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Floridi and Spinoza on Global Information Ethics Soraj Hongladarom Department of Philosophy and Center for Ethics of Science and Technology, Chulalongkorn.

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Presentation on theme: "Floridi and Spinoza on Global Information Ethics Soraj Hongladarom Department of Philosophy and Center for Ethics of Science and Technology, Chulalongkorn."— Presentation transcript:

1 Floridi and Spinoza on Global Information Ethics Soraj Hongladarom Department of Philosophy and Center for Ethics of Science and Technology, Chulalongkorn University Soraj Hongladarom Department of Philosophy and Center for Ethics of Science and Technology, Chulalongkorn University The 3rd Asia-Pacific Computing and Philosophy Conference, Chulalongkorn University, November 2-4, 2007

2 Outline Floridi on global information ethics Affinities with Spinoza Problems - relativism; naturalism How the problems are overcome. Floridi on global information ethics Affinities with Spinoza Problems - relativism; naturalism How the problems are overcome.

3 Floridi on Global Information Ethics “… [B]iocentric ethics argues that the nature and well- being of the patient of any action constitute (at least partly) its moral standing and that the latter makes important claims on the interacting agent, claims that in principle ought to contribute to guiding the agent’s ethical decisions and constraining the agent’s moral behaviour. The “receiver” of the action is placed at the core of the ethical discourse, as a centre of moral concern, while the “transmitter” of any moral action is moved to its periphery.”

4 Now substitute “existence” for “life” and it should become clear what IE [information ethics] amounts to. IE is an ecological ethics that replaces biocentrism with ontocentrism. It suggests that there is something even more elemental than life, namely being – that is, the existence and flourishing of all entities and their global environment – and something more fundamental than suffering, namely entropy. The latter is most emphatically not the physicists’ concept of thermodynamic entropy. Entropy here refers to any kind of destruction or corruption of entities understood as informational objects (not as semantic information, take note), that is, any form of impoverishment of being, including nothingness, to phrase it more metaphysically (Floridi 2007, pp ).

5 Floridi, Luciano. (2007). Global information ethics: the importance of being environmentally earnest. International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction 3.3, 1-11.

6 Infosphere In another paper he states that there are four principles of “universal information ethics,” namely (1) “information entropy ought not to be caused in the infosphere;” (2) “information entropy ought to be prevented in the infosphere;” (3) “information entropy ought to be removed from the infosphere;” and (4) “information ought to be promoted by extending, improving, enriching and opening the infosphere, that is by ensuring information quantity, quality, variety, security, ownership, privacy, pluralism and access” (Floridi 2001, p. 4).

7 Ontocentric ethics Capturing what is a pre-theoretical but very common intuition, non-standard ethics hold the broad view that any form of life has some essential proprieties or moral interests that deserve and demand to be respected, even if not absolutely but minimally, i.e. in a possibly overridable sense. They argue that the nature and well-being of the patient constitute its moral standing and that the latter makes important claims on the interacting agent and in principle ought to contribute to the guidance of the agent’s ethical decisions and the constraint of the agent’s moral behaviour (Floridi and Sanders 2002, pp. 7-8).

8 Differences with Kant At this point, two arguments support the attribution of an intrinsic moral value to information objects. The first, positive argument consists in showing that an information-object-oriented approach can successfully deal with the problem left unsolved by Kant. The second, negative argument consists in dismantling not only the Kantian position but also any other position that adopts some other LoA [level of abstraction] higher than the Kantian-anthropocentric one but still lower than LoAi [level of abstraction provided by an information analysis], like a biocentric LoA (Floridi 2002, p. 291).

9 Summary An action is good so long as it promotes the infosphere, and is bad otherwise. It is ‘ontocentric,’ meaning the center of ethical value lies within ontology itself and not human beings or even the biosphere. The patient is taken as the ‘core’ of ethical deliberation. An action is good so long as it promotes the infosphere, and is bad otherwise. It is ‘ontocentric,’ meaning the center of ethical value lies within ontology itself and not human beings or even the biosphere. The patient is taken as the ‘core’ of ethical deliberation.

10 Spinoza Floridi’s ethics has a lot of affinities with that of Spinoza. Thoroughgoing naturalism. An action is good just in case it promotes well being of the one Substance, or God, and is bad otherwise. An action promotes well being of Substance just in case it is in accordance with reason and promotes Joy and eliminates Suffering. Floridi’s ethics has a lot of affinities with that of Spinoza. Thoroughgoing naturalism. An action is good just in case it promotes well being of the one Substance, or God, and is bad otherwise. An action promotes well being of Substance just in case it is in accordance with reason and promotes Joy and eliminates Suffering.

11 Problem of the Lion In the paper Floridi talks about Wittgenstein’s “Problem of the Lion.” We can’t understand the lion because we don’t understand their language. Their world is totally aline to ours. This may be the fate of intercultural understandings (?) In the paper Floridi talks about Wittgenstein’s “Problem of the Lion.” We can’t understand the lion because we don’t understand their language. Their world is totally aline to ours. This may be the fate of intercultural understandings (?)

12 Problems posed by Globalization Globalization puts various corners of the world together, creating a lot of conflict. For value theory, the problem is exacerbated by the juxtaposition of different value systems. For Floridi, the way out is through ontocentrism. Globalization puts various corners of the world together, creating a lot of conflict. For value theory, the problem is exacerbated by the juxtaposition of different value systems. For Floridi, the way out is through ontocentrism.

