Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 1–9 | Cite as

Mapping the foundationalist debate in computer ethics

  • Luciano Floridi
  • J.W. Sanders


The paper provides a critical review of thedebate on the foundations of Computer Ethics(CE). Starting from a discussion of Moor'sclassic interpretation of the need for CEcaused by a policy and conceptual vacuum, fivepositions in the literature are identified anddiscussed: the ``no resolution approach'',according to which CE can have no foundation;the professional approach, according to whichCE is solely a professional ethics; the radicalapproach, according to which CE deals withabsolutely unique issues, in need of a uniqueapproach; the conservative approach, accordingto which CE is only a particular appliedethics, discussing new species of traditionalmoral issues; and the innovative approach,according to which theoretical CE can expandthe metaethical discourse with a substantiallynew perspective. In the course of the analysis,it is argued that, although CE issues are notuncontroversially unique, they are sufficientlynovel to render inadequate the adoption ofstandard macroethics, such as Utilitarianismand Deontologism, as the foundation of CE andhence to prompt the search for a robust ethicaltheory. Information Ethics (IE) is proposed forthat theory, as the satisfactory foundation forCE. IE is characterised as a biologicallyunbiased extension of environmental ethics,based on the concepts of information object/infosphere/entropy rather thanlife/ecosystem/pain. In light of the discussionprovided in this paper, it is suggested that CEis worthy of independent study because itrequires its own application-specific knowledgeand is capable of supporting a methodologicalfoundation, IE.

computer ethics information and communication technology information ethics macroethics metaethics microethics policy vacuum uniqueness debate 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. T.W. Bynum, editor. Computers and Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell, published as the October 1985 issue of Metaphilosophy, 1985.Google Scholar
  2. T.W. Bynum. Human Values and the Computer Science Curriculum,, 1992.Google Scholar
  3. T.W. Bynum. Global Information Ethics and the Information Revolution. Bynum and Moor, 274–289, 1998Google Scholar
  4. T.W. Bynum and J.H. Moor, editors. The Digital Phoenix: How Computers are Changing Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.Google Scholar
  5. T.W. Bynum. A Very Short History of Computer Ethics. APA Newsletters on Philosophy and Computers: Spring February 1999,, 2000.Google Scholar
  6. R. Epstein. The Case of the Killer Robot. New York: JohnWiley and Sons, 1997.Google Scholar
  7. L. Floridi. Does Information have a Moral Worth in Itself?. Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiry (CEPE 98). London School of Economics and Political Science, London, December 14-15, preprint available at, 1998.Google Scholar
  8. L. Floridi. Information Ethics: On the Philosophical Foundation of Computer Ethics. Ethics and Information Technology, 1(1): 37–56, preprint available at, 1999a.Google Scholar
  9. L. Floridi, editor. Etica and Politica, special issue on Computer Ethics, 2,, 1999b.Google Scholar
  10. L. Floridi. Ethics in the Infosphere. The Philosophers' Magazine, 6: pp. 18–19, 2001.Google Scholar
  11. L. Floridi (forthcoming-a). Information Ethics: An Environmental Approach to the Digital Divide, Philosophy in the Contemporary World preprint available at Scholar
  12. L. Floridi (forthcoming-b). On the Intrinsic Value of Information Objects and the Infosphere, preprint available at Scholar
  13. L. Floridi and J.W. Sanders. Entropy as Evil in Information Ethics. Floridi,, 1999b.Google Scholar
  14. L. Floridi and J.W. Sanders. Artificial Evil and the Foundation of Computer Ethics. Ethics and Information Technology, 3(1): 55–66, 2001; and also Etica and Politica, 2(2), 2000,, 2001.Google Scholar
  15. L. Floridi and J.W. Sanders (forthcoming-c). On the Morality of Artificial Agents, preprint available from, in A. Marturano and L. Introna editors, Ethics of Virtualities. Essays on the limits of the bio-power technologies, to be published for the series Culture Machine, Athlone Press, London.Google Scholar
  16. T. Forester and P. Morrison. Computer Ethics: Cautionary Tales and Ethical Dilemmas in Computing, 2nd ed. 1994. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1990.Google Scholar
  17. K. Gorniak-Kocikowska. The Computer Revolution and the Problem of Global Ethics. Science and Engineering Ethics, 2(2), 1996.Google Scholar
  18. D.W. Gotterbarn. Computer Ethics: Responsibility Regained, first published in the National Forum, rep. in Business Legal and Ethical Issues. Australian Computer Society August 1993 and in Johnson and Nissenbaum 1995,, 1991.Google Scholar
  19. D.W. Gotterbarn. The Use and Abuse of Computer Ethics, special ethics issue of The Journal of Systems and Software, 17(1), barn02_intro.html, 1992.Google Scholar
  20. D.W. Gotterbarn. Software Engineering Ethics. In J. Marciniak, editor, Encyclopedia of Software Engineering, 2nd ed. New York: Wiley-Interscience, 2001.Google Scholar
  21. D.G. Johnson. Sorting Out the Uniqueness of Computer-Ethical Issues. Floridi,, 1999b.Google Scholar
  22. D.G. Johnson and H. Nissenbaum, editors. Computers, Ethics, and Social Values. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995.Google Scholar
  23. D. Langford. Practical Computer Ethics. London: McGraw-Hill, 1995.Google Scholar
  24. W. Maner. Is Computer Ethics Unique?. Floridi,, 1999b.Google Scholar
  25. W. Maner. Unique Ethical Problems in Information Technology. Science and Engineering Ethics, 2(2): 137–154. Revised version in Maner (1999), 1996.Google Scholar
  26. R. Mason. Four Ethical Issues of the Information Age. MIS Quarterly, 10(1): 5–12, 1986.Google Scholar
  27. J.H. Moor. What is Computer Ethics?. Metaphilosophy, 16(4): 266–275,, 1985.Google Scholar
  28. S. Naresh. Ethical Norms for the Information Society. Proceedings of the First Session of UNESCO's COMEST, Oslo April 1999, pp. 169–177. Paris: UNESCO, 1999.Google Scholar
  29. D.B. Parker. Ethical Conflicts in Computer Science and Technology. Arlington, VA: AFIPS Press, 1981.Google Scholar
  30. D.B. Parker. Ethical Dilemmas in Computer Technology. In W.M. Hoffman and J.M. Moore, editors, Ethics and the Management of Computer Technology. Cambridge, MA: Oelgeschlager, Gunn and Hain, 1982.Google Scholar
  31. D.B. Parker. Ethical Conflicts in Information and Computer Science, Technology, and Business. Wellesley, MA: QED Information Sciences, 1990.Google Scholar
  32. M. Rowlands. The Environmental Crisis - Understanding the Value of Nature. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.Google Scholar
  33. H.T. Tavani. Computer Ethics: Current Perspectives and Resources. APA Newsletters on Philosophy and Computers, Spring February, 1999,, 2000.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Philosophy, Subfaculty of Computation, and Programme in Comparative Media Law and PolicyUniversity of OxfordUSA
  2. 2.Programming Research Group, OUCLUniversity of OxfordUSA

Personalised recommendations