3.402 computer ethics? (63)

Mon, 28 Aug 89 19:00:31 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 402. Monday, 28 Aug 1989.

Date: Mon, 28 Aug 89 17:14:47 EDT
From: weinshan@cpswh.cps.msu.edu (Dr Donald J. Weinshank)

If I may, I would like to reopen the question of "computer ethics." Let me
try to formulate the question this way: "Is there a rational and consensual
basis for computer ethics?"

The older I get, the more I feel the poignancy of this exchange in The
Brothers Karamazov:

"Is that really your conviction as to the consequences of the
disappearance of the faith in immortality?" the elder asked Ivan

"Yes. That was my contention. There is no virtue if there is no

Absent a consensual reality, on what basis can we construct a system of
computer ethics for our students?

Do we reduce ethical questions to the merely legal ones? If it ain't
illegal, is it OK?

Do we point to a series of mini-consensuses? The ACM says ...., and the MLA
says ...., and the Department of Redundancy Department has published yet
another statement of computer ethics. Are students to choose one ethics
position from Column A and one from Column B as they see fit?

Are computer ethics merely negative ("Thou shalt not..."), or are they also
positive? Are there ethical statements which are unique to (or apply with
special force to) the field of computing, or are they the general ones of
"intellectual honesty, curiosity, an eye for detail, a respect for theory, and
delight at discovery" (Miller quoting Ryle on 20 June, 1989).

If computer ethics can be taught, then I have these questions:
* Who is doing the teaching? People in the Humanities? Engineers?
Computer Scientists?
* What are the people who are teaching computer/engineering/scientific
ethics teaching?
* What texts?
* What contexts: part of many courses or a separate required/elective

Don Weinshank
Computer Science Department
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48823
BITNET weinshank@msuegr.bitnet
CSNET, ARPA weinshan@cpswh.cps.msu.edu