13 How Ontocentrism Helps Even the lion lives in the same world as we do. This provides a basic framework for adjudicating different value systems while allowing for a leeway for culturl differences. Since we all live in the same ontological reality, our values cannot differ too much. Even the lion lives in the same world as we do. This provides a basic framework for adjudicating different value systems while allowing for a leeway for culturl differences. Since we all live in the same ontological reality, our values cannot differ too much.

14 Problems This is a naturalistic conception, thus committing Moore’s ‘naturalistic fallacy.’ Basing the universal framework on ontology or metaphysics appears too weak—difference groups of people have different ways of conceptualizing their objective reality. This is a naturalistic conception, thus committing Moore’s ‘naturalistic fallacy.’ Basing the universal framework on ontology or metaphysics appears too weak—difference groups of people have different ways of conceptualizing their objective reality.

15 The So-called Naturalistic Fallacy The fallacy occurs when there is an attempt to argue for ‘ought’ from ‘is.’ But cutting metaphysics from ethics deprives the latter of a lot of force. The normative seems to be already there in the natural. We have to look at what the normative is for. The fallacy occurs when there is an attempt to argue for ‘ought’ from ‘is.’ But cutting metaphysics from ethics deprives the latter of a lot of force. The normative seems to be already there in the natural. We have to look at what the normative is for.

16 Spinoza As far as good and evil is concerned, they also indicate nothing positive in things, considered in themselves, nor are they anything other than modes of thinking, or notions we form because we compare things to one another. For one and the same thing can, at the same time, be good, and bad, and also indifferent. For example, Music is good for one who is Melancholy, bad for one who is mourning, and neither good nor bad to one who is deaf.

17 But though this is so, still we must retain these words. For because we desire to form an idea of man, as a model of human nature which we may look to, it will be useful to us to retain these same words with the meaning I have indicated. In what follows, therefore, I shall understand by good what we know certainly is a means by which we may approach nearer and nearer to the model of human nature that we set before ourselves. By evil, what we certainly know prevents us from becoming like that model. Next, we shall say that men are more perfect or imperfect, insofar as they approach more or less near to this model (Spinoza, Ethics Part IV,1985, p. 545).

18 Spinoza’s System Everything is included in the one Substance. Things are good so long as they promote the well being of Substance. The ‘model’ of human being accords with Substance.

19 Spinoza’s System in Real Life The US and the EU have different conceptions and justifications of privacy and intellectual property rights (Dan Burk 2007). US --> more consequentialist EU --> more inclined toward the deontological. The US and the EU have different conceptions and justifications of privacy and intellectual property rights (Dan Burk 2007). US --> more consequentialist EU --> more inclined toward the deontological.

20 Who is Right? Problem for naturalists: Both sides can agree on the ontology, but still disagree on the theory. So ontocentric ethics does not appear to do the trick. However, If both theories in fact promote the ontological goals equally well, then they are equally good. Problem for naturalists: Both sides can agree on the ontology, but still disagree on the theory. So ontocentric ethics does not appear to do the trick. However, If both theories in fact promote the ontological goals equally well, then they are equally good.

21 Who is Right? Liberals have a hard time reconciling these two positions; without any metaphysical foundation, ethics becomes exercise in rational deliberation. For Spinoza, this would be solved through reliance on the goals—how much of the ultimate goal of the flourishing of Reality itself is promoted? Each position and theory enriches the one Substance. Everything happens with a reason. Liberals have a hard time reconciling these two positions; without any metaphysical foundation, ethics becomes exercise in rational deliberation. For Spinoza, this would be solved through reliance on the goals—how much of the ultimate goal of the flourishing of Reality itself is promoted? Each position and theory enriches the one Substance. Everything happens with a reason.

22 Conclusion Spinoza says that action that leads to Joy is a good one and action leading to Suffering a bad one (Proposition 8, Part IV — Spinoza 1985, p. 550). He officially defines ‘Joy’ in the Part III of the Ethics as “a man’s passage from a lesser to a greater perfection,” and ‘Suffering’ in a diametrically opposite way (Spinoza 1985, p. 531). So whatever leads to more perfection is good and what leads to more imperfection is bad. This corresponds to Floridi’s idea of the good being what increases the quantity and richness of the infosphere.

23 Hence, when one is confronted with two ethical systems from two cultures, one way to test them would be to see how much Joy or Suffering each incurs. This sounds like utilitarianism, but actually it is not, for in utilitarianism the emphasis would be one the pleasure of a quantifiable number of people and the pleasure itself is quantifiable too. Joy (Latin, laetitia) in Spinoza is an ethical concept from the beginning, and it is also at the same time metaphysical. Presumably the deontological conception of the Europeans and the consequentialist position of the Americans do work well in their respective environments. In that case both do maintain and increase the integrity and the ‘perfection’ of their own environments, hence both are good in Spinoza’s conception, as well as Floridi’s. Joy or happiness is inextricably bound up with perfection of nature. The individual cannot extricate herself from her own social and physical environment.

24 Since individual things in the world are all parts of the one Substance, and since strictly speaking thee is only one thing, namely the Substance, or God. Individual things are only modes of God’s thought, or to put it plainly individual things are only created and are necessarily limited, and since all there is is only one, the individual things are strictly speaking modifications of the one Substance itself. This is a very important vision, and it is a vision that played an important part in many religious traditions of the East too.

25 So the system in which the individuals are regarded as webs of relations is part of one particular culture and has clear roles to play in that culture, and the system that regards the individual more atomically also has its own place in history, but when we focus ourselves on the vision of the one Substance, then these differences fade away. This is definitely not to say that the differences are not important; far from it, both are inalienable parts of the one Substance. And if there is no need to calibrate the two systems in one umbrella system, then the two could be left as is, each enriching the one Substance.


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