Monday, December 05, 2005

Info679: Readings--Luciana Floridi--- Information Ethics: On the Philosophical Foundation of Computer Ethics

Historical Perspectives on the Beginnings of Information Ethics

How to read this article? Skim and pay attention to the basic arguement and the footnotes rather than the complex analysis. Of special interest to those who are interesting in the history of scholarly communication and the development of the field of information ethics.

Intro to the reading: This reading is important to our course because it represents the term, information ethics, being used by a very well respected scholar in the philosophy of information and in computer ethics. This article represents a turning point in the growth of the field of information ethics because it brings the terminology into the arena of scholarly discourse in the most established field of computer ethics. After this article there is a marked increased in the use of the term information ethics being used the in scholarly literature of computer ethics.

Note that Floridi makes a case for information ethics as foundational to computer ethics based on his definition of information and the philosophy of information. Floridi represents the analytic style of philosophy and seeks to define basic categories that can serve as building blocks for developing ethical theory. The descriptive style of ethics doesn't depend upon specific definitions in order to address practical ethical challenges. Both the descriptive and the analytical styles are valuable. Analytical reflection provides a basic framework for moving toward rules or norms for conduct and policy making. The descriptive style is not as oriented around rules and norms. We talk about that more later.

Information Ethics: On the Philosophical Foundation of Computer Ethics

Luciano Floridi, version 2.0

A shorter version of this paper was given at ETHICOMP98 The Fourth International Conference on Ethical Issues of Information Technology, Erasmus University, The Netherlands, 25 to 27 March 1998, hosted by the Department of Philosophy Erasmus University, The Netherlands, in association with Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility De Montfort University, UK, Research Center on Computing and Society Southern Connecticut State University, USA, East Tennessee State University, USA.

The paper is forthcoming in the Proceedings of the conference and I shall gratefully acknowledge any useful comments or suggestions for improvements. Please send your emails to

For a list of resources see
A Short Webliography on Computer Ethics

For information on research in CE in recent years in the fields of philosophy and computing, see
the Appendix

For a reading list see
A Short Reading List on the Philosophy of Computer Ethics
Index of the paper sections

The Foundationalist Problem
Macroethics and Computer Ethics
A Model of Macroethics
From Computer Ethics to Information Ethics
Information Ethics as an Object-oriented and Ontocentric Theory
The Properties of the Infosphere
The Normative Aspect of Information Ethics: Four Moral Laws
Information Ethics as a Macroethics
Case Analysis: Four Negative Examples

Information Ethics: On the Philosophical Foundation of Computer Ethics
"We, who have a private life and hold it infinitely the dearest of our possessions…"
Virginia Woolf, "Montaigne"
in A Woman’s Essays (London: Penguin, 1992), p. 60.

1. The Foundationalist Problem
Lobbying, financial support and the undeniable importance of the very urgent issues discussed by Computer Ethics (henceforth CE) have not yet succeeded in raising it to the status of a philosophically respectable topic. If they take any notice of it (see appendix), most philosophers look down on CE as on a practical subject ("professional ethics"), unworthy of their analyses and speculations. They treat it like Carpentry Ethics, to use a Platonic metaphor.
The inescapable interdisciplinarity of CE has certainly done the greatest possible harm to the prospects for recognition of its philosophical significance. Everyone’s concern is usually nobody’s business, and CE is at too much of a crossroads of technical matters, moral and legal issues, social as well as political problems and philosophical analyses to be anyone’s own game. Philosophers’ notorious conservatism may also have been a hindrance. After all, Aristotle, Mill or Kant never

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