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

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences

5.2 The characters

Activity 18

Read Act 1 of Landscape with Weapon and jot down some observations on the characters.

Discussion

Comment

The prime characters are the two brothers. Interestingly, though, we are not told they are brothers until quite late on, but you can see the relationship is one of brothers. We frequently get the inkling of their views, not only by clear statements but also by their frequent use of rather broken-up English. This has an effect. Also, there is an emotional undercurrent that gets exposed from time to time, with just disconnected words. This kind of emotional undercurrent does influence what we think of as the brothers.

What else can we say about the characters?

You may have you wondered how old they might be, given the topics of conversation and the strong language used. When the play was premiered on stage, the actors playing the brothers appeared to be around about 30. Was that your perception?

It is also interesting to note that most of the characters are linked together by their family history. There are the two brothers and there is their mother; there are Dan's children and the brothers’ partner. The play also introduces some of Ned's work colleagues, and there is a variety of other unknown people who will be the victims or beneficiaries of the work of both the brothers.

There is also somebody else in all of the play and, of course, that is the audience. This doesn't get a mention but, of course, a play has an audience or, in your case, a reader. You have to remember that your view, your relationship with the characters, is a rather special one in that you are privy to all of the situations and conversations which the characters are not all necessarily involved in. But the audience will not have the ties of history that the author has given the characters, yet you may find that there are some parallels with relationships that the people in the audience have had or have observed in the course of their own life.

I mentioned the use of strong language above. It would seem that the playwright has chosen occasionally to use language that could be offensive for some members of the audience. The playwright has got an ethical conundrum too! He's got to consider the ethics of the dialogue because it may offend people. Is the ‘bad’ language excusable? In the case of this play, the playwright is establishing a brotherly relationship, and this might be something that involved a number of expletives and occasional references to male fantasies to demonstrate it is a relationship between two males and, perhaps, it is a fairly ‘macho’ relationship.

If the playwright wanted to do that, the ethical question becomes whether the potential offence caused by the bad language is countered by the effectiveness of the portrayal. I am choosing to leave it as that here, but you might like to consider this point further: that there is an audience to the play and there is an ethical question in relation to just simply writing about something.

Activity 19

Take a few minutes to consider how the conversation might evolve supposing that Ned and Dan were not brothers, but, perhaps, husband and wife or work colleagues. Would things perhaps turn out differently?

Discussion

Comments

As I said above, the language the characters are using tells us something about their relationship. Knowledge of this relationship colours our perception of a number of things that they talk about where they use less ‘bad language’. If they were not brothers, that is, if they had a different kind of relationship, their conversation would be very different and, most possibly, take different turns. Indeed, one of the things I think drama illustrates particularly well is that the kind of situations, the kind of ethical issues that get raised, all of this is very much associated with specific relationships. In this case we've got two brothers who have, perhaps a fairly bawdy way of talking, so you might like to compare this with a couple of other examples.

In Chekhov's The Three Sisters there's something about the kind of conversation that takes place, something which could only happen amongst three sisters and not three other kind of people. In Shakespeare's King Lear, of course, it is crucial that Lear is the father and the other three main characters are his daughters, who are, of course, sisters. It's something about the way we relate to one another that does depend upon, as much as anything, the history of the relationship, and brothers and sisters, of course, have lived under the same roof for some time. There are enduring things about siblings, including sibling rivalry and jealousies, and parents are confronted by that. Perhaps they cope with it in different ways. Perhaps some are more successful at coping with it than others, but there is something special about sibling relationships that perhaps is enduring and beyond particular parents.

As I discussed earlier in the course, when we are looking at ethics we often have to be concerned about the kind of relationships at stake, because different relationships will lead to different kinds of discussion. If we want to understand why people are concerned about particular kinds of things, then that will depend upon the kind of relationship we have with them, and the kind of relationship they have with the other people. Relationships, of course, are something drama brings out rather well, demonstrating that, when it comes to ethical matters, the particular relationships are crucial.

Activity 20

As you will have seen, Dan is a dentist and his brother Ned is a technologist. Do you find any differences between their ethical outlooks? Do you think there is something about their work that affects how they might look at ethical matters?

Discussion

Comments

As a dentist, Dan meets his customers face-to-face while he performs his work. He needs to discuss with them what treatment they need, what is going to be done, and, when the treatment is done, the patient is still there. The idea, of course, is that the patient will benefit, but there may be the odd instances when they may not. When things do not go as planned, the patient may be viewed as a victim. In other words, Dan is very much confronted by his patients, and he's got rather special skills that nobody else in the room has got, so he is largely in control of those immediate outcomes.

Ned operates under very different circumstances. Ned and technologists in general if we explore the play as an allegory, generally do not meet the users or, indeed, the ‘victims’ of their work. Often they are designers of something that is not yet known with certainty, perhaps a small part of a large-scale project that is, of course, not yet deployed. Therefore, any discussion that a technologist has about the deployment of a technology is likely to be speculative, and ensuring a ‘good’ outcome has to depend on ‘good predictions and a good’ understanding of how the clients are going to behave. But, of course, it also implies that, to ensure a ‘good’ outcome, the technologist has to have some authority over the technology users. Clearly that's not necessarily possible. Indeed, Ned does have some influence over the artefacts that are produced, but he has little or no influence over their actual use. At the beginning of the play, this is something that Ned has not quite realised. Actually, when Dan comes up with the scheme for training people to administer Botox, he moves into similar territory. He does not create artefacts, but he trains people who, once they leave his premises, are not under his control.

Clearly there is a difference between a kind of medical ethics, where the practitioner is face-to-face with the customers and the technologist's, where the technologist is rarely face-to-face with the customer and doesn't have the degree of authority they might perhaps want.

ETHICS_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus