Ethical education in software engineering: Responsibility in the production of complex systems

Science and Engineering Ethics 13 (4):505-522 (2007)
Abstract
Among the various contemporary schools of moral thinking, consequence-based ethics, as opposed to rule-based, seems to have a good acceptance among professionals such as software engineers. But naïve consequentialism is intellectually too weak to serve as a practical guide in the profession. Besides, the complexity of software systems makes it very hard to know in advance the consequences that will derive from professional activities in the production of software. Therefore, following the spirit of well-known codes of ethics such as the ACM/IEEE’s, we advocate for a more solid position in the ethical education of software engineers, which we call ‘moderate deontologism’, that takes into account both rules and consequences to assess the goodness of actions, and at the same time pays an adequate consideration to the absolute values of human dignity. In order to educate responsible professionals, however, this position should be complemented with a pedagogical approach to virtue ethics.
Keywords Ethical responsibility  Ethics of conviction  Ethics of responsibility  Deontologism  Consequentialism  Complexity of software systems  Direct and foreseeable consequences  Professional ethics  Codes of ethics  Engineering  Ethics  Education  Computer/informatics
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