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Topic Ethics in the Information Society
Participants | Zoraida Mendiwelso | German Bula | Keith Pheby | Roberto Zarama |
Critics | Pete Barnsley | David Best | Alfonso Reyes | Clas-Otto Wene |

Meeting 1 Notes

Meeting 2 NotesMeeting 3 NotesOutcome Resolve

Co-ordinator = Keith Pheby

Date: 8 July Time: 19:35 to 20:35 Facilitators: Delia & Hector


  • The motivation of this group's discussion comes from dissatisfaction with the two main ethical theories that have dominated western cultures during the last century and their inappropriateness for development ICTs.
  • It may be possible that those ethical systems can bring forth not just a de-centred social system but a de-centred human being also so the relationship between ICT and the human being will radically change the way we reconstruct or deconstruct society members.
  • Can we work out an ethics from a sort of social autopoiesis?
  • Can we say that privacy exist in ICT? 
  • The notion of privacy is based on the notion of the sanctity of the individual and this notion appears in conjunction with the enlightenment, especially with the work of Kant in, and it also appears in a utilitarian form with the notion of the self as an economic subject. So I think that privacy itself is one of the concepts that need to be problematise. In the light of transparency privacy would no longer be needed as an ethical concept. It could be that ICT destroys privacy in favour of transparency.
  • We probably need to problematise the notions of centrality, individuality and privacy.
  • If we think that we need to develop a new ethical vocabulary for the 21st century, lets drop some of the ethical vocabulary so closely link to classical economics.
  • If we see ethics as a value, we may see justice or citizenship as a value as well. If we approach this issue from the top we can relate them as a sort of prescription in two different ways: as a restriction or as enabling. From this perspective we have a previous social agreement. From the bottom we can see them as a property. I am against prescriptions as a restrictive way.
  • It is interesting to see that the deontological utilitarian framework and also Habermas attempt to reconstruct Kantian ethics are purely prescriptive. But who is the recipient of that prescription? The recipient is the individual subject. What I am trying to argue is that we should be looking at designing ethics for systems including the human subject as a system.
  • I think it is not really a matter of if the ethical code is prescriptive, restrictive, enabling or not enabling but is directly towards its emphasis on human subjectivity, which is presupposed as atomised, self-contained and self-present. It is only in this context that the question of privacy has importance. If we do not constrain ourselves in terms of the atomised subject then, of course, the question of privacy has no longer a value.
  • We can go even a step beyond to approach the difference between ethics and morality and to get into a cultural dialogue. There is, for instance, a huge difference between the western and the Arab world in the way they see the relations between men and women.
  • These differences in culture include, of course, differences in the concept of privacy.
  • Respecting these cultural differences in a highly interconnected world may make necessary to remind von Foerster´s ethical principle of acting always in such a way that you always open new possibilities. In such a way we are respecting the viability of the others.
  • Regarding privacy, we can say that transparency is a fact, how can we use it could be the ethical question. How can we protect our privacy against pathological systems? 
  • How can we create a space for people to learn to protect their privacy?
  • ICT, for instance, offer bases to rebuild human societies including their view of privacy.
  • It has been proposed, for instance, that new technology can help in the development of a direct democracy as opposed to a representative democracy and also that it may be used to fight corruption by making transparent many of the relations between state agencies and private organisations. These general claims, however, need to be properly instantiated.
  • Other aspect that it seems important to address at some point is the ethical consideration regarding the protection of the environment and how ICT may help in putting some pressure, by disclosing information to the general public, upon some governments like the recent events with the sign of the Kyoto protocol show. 


  • You are using the term pathological as something that is intrinsically problematic. Can you think of replacing it with the expression of "boundary management" in the context of your discussion?
  • It seems that transparency and interdependency should not be two contradictory terms. If voting becomes transparent (i.e., openly viewed by others) it could become a challenge for democracy.
  • Is democracy an ultimate ethical goal?
  • What do you mean by "negatively affecting the autopoiesis of other systems".
  • In terms of transparency, I think that we need to preserve choice. There is a myriad of situations in which transparency could have a negative impact, for instance disclosing publicly all my bank transactions can increase the risk of being subject to a fraud.
  • We should have in mind that regarding the issue of privacy and transparency, the use of ICT could create oppressive regimes.
  • We need autonomous responsible individual for the kind of direct democracy that ICT may enable.
  • Acknowledging that there is a difference between moral and ethics, is privacy a moral or an ethical issue? Is human dignity dependent on privacy?
  • It seems in part of your discussion the feel that ethics has to change. This triggers the question, what do we have to do to change towards a new set of ethics? Is ICT a help or a hinder in this?
  • Because the recent trend of globalisation does not assure an equal distribution of technology among people, it seems that this trend is an important topic to be considered in the discussion about ethics and ICT.


  • Many of the comments by the critics may apparent the current use of an ethical vocabulary that we are proposing to change. Terms like privacy and dignity are examples of them. What do we exactly means by those terms? We have had some ethical systems trying to deliver these things; I think that utilitarianism for instance has failed miserably in terms of achieving human dignity.
  • It seems that Kantian categorical imperatives (including human dignity at its centre) are irrelevant to explain the "lived ethical experience" of everyday life. This is may be the reason why teaching business ethics to MBA students seems to be so irrelevant to them.
  • It seems that the problem of boundary judgements has to be bring into the discussion. How can we change the ethical boundaries? ICT has helped the internationalisation of media in such a way that now it is possible to put forward publicly more ethical situations in a particular local context. The capacity of media like CNN is an example of this in regard to issues that are happening locally in some countries.
  • I think what I am looking at is to propose a baseline for an ethical framework in which the building blocks are not individual subjects but autopoietic systems. I am doing a sort of meta-ethics here.
  • What I have been mentioning can be seen in the context of radical constructivism and, in sociological terms, related to the work of Luhmann. In these terms we need to be aware that we normally construct ourselves as individuals but we have to realise also that we are capable of many other types of construction, many different types of identities and that information and communication technologies may help us to radically change the way we think ourselves as human beings and the wider effect of this may be the ethics of transparency, the ethics of diversity or tolerance or what I called of the non-pathological.