
Chapter 37
Cyber-Victimization  (pages 575-592)
Lynne D. Roberts
Information and communication technologies (ICTs); while providing a range of benefits to individuals, organisations and governments; also provide... Sample PDF
Chapter 38
Spyware  (pages 593-608)
Mathias Klang
It is well known that technology can be use as to effectively monitor the behavior of crows and individuals and in many cases this knowledge may b... Sample PDF
Chapter 39
D. Gareth Jones
The advent of in vitro fertilization (IVF) marked a watershed in the scientific understanding of the human embryo. This, in turn, led to a... Sample PDF
In Vitro Fertilization and the Embryonic Revolution
Chapter 40
Joyce Yi- Hui Lee
In this chapter we argue that even though conflict has been explored at an intra-organizational level, its effect and role at an... Sample PDF
Inter-Organizational Conflicts in Virtual Alliances
Chapter 41
Andreas Matthias
Creation of autonomously acting, learning artifacts has reached a point where humans cannot any more be justly held responsible for the actions of... Sample PDF
From Coder to Creator: Responsibility Issues in Intelligent Artifact Design
Chapter 42
J. José Cortez
Fundamental democratic principles and values that guide our social relationships have been important concerns in the evolution of this nation’s... Sample PDF
Historical Perspective of Technoethics in Education
Chapter 43
Heidi L. Schnackenberg
On the cutting edge of current technologies are portable media, where users can download information and take it with them to digest it anytime... Sample PDF
Podcasting and Vodcasting in Education and Training
Chapter 44
Technoethics in Schools  (pages 680-699)
Darren Pullen
School students are used to digital technology-they blog, create movies for public viewing on the web, create and download music and use instant... Sample PDF
Technoethics in Schools
Chapter 45
Charles R Crowell
This chapter discusses the ways in which moral psychology can inform information ethics. A “Four Component Model” of moral behavior is described... Sample PDF
Moral Psychology and Information Ethics: Psychological Distance and the Components of Moral Behavior in a Digital World
Chapter 46
José-Rodrigo Córdoba
Current developments in information systems (IS) evaluation emphasise stakeholder participation in order to ensure adequate and beneficial IS... Sample PDF
A Critical Systems View of Power-Ethics Interactions in Information Systems Evaluation
Chapter 47
Joan D. McMahon
If you were to survey course syllabi on your campus, you would probably find the standard syllabi to include: • Course title and number •... Sample PDF
Ethical Issues in Web-Based Learning
Chapter 48
Barbara Paterson
Computer ethicists foresee that as information and communication technology (ICT) increasingly pervades more and more aspects of life, ethical... Sample PDF
We Cannot Eat Data: The Need for Computer Ethics to Address the Cultural and Ecological Impacts of Computing
Chapter 49
Bernd Carsten Stahl, Simon Rogerson
The ever-changing face of ICT can render its deployment rather problematic in sensitive areas of applications, such as healthcare. The ethical... Sample PDF
Current and Future State of ICT Deployment and Utilization in Healthcare: An Analysis of Cross-Cultural Ethical Issues
Chapter 50
Sue Conger
With each new technology, new ethical issues emerge that threaten both individual and household privacy. This chapter investigates issues relating... Sample PDF
Emerging Technologies, Emerging Privacy Issues
Chapter 51
Robert N. Barger
This chapter discusses the ethics of a proof-of-concept demonstration of “parasitic computing.” A “parasite” computer attempts to solve a complex... Sample PDF
Ethics of "Parasitic Computing": Fair Use or Abuse of TCP/IP Over the Internet?
Chapter 52
Cecilia Andrews
“Counter-terrorism refers to the practices, tactics and strategies that governments, militaries and other groups adopt in order to fight terrorism.”... Sample PDF
Simulating Complexity-Based Ethics for Crucial Decision Making in Counter Terrorism
Chapter 53
Gundars Kaupins
This article summarizes the legal and ethical implications associated with employee location monitoring. It states that few international laws and... Sample PDF
Legal and Ethical Implications of Employee Location Monitoring
Chapter 54
Fjodor Ruzic
In today’s dynamic e-business environment where fast time to market is imperative, where information and telecommunications technology is costly and... Sample PDF
New Ethics for E-Business Offshore Outsourcing
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