How does one examine issues in technology from an ethical perspective? The following, from the article “A Framework For Thinking Ethically” by The Markkula Center For Applied Ethics, describes important steps in making ethical decisions:
1. Recognize an Ethical Issue
Could this decision or situation be damaging to someone or to some group? Does this decision involve a choice between a good and bad alternative, or perhaps between two “goods” or between two “bads”?
Is this issue about more than what is legal or what is most efficient? If so, how?
2. Get the Facts
What are the relevant facts of the case? What facts are not known? Can I learn more about the situation? Do I know enough to make a decision?
What individuals and groups have an important stake in the outcome? Are some concerns more important? Why?
What are the options for acting? Have all the relevant persons and groups been consulted? Have I identified creative options?
3. Evaluate Alternative Actions
Evaluate the options by asking the following questions:
Which option will produce the most good and do the least harm? (The Utilitarian Approach)
Which option best respects the rights of all who have a stake? (The Rights Approach)
Which option treats people equally or proportionately? (The Justice Approach)
Which option best serves the community as a whole, not just some members? (The Common Good Approach)
Which option leads me to act as the sort of person I want to be? (The Virtue Approach)
4. Make a Decision and Test It
Considering all these approaches, which option best addresses the situation?
If I told someone I respect-or told a television audience-which option I have chosen, what would they say?
5. Act and Reflect on the Outcome
How can my decision be implemented with the greatest care and attention to the concerns of all stakeholders?
How did my decision turn out and what have I learned from this specific situation?
When reading through posts at The Technological Citizen, consider these approaches. Which framework or combination of frameworks are you invoking and why?
Also, consider the broader themes that weave throughout ethical discussions about technology.
- Is technology itself ethically neutral, and only made good or bad by mankind’s use of it? Or do some technologies have inherently ethical or unethical qualities, by tending to promote certain kinds of uses or behaviors?
- What types of solutions are best for issues brought about by technology? Are you a “techno-optimist” (believing that problems with technology can be solved by more technology), or a techno-pessimist (believing that technology is what causes the problems in the first place, and only removing that technology can provide a solution)? Or do you fall somewhere in between?
- Some philosophers believe that because technology has completely restructured our social, political, and environmental landscape, we need to develop a new ethical framework in order to handle the ethical questions that arise. Do you agree? Given our current conception of ethics, are we morally equipped to handle the questions modern technology raises? Or do we need to develop a new ethical system that takes into account the changed nature of our technological world?
To read more about ethics, please visit the following resources:
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