Com2040/6650 Professional Issues in Information Technology

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


Com2040/6650 Professional Issues in Information Technology. Part VI: Introduction to Ethics Dr. Amanda Sharkey Department of Computer Science University of Sheffield. 1 Introduction 2 Definitions 3 Western Ethical Thought 4 Ethical Problem Solving - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

Text of Com2040/6650 Professional Issues in Information Technology

Com2040/6650 Professional Issues in Information Technology

Com2040/6650Professional Issues in Information Technology

Part VI: Introduction to Ethics

Dr. Amanda of Computer ScienceUniversity of Sheffield

1 Introduction2 Definitions3 Western Ethical Thought4 Ethical Problem Solving5 Summary and Conclusions1. IntroductionEthical dilemmas occur frequently in professional practice; we must be equipped to deal with them.

Important to consider the likely effects of engineering and software

Ethical dilemmas are inherently subjective; there is no 'right' answer, and no step-by-step algorithm that can be used to solve ethical problems.

In this lecture we consider:origins of (Western) moral and ethical philosophy;practical approaches to ethical problem solving.

This is a relatively superficial overview of a very deep subject. Further reading advised2.1 What is philosophy?

The main purpose of philosophy is to critically evaluate assumptions and arguments.

Philosophy asks us to examine assumptions that people accept without question, e.g. seeing is believing (perception by the senses is reliable evidence).

2. DefinitionsOn consideration, we will either:

Decide that we have good reason to hold the belief, and continue to hold it (but now with rational assurance rather than unthinking acceptance)

Decide that we do not have good reason to hold the belief, and suspend judgement or seek a new framework of belief.2.2 What is moral philosophy?Moral philosophy is inquiry about values, ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, what should be done and what should not be done.

Moral philosophy is not practical in any simple sense; it cannot, and does not try to, tell us what to do. However, philosophical debate can conclude that a set of beliefs should definitely be rejected because:

It is internally inconsistent


It rests on a factual assumption that is false.

2.3 Personal and professional ethics

Ethics concerns the philosophical discussion of assumptions about right and wrong, good and bad, considered as general ideas and applied in the private life of individuals.

The terms moral philosophy and ethics are often used interchangeably, but moral philosophy has a wider scope; it concerns values in organised social life (politics and law) as well as private relationships.

By professional ethics , we mean issues of right and wrong and good and bad as applied to the behaviour of individuals within a particular profession (such as computer science, law, medicine etc.).

What is a profession? See later ...3. Western Ethical Thought Western moral thought is derived from thinking of ancients in Europe and Middle East.

Jewish moral traditions - Torah and Old Testament of the Bible enumerate moral laws (e.g. Ten commandments).

Greek ethical thought very influential, e.g. Socrates and Aristotle.

Aristotle produced a lengthy treatise on ethics, the Nichomachean Ethics. Now available on-line!

John Locke Immanuel Kant John Stuart Mill

Subsequently, philosophers such as John Locke (1632-1704), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) have reasoned about moral and ethical issues without a religious underpinning.

They proposed that moral principles are universal, and applicable even in secular contexts.

3.1 Ethical theories

Ethical theories are like scientific theories - they define terms, organize ideas and facilitate problem solving.

There are many ethical theories, reflecting a diversity of approaches to ethical problem solving.

Different theories give us different perspectives on an ethical dilemma.

We will consider the following:Utilitarianism which seeks to produce the most utility;Intuitionism which proposes a number of self-evident principles of right action;Duty ethics which contends that there are duties which should be performed (such as treating people fairly);Rights ethics which contends that all individuals have moral rights, and that violating these is unacceptable; Virtue ethics which discriminates between acts of good character (virtues) and acts of bad character (vices).

Two main approaches to ethical issues

1. Consequentialist (teleological)actions evaluated in terms of their consequences2. Duty/rights (deontological) approaches(from Greek , deon, "obligation, duty"; and -, -logia) Acts are right or wrong regardless of their consequences3.2 Utilitarianism

Main consequential theory.Many flavours of utilitarianism. First proposed by Jeremy Bentham. We focus on act utilitarianism (Mill), which holds that an action is right if it is useful for promoting happiness.More specifically:An action is right (it is the action you should do) if it seems likely to you that it will produce more happiness than any alternative action.

