Toward What End?: Three Classical Theories

Toward What End?: Three Classical Theories

Nathan Harter (Purdue University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-245-0.ch002
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Abstract

Ethics as a distinct line of inquiry dates back to antiquity. Historically, the professions in particular have taken ethics seriously, since by means of ethical behavior a profession earns trust from the community it serves. The emerging profession of information assurance and security can engage in ethical deliberation using a variety of existing theories. The following chapter begins by answering whether there is really any point engaging in ethical theory. We argue there is such a purpose. Following this section, the chapter outlines three classic theories of Western ethics, namely utilitarian ethics, deontological ethics, and virtue ethics. We offer three of the most enduring theories for use in this book. Before we reach them, however, we must first explain why professionals in information assurance and security might want to learn them.
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Introduction

The study of ethics is very old. The origin of ethics as a distinct line of inquiry dates back to the ancient Greeks. Since that time, the study of ethics has not been restricted to professional philosophers. Today, it permeates all cultures, from the most elaborate systems of ethical theory to bumper sticker slogans. The professions, in particular, have historically taken ethics seriously, since it is by means of ethical behavior that a profession earns trust from the community it serves. The emerging profession of information assurance and security is grappling with ethical dilemmas of all sorts as it comes of age. Rather than reinventing the wheel, practitioners and students can engage in ethical deliberation using a variety of existing theories, drawing from the wealth of ethics tradition from other professions and from classical ethical theory.

Not only would practitioners and students in information assurance and security learn something from what has already been said about ethics, they are also encouraged to contribute their unique point of view, based on their expertise. After all, information assurance and security affects society in profound and intimate ways. Professionals in this field are an important voice in an ongoing conversation on ethics. We stated that ethics is nothing new. However, given the innovative nature of technology—and humanity’s eagerness to adopt it—it would be just as accurate to say that ethics is forever new.

In this chapter, we join a long and intricate conversation, going back for thousands of years – a conversation that persists because ethics is forever relevant to the issues of the day. We begin by answering a direct challenge to this premise. It responds to the question whether there is really any point engaging in ethical theory. We think there is such a purpose. In this chapter, we will investigate three of the most enduring classic theories of Western ethics, namely utilitarian ethics, deontological ethics, and virtue ethics. Certainly many other theories exist, but as a place to begin, these three will serve us well. They are typical and widely known. A basic understanding of these theories is a prerequisite for an informed discussion of ethics. Before we discuss them in detail, we must first explain why professionals in information assurance and security might want to learn them.

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