Information technologies and the tragedy of the Good Will
Information plays a major role in any moral action. ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) have revolutionized the life of information, from its production and management to its consumption, thus deeply affecting our moral lives. Amid the many issues they have raised, a very serious one, discussed in this paper, is labelled the tragedy of the Good Will. This is represented by the increasing pressure that ICT and their deluge of information are putting on any agent who would like to act morally, when informed about actual or potential evils, but who also lacks the resources to do much about them. In the paper, it is argued that the tragedy may be at least mitigated, if not solved, by seeking to re-establish some equilibrium, through ICT themselves, between what agents know about the world and what they can do to improve it.
Keywordsagents evil globalization Good Will information ethics tragedy of the Good Will
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I discussed several drafts of this paper at many meetings. It was first the topic of a talk, “From Augmented Intelligence to Augmented Responsibility”, that I gave many years ago at the Computing and Philosophy Conference at Oregon State University (Corvallis, 24–26 January, 2002). I am grateful to Jon Dorbolo, for his kind invitation and the great opportunity to exchange some thoughts with Douglas Engelbart, and to OSU for its financial support. I then discussed a revised version at one of the seminars, “Some Ethical Consequences of Global Information”, which I gave at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Trondheim, 2 February 2005). For that opportunity and for the feedback received, I wish to thank Eric Mointeiro, Knut Rolland, Johnny Søraker and May Thorseth, and for the financial support, the Programme for Applied Ethics, the Department of Computer and Information Science, the Department of Philosophy and the Forum for Theory of Science at NTNU. I presented a further revised version at the Dipartimento di Scienze della Comunicazione, Università degli Studi di Salerno (Fisciano, 30 November 2005). Thanks to Roberto Cordeschi, Alessandro Laudanna and Teresa Numerico for their kind invitation, and to the Dipartimento di Scienze della Comunicazione for the financial support. I gave a virtually final version at the 2005 Uehiro/Carnegie Joint Conference “Information Ethics: Agents, Artifacts and New Cultural Perspectives”, which Julian Savulescu and I organised in Oxford (8–9 December, 2005). I am grateful in this case to Julian himself, also for his invitation to organize and coordinate the conference with him, to Terry Bynum, Roger Crisp, Charles Ess and Kei Hiruta, Deborah Johnson and Jim Moor for our discussions, and to the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education for their financial support. I had the opportunity to test the final version during an invited Departmental Seminar at OUCL (Oxford, UK, 2 March 2006), for which I am grateful to Alexandru Baltag. Finally, I wish to thank the participants in these meetings for their helpful discussions, Ken Herold for calling my attention to the paper by Pacuit, Parikh and Cogan, and Paul Oldfield for his copyediting suggestions. Terry Bynum and Charles Ess kindly agreed to act as referees and provided a wealth of crucial suggestions. As usual, any remaining mistakes, even after so much feedback and revision, are all mine.
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