- Learning outcomes
- 1 Good, bad, right or wrong?
- 2 It's not all Greek to me!
- 3 Relationships, emotions and ethics
- 4 Ethics everyday
- 5 Landscape with Weapon: an allegory
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 Unit summary
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Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences
Although ethics is often viewed as an academic specialism or an add-on to training...
Although ethics is often viewed as an academic specialism or an add-on to training programmes in technology and science, it is in fact an area of the utmost relevance to professionals and, indeed, everyone. The unit draws upon examples taken from dialogues, plays and the media to discuss ethics and ethical issues within the context of Information and Computer Sciences. The unit explores the importance of language and the role of rhetoric in everyday ICS practice, providing a resource of interest to ICS students and professionals alike.
By the end of this unit you should be able to:
- discuss what ethics is and what constitutes an ethical issue;
- identify and discuss ethical issues that arise in the media, in routine conversations and, in particular, in your own everyday professional practice;
- discuss the role of emotions in ethical deliberations;
- discuss how negotiation might resolve apparent ethical differences;
- identify and discuss the ethical issues presented and rhetorical styles used in play and dialogue excerpts, with focus on explaining how language is used to alter other people's ethical perceptions and convince them of specific points.
5.5 Rhetorical devices
I talked a bit about Ned's motivations, but I am not quite sure about what he is trying to do to be persuasive. He has this interest in aesthetics, but in giving a detailed explanation of a military technology he is working on, he, from time to time, uses an analogy. One analogy he uses is the ‘flocking of starlings’, which illustrates rather the principle of operation of the technology and suggests that it is a kind of an existence proof. It implies this technology might actually work. But, of course, the analogy also shifts the context as is so often in ethical arguments. People use analogies to shift away from the thing that perhaps is causing some trouble. It shifts the context away from military application to that of nature and introduces the idea of beauty in flight, the beautiful organic movements of the starlings. Through the analogy, he romanticises the work he is engaged in. Later on he evokes a pleasing aesthetic, when he talks about the technology generating a ‘symphony in the sky’. In a slightly different vein, he talks about the technology not as a ‘thing’ that will do a particular job, but as a gesture. Technology becomes a deterrent to violent action. Just as threats, mere words, can deter violent action, so the technology becomes a gesture that will perhaps threaten others and, hence, remove the possibility of violence. Therefore, the technology is no longer a weapon: it becomes a symbol of intent or conviction that persuades others not to act.
This collection of analogies and gestures distances Ned's device and, hence, Ned, from violent action. It is somehow natural, pleasing and aesthetic, and it's just a gesture towards those who might be thinking about being violent towards us. It is difficult to know whether Ned does this consciously or unconsciously, but the effect of such analogies is perhaps to get us to thinking in different terms. Although we may, perhaps, object to the idea of weapons, we might agree with the beauty of what is being created, and that seems to me to fit in with the idea of someone being enamoured with the technology.
Watch the discussion on video to see what the 2008 group had to say. Please be aware that the quality of the video and audio varies as it was recorded as a Flash Meeting and was therefore dependent on the equipment and connection speeds of the individual participants.
Scene two is where the negotiation takes place. The scene opens with Ros attempting to build a cooperative relationship. She enters straight away into small talk and, in so doing, she makes the same mistake as Dan: she talks about the flat, but then discovers he is only renting it. She then shifts to talking about children as an alternative strategy, but, of course, Ned does not have any. She then compliments Ned on his work, and she really strikes a chord when she admires a geometrical design for the cooling device that appears on his laptop. She says, ‘This is what I love about your stuff, it's so eclectic, it's like where does it come from, your brain must be enormous.’ You may be reminded of the section were we looked at Socrates. Socrates said what rhetoric is flattery, but, it seems to me, here we've got a clear example of flattery being deployed to get Ned on Ros’ side. She even goes on to equate his work with that of Da Vinci which, of course, Ned seemed to tacitly agree with. The result of all of this is that Ned signals that serious discussion should take place.
They discuss, at first, possible modifications to the technology, but Ned is actually a bit unhappy about this. Ned somehow senses that he needs to be in a more powerful position than he perhaps is. He uses a tactic of challenging Ros’ use of words. This is not a logical attack, nor is it a direct attack, but he tries to put her off-guard, in a way. His first attack is on the use of the word ‘selling’ to mean ‘promote’ when she says she's ‘selling the idea’. Ned protests, ‘We’re not selling it to them!’, to which Ros replies, ‘No but I mean I have to sell them on it.’ It is a figure of speech, and Ros is clearly on her guard.
A while later they talk about weapon safety, and the discussion is quite interesting. Ros uses the word ‘difficult’, ‘difficult to operate’, where she might have better talked about the tool being ‘demanding’ of the operator or requiring undue skill. But Ned picks up this word ‘difficult’ and asks, ‘What if it's too easy to use?’ He takes a slightly different meaning of the word ‘difficult’ to her. He means it is lacking in safeguards. And he continues, ‘It should be difficult to use.’ He means it should have safeguards, but she meant it is a bit complicated to use.
Throughout that conversation, he is constantly challenging her, picking up on her grammar or her word use rather than explaining what it is he is objecting to. Perhaps he does not know what he is objecting to. Perhaps he just feels it, and he is just trying to provide some sort of resistance. But in the end, of course, it emerges he is worried about the sale of the device and about the modifications that will allow others to stake a claim. When Ros says we need an indicator on this device, Ned turns it into a moral issue about the irresponsibility of putting the weapon systems into the hands of untrained users. ‘If they need an indicator, they don't know what they're doing, they're not proper operators. How can we possibly sell it to these people?’
Ned uses underhand tactics also with his brother. In an attempt to close off an argument, he pounces on his brother's rather ill-judged comment, objecting to Dan's ignorance of the brilliance of the avionics. He does two things with the one single phrase. He shuts up Dan by telling him he is ignorant, and he sings his own praises by mentioning the brilliance of the avionics. In a way, this little bit of conversation reveals that Ned views any criticism of the weapon as a criticism of Ned himself. It is as though the weapon is a part of Ned. His ideas are embedded and embodied in that weapon and it has become a part of his identity. That may be one reason why he defends the weapon and ignores some of the criticism: the weapon is Ned, is an embodiment of Ned and his ideas. Towards the end of Act 1, Ned actually says, ‘I have to get this thing made! It's what I do, it's my life!’ You can see his very strong affiliation, identification with a piece of technology.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Tuesday, 19th July 2011
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements section.
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