CS009: Computers and Human Values
Department of Computer Science, Brown University
Notes, November 16th -- Roger B. Blumberg

Langford I: Technology, Politics, and Ethics

Introduction: Distinctions Between Politics and Ethics

Although all political matters might be described as matters of ethics, the modern distinction between the realm of politics and that of ethics is due to Aristotle. Whereas ethics is concerned how one should answer (and justify answers to) the question: "What should I do?", politics is concerned with answers and justifications motivated by questions about how government(s) should be organized and how societies ought to function. At the start of Politics (350 BC), Aristotle wrote:

Every State is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.

Some people think that the qualifications of a statesman, king, householder, and master are the same, and that they differ, not in kind, but only in the number of their subjects. For example, the ruler over a few is called a master; over more, the manager of a household; over a still larger number, a statesman or king, as if there were no difference between a great household and a small state. The distinction which is made between the king and the statesman is as follows: When the government is personal, the ruler is a king; when, according to the rules of the political science, the citizens rule and are ruled in turn, then he is called a statesman.

But all this is a mistake; for governments differ in kind, as will be evident to any one who considers the matter according to the method which has hitherto guided us. As in other departments of science, so in politics, the compound should always be resolved into the simple elements or least parts of the whole. We must therefore look at the elements of which the state is composed, in order that we may see in what the different kinds of rule differ from one another, and whether any scientific result can be attained about each one of them.

Some questions we might consider at the start of today's discussion:

What is Democracy, what is the Internet and what is Deborah Johnson Talking about?

We'll continue by talking about Sunstein's conclusions and his inspiration for suggesting ways to shape virtual space in the service of democracy. We'll brainstorm about (technical) ways the Web could be augmented to facilitate and promote democratic deliberation without robbing individuals of liberties we consider fundamental. We'll then turn to Johnson's chapter in Internet Ethics about the Internet and Democratic Values. Some questions we might consider are:

Topics in Computer Ethics

We'll spend the last part of class surveying some of the issues discussed in the emerging field of computer ethics. If we can identify one or two issues of special interest to the group, we can tailor the rest of the syllabus accordingly. Otherwise, we can simply survey the field using Langford and/or selections from current journals.

For Thursday:: Unless we decide otherwise, read chapters 1-3 of Langford's Internet Ethics. Remember that papers are due by the end of the day on Wednesday.

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