The uniqueness debate in computer ethics: What exactly is at issue, and why does it matter? [Book Review]

Ethics and Information Technology 4 (1):37-54 (2002)
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The purpose of this essay is to determinewhat exactly is meant by the claimcomputer ethics is unique, a position thatwill henceforth be referred to as the CEIUthesis. A brief sketch of the CEIU debate is provided,and an empirical case involving a recentincident of cyberstalking is briefly consideredin order to illustrate some controversialpoints of contention in that debate. To gain aclearer understanding of what exactly isasserted in the various claims about theuniqueness of computer ethics, and to avoidmany of the confusions currently associatedwith the term ``unique'', a precise definition ofthat term is proposed. We then differentiatetwo distinct and radically differentinterpretations of the CEIU thesis, based onarguments that can be found in the relevantcomputer ethics literature. The twointerpretations are critically analyzed andboth are shown to be inadequate in establishingthe CEIU thesis. We then examine and reject twoassumptions implicit in arguments advanced bothby CEIU advocates and their opponents. Inexposing and rejecting these assumptions, wesee why it is not necessary to accept theconclusions reached by either side in thisdebate. Finally, we defend the view thatcomputer ethics issues are both philosophicallyinteresting and deserving of our attention,regardless of whether those issues might alsohappen to be unique ethical issues



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