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The Tree of Knowledge: The Normative Structure of Information

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Part of the Library of Public Policy and Public Administration book series (LPPP,volume 15)

Abstract

This chapter explains that a normative evaluation of digital information on the internet necessitates an evaluative media model that is universal and global in character and application. This chapter will show that information has a dual normative structure that commits all disseminators of information to both epistemic norms (those that relate to knowledge) and ethical norms (those that relate to moral behavior) that are in principle universal and thus global in application. Based on this dual normative characterization of information, the chapter will seek to demonstrate that information and, specifically, digital information on the internet, as a process and product of communication, has an inherent normative structure. As such the inherent normative structure of information, commits its producers, disseminators, communicators, and users, everyone in fact that disseminates information, to certain mandatory epistemological and ethical commitments. Moreover, the negligent or purposeful abuse of information in violation of those commitments is also a violation of universal rights to freedom and wellbeing to which all agents are entitled by virtue of being informational agents. The chapter refers to the above argument as the Dual Obligation Information Theory (DOIT).

“Verifiability helps establish credibility”. (Fuller 1996, p. 40)

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I agree, therefore, with Gorniak-Kocikowska’s claim that because of its global nature “computer ethics has to be regarded as global ethics” (1996).

  2. 2.

    By “agent” understand any person engaged in any purposive activity, such as taking a walk, searching the internet, writing an essay, or disseminating information etc.

  3. 3.

    The universal entitlement to universal rights to freedom and wellbeing by all human agents is based on the Argument for the Principle of Generic Consistency (PGC) by the American philosopher Alan Gewirth. For a detailed discussion and defense of that argument see Spence (2006); Beyleveld (1991) and Gewirth (1978, 1996, 1998). In brief, Gewirth’s main thesis is that every rational agent, in virtue of engaging in purposive action, is logically committed to accept a supreme moral principle, the Principle of Generic Consistency. The basis of his thesis is found in his doctrine that action has a normative structure, and because of this structure every rational agent, just in virtue of being an agent, is committed to certain necessary prudential and moral constraints. Gewirth undertakes to prove his claim that every agent, qua agent, is committed to certain prudential and moral constraints in virtue of the normative structure of action in three main stages. First, he undertakes to show that by virtue of engaging in voluntary and purposive action, every agent makes certain implicitly evaluative judgments about the goodness of his purposes, and hence about the necessary goodness of his freedom and wellbeing, which are the necessary conditions for the fulfillment of his purposes. Secondly, he undertakes to show that by virtue of the necessary goodness which an agent attaches to his freedom and wellbeing, the agent implicitly claims that he has rights to these. At this stage of the argument, these rights being merely self-regarding are only prudential rights. Thirdly, Gewirth undertakes to show that every agent must claim these rights in virtue of the sufficient reason that he is a prospective purposive agent (PPA) who has purposes he wants to fulfill. Furthermore, every agent must accept that since he has rights to his freedom and wellbeing for the sufficient reason that he is a PPA, he is logically committed, on pain of self-contradiction, to also accept the rational generalization that all PPAs have rights to freedom and wellbeing. At this third stage of the argument these rights being not only self-regarding but also other-regarding, are now moral rights. The conclusion of Gewirth’s argument for the PGC is in fact a generalized statement for the PGC, namely, that all PPAs have universal rights to their freedom and wellbeing. A full and detailed defense of the argument for the PGC against all the major objections raised against it by various philosophers can be found in Spence (2006) chapters 1–3; Beyleveld (1991); and Gewirth (1978).

  4. 4.

    For Gewirth’s argument for the justification of universal positive rights see Gewirth, Alan (1996) The Community of Rights. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Beyleveld, Deryck (1991) The Dialectical Necessity of Morality; An Analysis and Defense of Alan Gewirth’s Argument to the Principle of Generic Consistency. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; and Spence, Edward (2006) Ethics Within Reason: A Neo-Gewithian Approach (2006). Maryland: Lexington Books (a division of Rowman and Littlefield, USA), Chapter 3.

  5. 5.

    See Alan Gewirth’s notion of self-fulfilment as capacity fulfilment in A. Gewirth. Self-fulfillment. Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 1998.

  6. 6.

    This is an important and pertinent question at present (April 2020) as Julian Assange is appearing before a UK Court to challenge extradition charges brought against him by the US Government. Perhaps foreseeing such a future scenario, a group of my media ethics students in the School of Communication and Creative Industries at Charles Sturt University in Australia, presented a play they wrote and performed in class for one of their group assignments in 2017. The title of the play was The Trial of Julian Assange. Using various ethical theories and arguments we canvased in lectures, such as Utilitarianism, Social Contract theories, and Ethical Rationalist and Human Rights theories, such as those of Alan Gewirth (1978, 1996), for example, the defense team defended Julia Assange successfully against the charges brough against him by the US government prosecutor.

  7. 7.

    Traditionally the Four Estates were understood to include, the government, the clergy, the public and the press in the form of the legacy media whose role was to hold the other three estates to account for the public good. In the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web where anyone with access to the Internet can disseminate and communicate information to the public, nationally and internationally, the fifth Estate is a more recent addition that includes the social media, mediated digitally via Tweeter, Facebook, Google and other information technologies. The relevance and significance of the fourth and fifth Estates especially through their symbiotic convergence i.e., the Convergent Media, is that they act as a monitoring and accountability measure to hold the other two governing estates, that of government and clergy to account. For example, it has been the Convergent Media, including Wiki Leaks, that has exposed the misdemeanors and corruption of governments and clergy (police corruption and corruption of the clergy in the form of sexual abuse are two out of many examples).

  8. 8.

    For more information see Karen Huff Klein. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_monitor_bullying_video.

  9. 9.

    For more information see Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning. 

  10. 10.

    For more information see Collateral Murder. https://collateralmurder.wikileaks.org/.

  11. 11.

    For more information see “Gay Girl in Damascus”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Gay_Girl_In_Damascus.

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Spence, E.H. (2021). The Tree of Knowledge: The Normative Structure of Information. In: Media Corruption in the Age of Information. Library of Public Policy and Public Administration, vol 15. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-61612-0_2

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