Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 287–304 | Cite as

On the intrinsic value of information objects and the infosphere

Abstract

What is the most general common set ofattributes that characterises something asintrinsically valuableand hence as subject to some moral respect, andwithout which something would rightly beconsidered intrinsically worthless or even positivelyunworthy and therefore rightly to bedisrespected in itself? Thispaper develops and supports the thesis that theminimal condition of possibility of an entity'sleast intrinsic value is to be identified with itsontological status as an information object.All entities, even when interpreted as only clusters ofinformation, still have a minimal moral worthqua information objects and so may deserve to be respected. Thepaper is organised into four main sections.Section 1 models moral action as an information systemusing the object-oriented programmingmethodology (OOP). Section 2 addresses the question of whatrole the several components constituting themoral system can have in an ethical analysis. If theycan play only an instrumental role, thenComputer Ethics (CE) is probably bound to remain at most apractical, field-dependent, applied orprofessional ethics. However, Computer Ethics can give rise to amacroethical approach, namely InformationEthics (IE), if one can show that ethical concern should beextended to include not only human, animal orbiological entities, but also information objects. Thefollowing two sections show how this minimalistlevel of analysis can be achieved. Section 3 provides anaxiological analysis of information objects. Itcriticises the Kantian approach to the concept ofintrinsic value and shows that it can beimproved by using the methodology introduced in the first section.The solution of the Kantian problem prompts thereformulation of the key question concerningthe moral worth of an entity: what is theintrinsic value of x qua an object constituted by itsinherited attributes? In answering thisquestion, it is argued that entitiescan share different observable propertiesdepending on the level of abstraction adopted,and that it is still possible to speak of moral value even at thehighest level of ontological abstractionrepresented by the informational analysis. Section 4 develops aminimalist axiology based on the concept ofinformation object. It further supports IE's position byaddressing five objections that may undermineits acceptability.

axiology computer ethics dignity entropy information ethics information object infosphere intrinsic value Kant Kingdom of Ends Kingdom of Nature ontology object-oriented programming respect 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Bibliography

