Thursday, October 07, 2010

Information Ethics: What Is It? Sunday School? Journalism?

Information Ethics:  What is it?

Information Ethics?  Certainly not a subject appropriate for a dissertation topic.  A Sunday School subject?  Perhaps journalism; not scholarship! Absolutely not part of information science.  These were the comments of academic colleagues, doctoral committee members, and deans.  

Outside the academy early on, when I was asked why I was doing a second Ph. D. and said that I was interested in information ethics, the response was often, "What is that?"  Or sometimes, what does ethics have to do with information.  Pre-Internet and between computer ethics and cyberethics, I began my serious inquiry into what seemed to me to be the next big thing in professional and consumer ethics.  It seemed to me that Joseph Fletcher was talking about information ethics when he talked about the patient's right to know in his 1954 Morals and Medicine.  In those days, when we still stalked the library stacks for book titles and indexes for support for our hunches, I found several scholarly communities that were new to me.  I was excited to find philosophy of technology and a broader field called by some Science, Technoogy, and Society.  I also found books and even more articles on the history of medical ethics, engineering ethics, and environmental ethics.  Had anyone ever documented the history of a new area of applied ethics as it was emerging, before it was accepted as a term or as a potential area of study? I had so many questions:
  • How had medical ethics begun to be studied as a field?
  • What was the relationship between medical and bioethics?
  • When were the first courses taught?  Where?  Faculty background?
  • How did computer ethics begin?  Where?  Faculty background?  
  • What is the relationship between professional associations, codes, and applied ethics courses?
  • Who first talked about professional ethics? Business ethics?  Engineering ethics? Environmental ethics?
  • What is the relationship between professional ethics and public policy?
  • How do various areas of applied ethics relate to formal philosophical inquiry. 
  • And so many more.
  • NEXT:  What I found in the stacks in the libraries at UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, and in the Duke Divinity School Library. 


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