Social networking technology and the virtues
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This paper argues in favor of more widespread and systematic applications of a virtue-based normative framework to questions about the ethical impact of information technologies, and social networking technologies in particular. The first stage of the argument identifies several distinctive features of virtue ethics that make it uniquely suited to the domain of IT ethics, while remaining complementary to other normative approaches. I also note its potential to reconcile a number of significant methodological conflicts and debates in the existing literature, including tensions between phenomenological and constructivist perspectives. Finally, I claim that a virtue-based perspective is needed to correct for a strong utilitarian bias in the research methodologies of existing empirical studies on the social and ethical impact of IT. The second part of the paper offers an abbreviated demonstration of the merits of virtue ethics by showing how it might usefully illuminate the moral dimension of emerging social networking technologies. I focus here on the potential impact of such technologies on three virtues typically honed in communicative practices: patience, honesty and empathy.
KeywordsVirtue ethics Social networking technology Aristotle Empirical turn Social capital Well-being Communicative virtues
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I am greatly indebted to the participants and organizers of the 2008 GLITA workshop at the University of Twente, Enschede, Netherlands, from whom I received many insightful comments and critiques on an earlier version of this paper, and in particular to Charles Ess, whose helpful guidance and general encouragement of this project have been invaluable. This project has also been supported by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, through the generosity of a Hackworth Grant. Finally, I would like to thank Erin Berkenmeier for her considerable efforts as my research assistant on this project.
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