Saturday, October 02, 2010

Joseph Fletcher: Morals and Medicine (1954) and Situation Ethics (1966)

Joseph Fletcher:
Morals and Medicine (1954)
Situation Ethics (1966)
Joseph Fletcher's two books illustrate an important trend in applied ethics--the public interest in practical ethics, the ethics of daily life, the work place, and public policy.  I see Fletcher as a populizer rather than a philosophical ethicist.  While I am not familiar with the more technical aspects of philosophy and ethics or with place that Fletcher holds in academic philosophy, I would like to reflect on the way his work influenced my interest in information ethics.  From my perspective, it would be valuable to explore the emergence of medical ethics after World War II as a patient-centered enterprise and the way medical ethics and bioethics have exploded as a field.  Fletcher's Morals and Medicine (1954) focuses on the patient's right to know. Note too that Fletcher wrote an early book on reproductive and genetics ethics.  I will comment more on these matters.  


Applied Ethics (1945-1990)
Beginning Dates?
What do we know about the emergence of the various fields of applied ethics after World War II to the present?
  • Medical Ethics
  • Engineering Ethics
  • Earth Ethics
  • Environmental Ethics
  • Bioethics
  • Computer Ethics
  • Information Technology Ethics
  • Information Ethics
  • Cyberethics
  • Bioethics
  • Reproductive Ethics
  • Nursing Ethics
  • Genetic Ethics
  • Health Care Ethics
  • ???

Information Ethics: Of Course

Information Ethics:  Of Course

Time can be a wonderful perspective enhancer.  When I was younger, I took the slights in my early years in academic institutions very personally.  I couldn't see beyond myself into the workings of a turbulent system struggling with change and threats to the professional and personal stakes of others.  Enjoying my student years in the enthusiasm surrounding huge educational expenditures in the sixties and early seventies,  I never imagined that it would end.  But it did, and those of us who put our trust in the liberal arts and the promises of democracy reborn faced challenges that would unfold in the midst of diminishing funds and historic global shifts.  For sure, we could not have imagined the Internet.  Or could we?

Personal Experience:  Why Information Ethics?
If I look back into my academic career and what issues first captured my mind and finally lead me to see information ethics as an important part of my future, I'd point to two different experiences.  The first one chronologically happened in seminary around 1968.  I was taking the first and only formal ethics course I'd ever had and needed a term project.  For some reason I'd become interested in computers.  I sent a letter (by mail) to IBM and asked for some information and received an envelope with two or three booklets about the way computers would change the world.  I have no idea what I finally wrote about, but I do remember that the fears of the day were around automation and how computers would replace humans in the workplace.  The second influence is harder to describe because it less concrete and occurred over a period of years. In the sixties when I was in college and seminary (1963-1967; 1967-1970),  there was an intellectual ferment around religion and ethics.  A time when authority was being questioned, college students were reading about the death of God and an ethic guided by love not rules. Then there was "Make love, not war."  Several books circulated among college students.  There was Situation Ethics by Joseph Fletcher (1966) and The Death of God by Gabriel Vahanian (1961). In one of my religion courses, we were assigned The Secular City by Harvey Cox (1966) and my seminary classes were full of guys who came to seminary to escape the draft.  Vietnam was dividing families, and Woodstock was over by the time I graduated.  Universities were reeling with challenges that set the stage for many of the questions and conflicts that continue to unsettle.  If we were to go back in history to World War II, we could follow the promises and perils of the war as well.  In particular, the uses and misuses of computers, 
the technologies of war, and medicine herald the themes of information ethics today.   

"Make love not war." (as early as 1966?)

Joseph Fletcher and Situation Ethics (1966)
Joseph Fletcher and Morals and Medicine (1954)
(Next Time)


Research Agenda for the History of Information Ethics---Research Agenda

Research Agenda for the History of Information Ethics

Now is the time to do the interviews and gather the letters, the papers, and the memories of the earliest years of information ethics.  Those of us who were there have time now to share the influences that lead us to envision the need for scholarly reflection on the emerging new technologies.  What influenced us?  What were we reading?  How did our colleagues respond?  What were we teaching and writing about then?  How did our deans and directors react?  What about tenure?  Was our research accepted?  Encouraged?
Where shall we start? 
  • First, let's make sure we contact those who have been involved?
  • We should make sure we make a public list and plot the relationships among the people.  
  • We should not shy away from the conflicts and political dynamics, from the struggles about terminology and the historical "facts."   For example, I'd be glad to talk about my side of the story about the "information ethics" article on Wikipedia.  
  • Collect course syllabi and make sure we have bibliographies from the early days.
  • Use bibliometric tools to begin tracing patterns of influence.
  • Identify the various threads of literature.
  • Identify and examine the records of academic associations,  listservs, newsletters, meetings, informal collaborations, etc.
  •  Identify the influence of the Internet and its predecessors.
  •  Firsts?
  • Collect the formal and informal documents on the history of information ethics as a discipline and discussions of the relationships among the various other fields related to information ethics and information technology.  I'd suggest being expansive so that the roots of current research can be connected.  
  • On informal documents:  During the decades of focus, there are lots of information buried in PowerPoints.  We should search for these and make sure that they are available for use.  
  •  Finally for now, I encourage you to talk to your colleagues about finding a way to preserve our history.  We will probably want both a print and an electronic repository.   I have some print materials stored at a university library and would be glad to donate the remaining in the next few years as I move toward retirement from active scholarship.  Other than contributing to the history, I'm bringing my involvement to an end.  I look forward to seeing what happens.
  • Blog Post on October 2, 2010.  The Infoethicist on