Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College,  CUNY

Chapter 3 Ethics

Pragmatism and Virtue Theory


Pragmatic Ethics by Hugh LaFollette  


For pragmatists the matter of ethics is approached practically.  Our practices are our habits. In pragmatic ethics there is the Primacy of Habits, which empower and restrict.  They explore the Social nature of habits and the relation of habit to will.  For them Morality Is a Habit and being fallibilists, pragmatists know that no habits are flawless.  They also hold that Morality is social and that Changing habits for moral reasons is necessary.

Features of pragmatic ethics

Employs criteria, but is not criterial

Gleaning insights from other ethical theories

Relative without being relativistic

Tolerant without being irresolute

Theory and Practice


“Embracing a Pragmatist Ethic

A pragmatic ethic is not based on principles, but it is not unprincipled. Deliberation plays a significant role, albeit a different role than that given it on most accounts. Morality does not seek final absolute answers, yet it is not perniciously relativistic. It does recognize that circumstances can be different, and that in different circumstances, different actions may be appropriate. So it does not demand moral uniformity between people and across cultures. Moreover, it understands moral advance as emerging from the crucible of experience, not through the proclamations of something or someone outside us. Just as ideas only prove their superiority in dialogue and in conflict with other ideas, moral insight can likewise prove its superiority in dialogue and conflict with other ideas and experiences. Hence, some range of moral disagreement and some amount of different action will be not be, for the pragmatist, something to bemoan. It will be integral to moral advancement, and thus should be permitted and even praised, not lamented. Only someone who thought theory could provide final answers, and answers without the messy task of doing battle on the marketplace of ideas and of life, would find this regrettable”


These are some of the theories concerning the GOOD which hold for no single universal principle of the GOOD.  Instead they relate the determination of such a principle to be an exercise in POWER or self service which is put under a disguise of being a rational exercise of an unbiased mind.  What they have in common is a relativism.  The need for societies to have a moral foundation are not being served well by what are at their base appeals to power as the only basis for the resolution of conflict.  For these theories, morality collapses into self serving exercises. 

What are we left with then?

turn to next section

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.                @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino                       

Last updated 8-2006                                                              Return to Table of Contents