Moral Issues in Computing
Information on the syllabus includes:
Office Hours, Office Location, Instructor
Email, Course Website, Grading Scale,
Assignment Weights, Texts, Course
Information, Various Course Policies.
A Note about the Notes:
• I will often utilize projected notes. These are for general
organization and are often not intended to be written
down verbatim by the students. So if you are currently
writing ‘and are not intended to be written down…’ STOP
• These notes will be available in their entirety on the
course website, so your own written notes should consist
of highlights and jottings that help you remember what
has gone on in the class lecture. Use your common
sense to determine what should be copied directly from
the projected notes and what should not be.
• You are far more likely to be engaged with the day’s
class period if you are not writing the whole time.
The first of many distinctions:
Descriptive versus Normative language:
Descriptive statements are statements of the
way thing are, while normative statements are
statements about the way things ought to be.
Certainly there are many opinions about what is
considered morally correct versus morally
incorrect, but the fact that some, or even most,
are of a certain opinion is only descriptive, and
not normative. We will examine prevailing
attitudes, but we will keep in mind that the
popularity of a view is no evidence of its
1. Gain an appreciation for where and how moral
and ethical issues affect those working in
Computing and Information Technology
2. Gain a framework of moral and ethical
reasoning that can serve as a guide in difficult
3. Gain an increased understanding of our moral,
ethical and legal obligations and how these
A Note about Moral Theory
• The goal of this course is to supply a variety of time-
tested and rational moral frameworks to supply a pattern
for thinking about difficult ethical or moral issues, but no
course can ensure that what you learn in the classroom
will follow you outside of the classroom.
• There are few if any issues more important to people
than those which we call moral issues. Most people
however, make decisions about morality without
expending a great deal of thought on the issue.
• Most of the time this is not a problem, as most decisions
are easy ones. People do fine on “moral autopilot” much
of the time, but the rationale for having a study of
morality that we can do it better when we think about
morality and be moral on purpose.
A place to start:
• You will soon see that there are many different
moral theories which overlap in some places,
conflict in others, and you will see that there is
dispute about how to apply each moral theory to
some difficult situations.
• Study of moral theory is useful above all in that it
can inform and shape our actual moral
decisions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that
you must settle wholesale on any single moral
theory or approach.
• A good place to begin is described by Soren
• 1813-1855, Danish Philosopher,
Psychologist, and Theologian.
• Kierkegaard suggests in his essays
“Fear and Trembling” and “Either/Or”
that the distinction among kinds of
persons that matters the most is not
the distinction between the moral
person and immoral person, but rather
the distinction between the person
who takes the categories of right and
wrong seriously and the person who
• Deciding to take the categories of right
and wrong seriously is a good place to