, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 71-78

The role of metaethics and the future of computer ethics

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Abstract

In the following essay, I will discuss D.Johnson's argument in her ETHICOMP99 KeynoteSpeech (Johnson 1999) regarding the possiblefuture disappearance of computer ethics as anautonomous discipline, and I will analyze somelikely objections to Johnson's view.In the future, there are two ways in whichcomputer ethics might disappear: (1) therejection of computer ethics as an aspect ofapplied ethics, or (2) the rejection ofcomputer ethics as an autonomous discipline.The first path, it seems to me, would lead tothe death of the entire field of appliedethics, while the second path would lead onlyto the death of computer ethics as a separatesubject. Computer technology is becoming very pervasive,and each scientific field includes somediscipline-specific computing. For the likelyforeseeable future, disciplines such asbioethics and engineering ethics will have todeal with ethical issues involving the role ofcomputers. I will argue that computer ethics inthis sense is unlikely to disappear, even ifcomputer ethics ceases to be considered as aseparate discipline.In order to understand which path will befollowed by computer ethics, I will compareJohnson's argument with ideas of earlierthinkers like N. Wiener (1950) and B. Russell(1932). Although Russell did not specificallyconsider computer technology, he had somegood intuitions about the development ofsocieties by means of technology.My conclusion will be two-fold: (1) thatapplied ethics will not die, but it may make nosense in the future to talk about computerethics as a separate field; and (2) thatcomputer ethics will not simply become``ordinary ethics'', contrary to Johnson's view.