Moral Psychology and Information Ethics: Psychological Distance and the Components of Moral Behavior in a Digital World

Moral Psychology and Information Ethics: Psychological Distance and the Components of Moral Behavior in a Digital World

Charles R. Crowell (University of Notre Dame, USA), Darcia Narvaez (University of Notre Dame, USA) and Anna Gomberg (University of Notre Dame, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-937-3.ch219
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Abstract

This chapter discusses the ways in which moral psychology can inform information ethics. A “Four Component Model” of moral behavior is described involving the synergistic influences of key factors including sensitivity, judgment, motivation, and action. Two technology-mediated domains, electronic communications and digital property, are then explored to illustrate how technology can impact each of the four components believed to underlie moral behavior. It is argued that technology can create a kind of “psychological distance” between those who use technology for communication or those who acquire and use digital property (e.g., software or music) and those who may be affected by such uses (e.g., e-mail recipients or digital property owners). This “distance” potentially impacts all four components of moral behavior in such a way that the usual social or moral constraints operative under normal (non-technology-mediated) circumstances (e.g., face-to-face communication) may be reduced, thereby facilitating the occurrence of unethical activities like piracy, hacking, or flaming. Recognition of the potential deleterious impact of technology on each of the four components leads to a better understanding of how specific educational interventions can be devised to strengthen moral sensitivity, judgment, motivation, and action within the context of our increasingly digital world.

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