Ethics is the rational systematic analysis of morality.

Ethics is focused on the voluntary, moral choices. Ethics is not concerned about involuntary choices or choices outside the moral realm.

Workable ethical theory: produces explanations that aim to be persuasive to a skeptical, yet open-minded audience about what is “right” or “wrong”

Especially important for technologists to grapple with as common wisdom may not exist for novel situations brought about by new technologies (see: Collingridge Dillemma)

4 Unworkable Ethical Theories

  1. Subjective Relativism: “who are you to criticise my values”
    • There’s no universal standard of right or wrong, each individual must decide for themselves
    • Everything is equally valid, not that “I can see how people can arrive at different conclusions”
  2. Cultural Relativism: “who are you to criticise my culture’s values”
    • Moral actions are based on a culture’s actual moral guidelines
      • Traditions develop because they meet a need, but once a tradition has been established, people behave in a certain way because it’s what they’re supposed to do, not because they understand the rationality deeply embedded within the tradition.
    • It is presumptuous to judge another culture’s values
  3. Divine Command Theory: “stealing is wrong because the Bible says so”
    • We should use holy books (or any sort of appeal to authority) as guides for moral decision making
    • Only effective to those who already believe in the same beliefs as us
    • See also appeals to religious authority
  4. Ethical Egoism
    • People’s self-interest is their only ethical obligation
    • What’s good for the market (modelled by selfish agents) is good for society
    • However, does not respect the ethical point of view
      • The ethical point of view is the understanding that other people and their core values are also worthy of respect

Workable Theories

  1. Kantianism
  2. Utilitarianism
  3. Social Contract Theory
  4. Virtue Ethics