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

5.10 Conscience

Ned responds with the use of another ethical concept. He feels what he is proposing is ‘right’, regardless of any relationships at play, and he refers to his ‘conscience’. This is perhaps a way of saying, firstly, that he feels very strongly that he is right and, secondly, that any speculation about signing away the IP gives him a great deal of discomfort. This appeal to a ‘conscience’ is an interesting rhetorical move because it neither requires nor provides any reasoned justification. If you talk of ‘a conscience’, if you talk about ‘your conscience’, this is simply a brief account of how you feel, a personal experience, and no one else can access that, so there's no way of arguing against a statement that it is the ‘conscience’ that is driving you that way.

We looked at Nussbaum's ideas in Section 2 and they provide an interesting background against which to analyse Ned's behaviour. Nussbaum might claim that, when Ned talks of his ‘conscience’, he is having certain feelings that could be used by him as a guide for further deliberation about the decision facing him. In other words, when the ‘conscience’ pricks, perhaps we ought to seek an explanation that will help with the constructions of an argument as to why we feel that way.

Nevertheless, Ros turns mention of a ‘conscience’ into an insult by saying it is moral exhibitionism. Granted, there is no way you can challenge someone's appeal to their conscience, so I do wonder whether that might be quite accurate because, at this point, Ned seems to be pleased to have someone who will listen, and he is simply treating Ros as an audience. It seems to me that he gets carried away with his own sense of righteousness. He is quite unaware of the practicalities of his situation, so his argument remains very abstract. His appeal to ‘conscience’, however, does not provide much in the way of support for an argument.

It is possible for people to share concerns, and they can react and say their ‘conscience’ would not allow them to do certain things or act in certain ways. However, to agree about that with somebody and then to start a dialogue is only the beginning of an ethical case. It is not the ‘conscience’ that gives you the ethical case; it is the deliberation that has been caused by the prick of ‘conscience’. To say simply that my ‘conscience’ tells me something does not provide conviction to others, unless there are all kinds of gestures and emotions that go with it. But the prick of ‘conscience’ and associated reporting of it is not something that is very powerful as an argument. The deliberation that follows, however, might well be.

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