Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences
Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences

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Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences

2.5 The story so far

I have now established an understanding of ‘ethics’ as something related with ‘good’ and ‘bad’. There are other derivative words like ‘optimal’ that might also be used, and there are parochial words which are related to particular communities. When we talk about ethics, we are liable to confront cultural differences that are reflected in differences in vocabulary. But there are other kinds of differences too. Things have different properties; for example, ‘appearance’ and ‘radiation’ might be two different properties of a radio mast, and somehow or other we have to weigh those up one against another. There are also different kinds of things like ‘fears’, ‘means’, ‘ends’, ‘relationships’, ‘virtues’, ‘pleasures’ and ‘pains’. All of these seem quite incommensurate but all are related to how we value things, so one of the difficulties of ethics is how to put those things together to decide on and justify a course of action.

When combining different kinds of ‘goods’ and ‘bads’, we often get contradictions and, sometimes, ambiguities, so we need to be able to cope with those. Socrates’ solution was to ‘measure’ the ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ and then perform some calculations, which might be a fine idea if we had a way of measuring things in the first place! This, unfortunately, is something which he did not suggest. Wittgenstein, on the other hand, suggests that the way out is to change the language game that we're playing. In other words, if there is a problem with vocabularies and their use, then we need to negotiate a common vocabulary and change the way things and their relationships are described if we're to avoid some of these difficulties.

I also looked at examples taken from professional codes of practice that illustrate those difficulties, suggesting that, whilst codes of practice may offer a guide to action, we can often imagine circumstances where the rules in a code of practice contradict one another. Contradictions thus created provide a source of inspiration for the dramatist, but they create real conundrums for professionals and practitioners.

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