Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 147-152

First online:

Our moral condition in cyberspace

  • Diane P. MichelfelderAffiliated withDepartment of Languages and Philosophy, Utah State University

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Some kinds of technological change not only trigger new ethical problems, but also give rise to questions about those very approaches to addressing ethical problems that have been relied upon in the past. Writing in the aftermath of World War II, Hans Jonas called for a new ``ethics of responsibility,'' based on the reasoning that modern technology dramatically divorces our moral condition from the assumptions under which standard ethical theories were first conceived. Can a similar claim be made about the technologies of cyberspace? Do online information technologies so alter our moral condition that standard ethical theories become ineffective in helping us address the moral problems they create? I approach this question from two angles. First, I look at the impact of online information technologies on our powers of causal efficacy. I then go on to consider their impact on self-identity. We have good reasons, I suggest, to be skeptical of any claim that there is a need for a new, cyberspace ethics to address the moral dilemmas arising from these technologies. I conclude by giving a brief sketch of why this suggestion does not imply there is nothing philosophically interesting about the ethical challenges associated with cyberspace.

cyberspace ethical theory responsibility technological change