I’m struggling to adequately complete my third homework assignment in my Philosophy class today. I finished reading Chapter 7 on Ethics this past weekend and spent time Sunday between movie breaks gathering my notes to answer my professor’s questions. I am almost finished; just agonizing over a couple of questions that require my opinion which I am very uncomfortable stating in writing in an assignment for which I will receive a grade. Not fun.
Over lunch I took a book break to continue reading Version Control when I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read this paragraph:
… keep in mind the difference between a person and the data generated by a person as she moves through life. This is a distinction that is easy to forget. Information is not a person, and a person is made up of more than information. A person has beliefs and feelings and a will and a soul: information does not. You have to remember this because we do not want to dehumanize our clients by speaking of them in terms of numbers, but you must also remember that while it is possible to have a moral or ethical obligation to a person, it is impossible to have such an obligation toward data. The very idea is nonsensical. What would it mean to talk about being fair to…bits? How would you talk about treating bits with respect?
Oh dear! Here we go again!
Is it truly ‘nonsensical’?
What really popped out for me in the above quote was the “treating bits with respect” bit (pardon the pun). It shouted Kant to me. Here’s a quote from my textbook to ponder:
Kant gives a second version of the categorical imperative: (1) Every human being is an end in himself – a person whose capacity to choose for himself must be respected – so (2) we should not use people only as means to achieve our own goals but should always at the same time treat them as ends in themselves – as persons whose capacity to choose for themselves must be respected. (p.487 emphasis added)
Kant’s categorical imperative is a nonconsequentionalist position that states this: Always act in such a way that your reasons for acting are reasons you could will to have everyone act on in similar circumstances, and always treat persons as ends and not merely as means. (p. 522)
Hmm … or at least that’s what my brain did over lunch while reading Version Control. Not the first time this book has raised its philosophical head at me.
If I think of this scenario through the lens of the various “isms” I read about this past week then,
- The Ethical Egoist will always act in such a way that her actions promote her best long-term interests. So if I’m the client above, then perhaps I’d think twice about signing up for any free services, unless I’m totally convinced that the payoff is worth it. If I’m a bit, then it’s in my best interest for the client to continue to give away personal information to bolster my continued existence.
- The Utilitarianist will always act so that her actions produce the greatest happiness for everyone. In this case, both the clients and the bits and even the company should be acting in each others best interests. Right? Perhaps if this was a utopian and not a dystopian novel that might be the case.
- The Deontologist will always follow the rules that tend to produce the greatest happiness for everyone. Since regulations are usually anathema to corporations, I’m going to bet this alternate near future favors the powerful and wealthy in a similar fashion to our own reality. Clients and bits beware!
- The Cagetorical Imperative will always act in such a way that her reasons for acting are reasons she could will to have everyone act on in similar circumstances, and always treat persons as ends and not merely as means. This imperative strikes me as having a lot of similarities to the Golden Rule. Again, something of a utopian pipe dream in most novels, especially in science fiction. This is the “ism” that mentioned “respect” and first jolted me out of the book at lunch with that word. It was obvious to me no matter what the corporate executive was espousing that they really didn’t respect the client nor their data, just the revenue both together could generate for said corporation (see Ethical Egoism above) provided they could be strung along with carrot services as long as possible. It is reasonable for the client to assume they deserve respect from the company that provided the service, and at least the executive gives lip service to that end. Not so much in the case of the bits, however. I, however, don’t think it is unreasonable to expect respect not only for myself as person, but also my metadata.
- The Virtue Ethicist to be reasonable in her actions, desires, and emotions, and to be reasonable is to act with moderation. This approach involves being, more than doing, and cultivates character. I can reasonably assume that a virtuous client would not be a profitable revenue stream for this corporation since they would most likely limit their interactions with the service.
Hasn’t this been fun? *blink blink*
Back to finishing my homework. Wish me luck!
Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy: A Text with Readings. 12th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.