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Synthetic Societies or Pseudo-Realities? Debating the Ethical Dilemmas of Second Life

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Invariably, any conversation regarding the ethical considerations of virtual environments will ultimately lead to various metaphysical questions. What is the nature of (virtual) reality and to what extent should real world ethical standards carry into the virtual world? Are we responsible for the ethical choices we make while in a virtual environment?

To answer these questions we have chosen to locate the ethical argument within specific examples, in order to more effectively argue the sides of the debate and to avoid the use of abstraction that can often lead to lack of clarity; a tradition of ethical discourse that has its precedent in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (350 BCE). However, whereas Aristotle was able to resolve extremes in order to arrive at a eudaimonic course of action, the authors here will present two opposing positions, and it will be left to the readers to reach their own resolutions.

The context in which we explore these ethical dilemmas is set within the virtual world of Second Life, primarily because this platform is populated by well over a million avatars and the attention gained from exposure in the real world media contributes to its explosive growth. Second Life thus provides a large enough platform to represent an enormous spectrum of ethical opinions, behaviours and core beliefs. The diversity of the people who use Second Life far exceeds that of any other (non-gaming) virtual world at this time.

Before tackling the question of how ethics can (or should) be applied to virtual reality, we will first examine the phrase “virtual reality” itself. It is in the uncertainties regarding the term that many of the debates around the ethics of virtuality reside.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

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  • From Critique to Action: The Practical Ethics of the Organizational World
    This book illustrates the application of ethical thinking to business, management and computing. This book brings together some significant areas of leading edge research and scholarship in the context of engagement with communities of practice, locally, regionally and professionally, with international students, police, teachers, housing managers, ambulance workers, etc. Most of the chapters are based on the practical experience of the contributors but written in an accessible way. There is a strong intercultural and transnational flavour in this book. It is explicitly cross-disciplinary, and will appeal to readers from areas like organization analysis, computer studies and information systems as well as philosophy and ethics.
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