On the intrinsic value of information objects and the infosphere
Author: Floridi, L.
Source: Ethics and Information Technology, Volume 4, Number 4, 2002 , pp. 287-304(18)
What is the most general common set of attributes that characterises something as intrinsically valuable and hence as subject to some moral respect, and without which something would rightly be considered intrinsically worthless or even positively unworthy and therefore rightly to be disrespected in itself? This paper develops and supports the thesis that the minimal condition of possibility of an entity's least intrinsic value is to be identified with its ontological status as an information object. All entities, even when interpreted as only clusters of information, still have a minimal moral worth qua information objects and so may deserve to be respected. The paper is organised into four main sections. Section 1 models moral action as an information system using the object-oriented programming methodology (OOP). Section 2 addresses the question of what role the several components constituting the moral system can have in an ethical analysis. If they can play only an instrumental role, then Computer Ethics (CE) is probably bound to remain at most a practical, field-dependent, applied or professional ethics. However, Computer Ethics can give rise to a macroethical approach, namely Information Ethics (IE), if one can show that ethical concern should be extended to include not only human, animal or biological entities, but also information objects. The following two sections show how this minimalist level of analysis can be achieved. Section 3 provides an axiological analysis of information objects. It criticises the Kantian approach to the concept of intrinsic value and shows that it can be improved by using the methodology introduced in the first section. The solution of the Kantian problem prompts the reformulation of the key question concerning the moral worth of an entity: what is the intrinsic value of x qua an object constituted by its inherited attributes? In answering this question, it is argued that entities can share different observable properties depending on the level of abstraction adopted, and that it is still possible to speak of moral value even at the highest level of ontological abstraction represented by the informational analysis. Section 4 develops a minimalist axiology based on the concept of information object. It further supports IE's position by addressing five objections that may undermine its acceptability.
Keywords: Kant; Kingdom of Ends; Kingdom of Nature; axiology; computer ethics; dignity; entropy; information ethics; information object; infosphere; intrinsic value; object-oriented programming; ontology; respect
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Dipartimento di Scienze Filosofiche, Università degli Studi di Bari and Faculty of Philosophy, Sub-Faculty of Computation, Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, Information Ethics Group, Oxford University (address for correspondence: Wolfson College, OX2 6UD, Oxford, UK; E-mail: email@example.com)
Publication date: 2002