  1. J. Baird Callicott. Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair. Environmental Ethics, 2: 311–338, 1980, rep. with a new Preface in Elliot (1995).Google Scholar
  2. P. Benn. Ethics. UCL Press, London, 1998.Google Scholar
  3. J. Benson. Environmental Ethics. Routledge, London and New York, 2000.Google Scholar
  4. M. Boman et al. Conceptual Modelling. Prentice Hall, London, 1997.Google Scholar
  5. E.W. Dijkstra. Structure of the ‘THE’-Multiprogramming System. Communications of the ACM, 11.5: 341–346, 1968, http://www.acm.org/classics/mar96/Google Scholar
  6. R. Elliot (ed.). Environmental Ethics. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995.Google Scholar
  7. L. Floridi. Information Ethics: On the Philosophical Foundation of Computer Ethics. Ethics and Information Technology, (1.1): 37–56, 1999a. Preprint from http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/∼floridi/papers.htmGoogle Scholar
  8. L. Floridi. Philosophy and Computing. Routledge, London and New York, 1999b.Google Scholar
  9. L. Floridi (ed.). Etica & Politica, special issue on Computer Ethics, 2, 1999c, http://www.univ.trieste.it/∼dipfilo/etica_e_politica/1999_2/homepage.htmlGoogle Scholar
  10. L. Floridi. Information Ethics: An Environmental Approach to the Digital Divide, paper presented as invited expert to the UNESCO World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), First Meeting of the Sub-Commission on the Ethics of the Information Society (UNESCO, Paris, June 18-19, 2001). Preprint from http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/∼floridi/papers.htmGoogle Scholar
  11. L. Floridi. Ethics in the Infosphere. The Philosophers' Magazine, 6: 18–19, 2001b. Preprint from http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/?floridi/papers.htmGoogle Scholar
  12. L. Floridi and J.W. Sanders. Artificial Evil and the Foundation of Computer Ethics. Ethics and Information Technology, (3.1), 55–66, 2001a. Preprint from http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/simfloridi/papers.htmGoogle Scholar
  13. L. Floridi and J.W. Sanders. On the Morality of Artificial Agents. CEPE 2001, Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiry (Lancaster University, 14-16 December, 2001), forthcoming 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, 2001b. Preprint from http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/∼floridi/papers.htmGoogle Scholar
  14. L. Floridi and J.W. Sanders. Mapping the Foundationalist Debate in Computer Ethics. Ethics and Information Technology, (4.1), 1–9, 2002. Preprint from http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/∼floridi/papers.htmGoogle Scholar
  15. L. Floridi and J.W. Sanders. Internet Ethics: the Constructionist Values of Homo Poieticus', forthcoming in Robert Cavalier, editor, The Impact of the Internet on Our Moral Lives. SUNY, New York, 2003.Google Scholar
  16. D.J. Flynn and O. Diaz Fragoso. Information Modelling - An International Perspective. Prentice Hall, London, 1996.Google Scholar
  17. W. Fox. Towards a Transpersonal Ecology - Developing New Foundations for Environmentalism. Shambhala, Boston, London, 1990.Google Scholar
  18. D.W. Gotterbarn. Computer Ethics: Responsibility Regained, first published in the National Forum, rep. in Business Legal and Ethical Issues, 1991, Australian Computer Society August 1993 and in Johnson and Nissenbaum 1995, http://www-cs.etsu-tn.edu/gotterbarn/artpp1.htmGoogle Scholar
  19. D.W. Gotterbarn. The Use and Abuse of Computer Ethics, special ethics issue of The Journal of Systems and Software, 17.1, 1992, http://www.southernct.edu/organizations/rccs/resources/teaching/teaching_mono/gotterbarn02/gotterbarn02_intro.htmlGoogle Scholar
  20. D.W. Gotterbarn. Software Engineering Ethics. In J. Marciniak, editor, Encyclopedia of Software Engineering, 2nd ed. Wiley-Interscience, New York, 2001.Google Scholar
  21. R. Hepburn. Wonder and Other Essays. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1984.Google Scholar
  22. D.G. Johnson. Sorting Out the Uniqueness of Computer-Ethical Issues, in Floridi (1999c), http://www.univ.trieste.it/∼dipfilo/etica_e_politica/1999_2/homepage.htmlGoogle Scholar
  23. D.G. Johnson. Computer Ethics, 3 rd ed. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 2000.Google Scholar
  24. D.G. Johnson and H. Nissenbaum (editors). Computers, Ethics, and Social Values. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1995.Google Scholar
  25. I. Kant. Practical Philosophy. In M.J. Gregor, editor and translator, with introduction by A.W. Wood. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996.Google Scholar
  26. D. Langford. Practical Computer Ethics. McGraw-Hill, London, 1995.Google Scholar
  27. A. Leopold. The Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press, New York, 1949.Google Scholar
  28. W. Maner. Is Computer Ethics Unique? in Floridi (1999b), http://www.univ.trieste.it/?dipfilo/etica_e_politica/1999_2/homepage.htmlGoogle Scholar
  29. N. Medvidovic et al. Formal Modeling of Software Architectures at Multiple Levels of Abstraction. Proceedings of the California Software Symposium, pages 28–40. April 17, 1996, Los Angeles, CA http://www.ics.uci.edu/pub/c2/papers/ADL-CSS96-MTW.ps and http://www.ics.uci.edu/pub/c2/papers/ADL-CSS96-MTW.pdfGoogle Scholar
  30. J.H. Moor. What is Computer Ethics? Metaphilosophy, 16.4, 266–275, 1985.Google Scholar
  31. A. Naess. The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement. Inquiry, 16, 95–100, 1973.Google Scholar
  32. R.F. Nash. The Rights of Nature. The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1989.Google Scholar
  33. B.G. Norton. The Cultural Approach to Conservation Biology. In D. Western and M.C. Pears, editors, Conservation in the Twenty-first Century. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford, 1989.Google Scholar
  34. D.C. Parnas. On the Criteria to be Used in Decomposing Systems into Modules. Communications of the ACM, 15.12, 1053–1058, 1972, http://www.acm.org/classics/may96/Google Scholar
  35. H. Rolston III. Duties to Endangered Species. BioScience, 35, 718–726, 1985, rep. in Elliot (1995).Google Scholar
  36. R. Rosenfeld. Can Animals Be Evil?: Kekes' Character-Morality, the Hard Reaction to Evil, and Animals. Between the Species, 11.1-2, 33–38, 1995.Google Scholar
  37. W. Rowlands. The Environmental Crisis - Understanding the Value of Nature. St. Martin's Press, New York, 2000.Google Scholar
  38. J. Rumbaugh et al. Object-Oriented Modeling and Design. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1991.Google Scholar
  39. L.W. Sumner. Welfare Happiness and Ethics. Oxford University Press, New York - Oxford, 1996.Google Scholar
  40. H.T. Tavani. The Uniqueness Debate in Computer Ethics:What Exactly is at Issue, and Why Does It Matter? Ethics and Information Technology (4.1), 37–54, 2002.Google Scholar
  41. H.T. Tavani. Computer Ethics: Current Perspectives and Resources. APA Newsletters on Philosophy and Computers. Spring, 99.2, 2000, http://www.apa.udel.edu/apa/publications/newsletters/v99n2/computers/feature-tavani.aspGoogle Scholar
  42. H.T. Tavani. The State of Computer Ethics as A Philosophical Field of Inquiry: Some Contemporary Perspectives, Future Projections, and Current Resources. Ethics and Information Technology, 3.2, 97–108, 2001.Google Scholar
  43. P.W. Taylor. The Ethics of Respect for Nature. Environmental Ethics 3.3, 1981, rep. in M.E. Zimmerman, editor, Environmental Philosophy. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1993.Google Scholar
  44. P.W. Taylor. Respect for Nature - A Theory of Environmental Ethics. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ.Google Scholar
  45. R. Veryard. Information Modelling - Practical Guidance. Prentice Hall, London, 1992.Google Scholar
  46. G.J. Warnock. The Object of Morality. Methuen, London, 1971.Google Scholar
  47. Lynn White Jr. The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis. Science, 155, 1203–1207, 1967.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze Filosofiche, Università degli Studi di Bari and Faculty of Philosophy, Sub-Faculty of Computation, Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, Information Ethics GroupOxford UniversityUSA
  2. 2.Wolfson CollegeOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations