Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values
Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.
Queensborough Community College, CUNY
Chapter 2 Computers and Ethics
There is something in the makeup of the species homo sapiens that has them make tools as but one expression of a drive to make improvements in their lives. New technologies have been developed for as long as there have been humans. Indeed one of the attributes or characteristics of the species is just that; the making of tools. Humans have been described as homo faber; fabricators, makers. Electronic technologies that are at the base of computing devices or that have computers at their base have been with the human community for over a century and in that relatively short time they have produced remarkable advances in the physical environments in which most humans now live and in their social environment as well.
Computers, computer technologies, information technologies, information networks and the internet are the focus of this work and they as a group will often, but not always , be referred to using the more general phrase: computer technologies.
As humans make changes in their environments those changes in turn present situations with which humans must deal and take account, particularly if those situations present problems or conflicts that must be addressed and satisfactorily resolved in keeping with the basic values held by those seeking the resolutions. This is not new at all. The focus herein is with changes introduced by computer technologies.
When changes take place as a result of the invention and use of technologies there is often an increase in the possibilities offered for human action within those changed environments. Indeed this increase is one of the driving forces behind technological research, development and experimentation. There are often times when the technologies have presented not only new situations with new possibilities but situations with dilemmas and problems not previously encountered. Indeed there are times when the situations are so new or novel that there would occur a loss of how to proceed. When there are not laws or customs to us as guides, such situations might be described as producing the result that humans proceed in a vacuum. This is the view of James Moor who has introduced that phrasing of this situation "Policy Vacuum" (see below) .
Where some of the dilemmas involve values held by human beings so then in resolving the dilemmas or problems there may be a role for ethical inquiry and moral deliberation. Ethics become relevant when humans are living with other humans. Ethics and morality appear to be thoroughly social phenomena. Humans living in isolation both social and physical from all other humans may not have any ethical or moral concerns. So Ethics arises out of human interactions and Ethics exist for use in human interactions. Humans are social animals. Aristotle describes the human species as being social animals, animals of the polis, of the society which makes them as they are: zoon politikon. Ethics and moral concerns arise from this social nature and the incumbent moral sensitivity or impulse to sympathize or empathize (more on this in the next chapter). Ethics deals with human interests and out of concerns for harm to humans and the desire to resolve human conflicts. With ethics something of value is involved. There is something that humans think of as important and that they desire when they enter into ethical inquiry.
The changes produced by the computer technologies have prompted ethical inquiry. Computer technologies have been presenting humans with moral problems and dilemmas.
Here is one presentation on the the nature of computers and ethics. READ: Computer Ethics
An important work in setting out the new discipline is this work. READ: What is Computer Ethics? – James H. Moor
Back in 1982 Computer Ethics was a discipline of Philosophy still in its infancy and it had a far shorter range of concerns than will be found in this work being written in 2006: A Discipline in its Infancy – Terrell Ward Bynum
So, Computer Ethics has come to take its place as one of a number of applications of ethics to different fields or areas of life. As such it is a form of Applied Ethics. For an account of the historical development of this new discipline in Applied Ethics described in :A Very Short History of Computer Ethics by Terrell Ward Bynum
Date: Sat, 13 Oct 90 15:40:00 EDT
Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution. email@example.com @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino
Last updated 8-2006 Return to Table of Contents