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Principles for the Ethical Guidance of PICT

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Emerging Pervasive Information and Communication Technologies (PICT)

Part of the book series: Law, Governance and Technology Series ((LGTS,volume 11))


As used in this chapter, principles offer moral or ethical guidance at a level of specificity between those of foundational ethical theories, such as the Golden Rule or Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and detailed rules of conduct, such as the 600-some commandments in the Hebrew Bible or the ever-expanding U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. In this chapter I describe the utility of a principle-based approach and offer a preliminary set of principles intended to provide practical guidance to people and organizations who create, distribute, use, and regulate pervasive information and communication technologies (PICT). My goal is to articulate principles at a level of abstraction that will facilitate (a) the creation of appropriate rules and (b) ethically sound decision-making and behavior in circumstances that no rules cover.

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  1. 1.

    I use the word “applications” here to cover both “how devices are used” and “software.”

  2. 2.

    See also Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:16–19; Matthew 22:36–40; Luke 10:25–28.

  3. 3.

    Some readers will be aware that the length of the pre-Eucharist fast was reduced to 1 h. I do not know where the toothpaste rule lies on the continuum ranging from formal cannon law through a pastor’s cautious offhand statement to a parent’s well-intentioned advice.

  4. 4.

    The philosophy of W.D. Ross (1877–1971) has had a significant impact on ethical theory, particularly with regard to applied or practical ethics. As a methodological intuitionist, he maintained “that there is a plurality of first principles that may conflict, and that no explicit priority rules for resolving such conflicts can be provided. This means that principles of duty cannot ultimately be grounded in a single foundational principle as consequentialists and Kantians believe” (Stratton-Lake 2002: xii). What I am calling “principles,” Ross called “prima facie duties.” He lists the following in The Right and the Good: fidelity, reparation, gratitude, justice, beneficence, self-improvement, and non-maleficence (Ross 2002 [1930]: 21).

    The principles that I offer below are not meant to be universal first principles, but do aspire to approach that status in the realm of PICT.

  5. 5.

    It is beyond the scope of this chapter to make a case for how social conventions can be impartially determined to be corrupt, unjust, or otherwise unfit, but I believe it is safe to say that defending the morality or immorality of a practice solely on tradition (or “what we’ve always done”) or human or written authority (human or divine) is always questionable. Such considerations can be part of a justification or rationale for particular practices, but they are indefensible as the sole rationale.

  6. 6.

    The U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare became the Department of Health and Human Services in 1980.

  7. 7.

    The following characterization of the Belmont principles is rooted in the Belmont Report, but I have added my own interpretive nuances in an effort to broaden them from the context of human subjects research. No disrespect for the Belmont Report or its authors is intended.

  8. 8.

    In the Belmont Report, respect for persons is discussed first, followed by beneficence and justice, but without any explicit statement that the order of presentation is intended to reflect the importance of the principles. I have chosen to discuss beneficence first because I believe that non-maleficence is arguably the most important of all moral principles. Ross writes, “it seems to me clear that non-maleficence is apprehended as a duty distinct from that of beneficence, and as a duty of a more stringent character” (Ross 2002 [1930]: 21).

  9. 9.

    It is tempting to say that my autonomy is also limited by my abilities (I am not free to take a job for which I am unqualified) and circumstances (I am not free to take a vacation I cannot afford), but autonomy is a moral, not a practical, characteristic. My autonomy allows me to choose to become an airline pilot (it’s a morally acceptable choice), but it does not ensure that my choice will be – or should be – realized.

  10. 10.

    Pun noted, but not intended.

  11. 11.

    See also Johnson (2011).


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In addition to many of the people mentioned in the Acknowledgments for the entire volume, I am indebted to Katherine D. Seelman and Jennifer Livesay for critical comments on an earlier draft.

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Correspondence to Kenneth D. Pimple Ph.D. .

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Pimple, K.D. (2014). Principles for the Ethical Guidance of PICT. In: Pimple, K. (eds) Emerging Pervasive Information and Communication Technologies (PICT). Law, Governance and Technology Series, vol 11. Springer, Dordrecht.

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