- Choose the action that will produce the greatest happiness of the greatest number (pleasure pain)Consider those persons (and other creatures) that will be significantly affected.Utilitarianism is fundamental to risk-benefit and cost-benefit analysis.

3.3 Utilitarianism and the law

People tend to act in their own self interest (?)

But greatest happiness of greatest number implies altruism (concern for others).

If people act in their own self-interest, how can their actions be made to serve the advantage of everyone?

Utilitarianism: developing legislation of the benefit of society.

Laws exist to promote the happiness of the communityThief: stealing might increase the thiefs happinessBut it will be bad for societyLaws against theft protect society, and make stealing less attractive to the thief (who risks punishment/imprisonment).Implies that punishment (pain) should be just enough to deter anti-social acts3.4 Objections to utilitarianismHow does one know what will lead to the greatest good? Often we don't know what the consequences of our actions are.

It can ignore the needs of individuals, or of a smaller group relative to a larger group.

Act utilitarianism working out likely consequences of every action.

Rule utilitarianism avoids this. Suggests behavioural rules which result in consequences that are more favourable than unfavourable to everyone.

Utilitarianism also ignores the personal character of moral obligation.3.5 IntuitionismA stance adopted by rationalist philosophers; we reason about ethics in the same way as we reason about mathematics, e.g. justice is a basic moral truth: 2+2=4 is a basic mathematical truth

There are self-evident principles of right action:o promoting the happiness of peopleo refraining from harm to other peopleo treating people justlyo telling the trutho keeping promiseso showing gratitudeo promoting one's own happinesso maintaining and promoting one's own self-respect

Conflicts between these principles must be resolved by rational intuition (like solving mathematical problems).Intuitionists argue that Utilitarians have concentrated on only a couple of these self-evident principles.

Problems with intuitionism:- principles are not always self-evident- How do you resolve conflict between principles?e.g. You can only keep a promise by sacrificing some happiness (your own, or others)Utilitarianism provides a way of resolving conflicts.

3.6 Duty ethics and rights ethics

Basically two sides of the same coin; both hold that good actions respect the rights of individuals.

Rights ethics largely formulated by Locke; his tenet that individuals have basic rights which others should respect was paraphrased in the US Declaration of Independence.

Main proponent of duty ethics was Kant.

Kant distinguished the Categorical (moral) imperative from Hypothetical (prudential) imperatives:

Hypothetical imperatives take the form Do X if Y or You ought to do X if Y. For example: If you want to be healthy, take lots of exerciseThe Categorical imperative does not depend on an if; the action is not a means to an end. For example: Be kind to others does not mean "be kind to others if you want to avoid making enemies of them"; kindness is prescribed for its own sake and not because a self-interested end

3.7 Three forms of the Categorical Imperative

Kant gave three formulations of the Categorical imperative:

Act as if you are legislating for everyone In other words, when you are considering whether an action is morally right or wrong, you should ask yourself whether you would want everyone to behave in that way.i.e. Treat your decision as if it was a law for everyone.

Good way of seeing if the action is morally right 2. Act so as to treat human beings always as ends and never merely as meansThis suggests the standard of morally right action. By treating people as ends, you recognise that they have purposes just as you have; you respect their desires. There is nothing wrong with treating a person as a means so long as you do not treat people merely as a means. E.g. I can ask a carpenter to make me a set of shelves he tells me his price and I pay him. The work serves his purposes as well as mine.

But if I tell my slave to make me a set of shelves, I am treating him merely as a meansMaking the shelves does not serve his purposesKantian principles is related to the Golden Rule of biblical ethics. Do unto others as you would have them do unto youGolden Rule can be seen as foundation for all ethicsAlso similar to New Testament:Act lovingly towards your neighbour, for he is like yourself3. Act as if you were a member of a realm of endsHere, 're