Distributed Morality in an Information Society

Abstract

The phenomenon of distributed knowledge is well-known in epistemic logic. In this paper, a similar phenomenon in ethics, somewhat neglected so far, is investigated, namely distributed morality. The article explains the nature of distributed morality, as a feature of moral agency, and explores the implications of its occurrence in advanced information societies. In the course of the analysis, the concept of infraethics is introduced, in order to refer to the ensemble of moral enablers, which, although morally neutral per se, can significantly facilitate or hinder both positive and negative moral behaviours.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    More precisely, C is the agent that is perceived to know that Q at the level of abstraction at which we do not have A and B as observables. On the method of levels of abstraction see Floridi (2008b, 2011).

  2. 2.

    For the logically-minded reader, these are not formulae but mere abbreviations. They could be transformed into formulae by adopting a quantification ranging over the domain of all actions occurring in the system under observation, but this would be cumbersome and provide no further insights. The same holds true for an analysis in terms of deontic logic.

  3. 3.

    Universalization is an obvious factor that can help in such a strategy. By universalization I refer here to the normative coordination of the possibly good, distributed actions of a multiagent system: agents constituting a MAS ought to implement, optimise and coordinate their actions in such a way as to make them converge on the achievement of a morally good output. There are of course several other ways of understanding ethical universalization, see my reply to Stahl in Floridi (2008a).

  4. 4.

    I am grateful to Massimo Durante for having called my attention to this important point.

  5. 5.

    Source: Oxfam, http://www.oxfam.org.uk/get_involved/companies/downloads/oxfamatwork_web08.pdf.

  6. 6.

    Source: CharityFacts, http://www.charityfacts.org/charity_facts/charity_costs/index.html.

  7. 7.

    Source: Eurostat—Community survey on ICT usage in Households and by Individuals, http://scoreboard.lod2.eu/index.php?scenario=2&indicators%5B%5D=i_iuport+IND_TOTAL+%25_ind&countries%5B%5D=EU27#chart.

  8. 8.

    See for example LCD'07—Workshop on Logics and Collective Decision Making, Erasmus International Institute MSH Nord-Pas-de-Calais, March 13–14, 2007, Lille, France.

  9. 9.

    This is related to, but not to be confused with, what Jonsen and Butler (1975) meant by ‘infraethics’, which they understood as a particular level of ethical enquiry concerning public ethics, see Daniels (1996), p. 341.

  10. 10.

    For the non-philosopher, metaethics is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of ethical theories, properties, statements, attitudes, and evaluations.

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Acknowledgments

Previous versions of this article were presented at (a) CEPE 2007The Seventh International Computer Ethics Conference (University of San Diego, 13 July 2007); (b) the International Workshop on Moral Agency and Technical Artefacts, organised by the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS, 10-12 May 2007); (c) a research seminar, organised by the Oxford Uehiro Centre and the Programme on the Ethics of the New Biosciences (University of Oxford, 26 November 2007); (d) the Internet Ethics Seminar, organised by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII, 30 April, 2010); (e) a departmental seminar, organised by the Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford (Oxford, 14 July, 2010). I wish to thank all the participants to those meetings for their feedback and, for their kind invitations and the opportunity to present and discuss this research, Lawrence M. Hinman and Esther Aguilar in relation to (a); Peter Kroes, Henneke Filiz-Piekhaar, Jeroen van den Hoven, Eline van der Ploeg, in relation to (b); Jo Armitage, Miriam Wood, and Julian Savulescu, in relation to (c); Yorick Wilks, Matthew Carlos, and Karen Melham in relation to (d); and Alexandru Baltag in relation to (e). David Davenport, Massimo Durante, Ugo Pagallo, and Judith Simon provided some very useful comments on the penultimate version. I would also like to acknowledge the useful comments by the two anonymous reviewers. Penny Driscoll skilfully copyedited the final version.

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Correspondence to Luciano Floridi.

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Floridi, L. Distributed Morality in an Information Society. Sci Eng Ethics 19, 727–743 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-012-9413-4

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Keywords

  • Distributed morality
  • Information and communication technologies
  • Information ethics
  • Infraethics
  • Moral enablers
  • Multiagent systems