Consequences of Computing:
A Framework for Teaching

The Conceptual Framework - Page 7 of 36

A careful analysis of any ethical issue will need to specify and examine the ethical issues, the level of social analysis, and the technical aspects of the issue at hand. The

Figure 1. The intersection of ethical and social analysis

(Click on the individual row and column headings to find out more about each topic.)


committee's attempt to specify the space defined by these dimensions is summarized in Figure 1. The two dimensions shown in detail are the level of social analysis and the particular ethical issues that arise in technology. A third dimension is indicated, but not specified strictly in the table--the different technologies that each require analysis from some portion of the two-dimensional space. Since the technology changes so rapidly, we felt it would limit the use of the conceptual scheme, and unnecessarily date the approach to attempt to specify this dimension except by example.

Each of the ethical issues represented by a column in the table has been dealt with at great length in both primary and secondary scholarly literature, and in popular and academic venues. Philosophical work done on the concept of property could alone fill several bookshelves. Each of the levels of social analysis represented by the rows of the table also has a literature associated with them that includes thousands of references. Thus, the combination of these two dimensions results in such an overwhelming wealth of research and analysis that it could be difficult to determine where to start.

Fortunately, we have a clear rule to help us determine our starting point. What topics, principles, and skills from this array will be relevant to computer science students at the undergraduate level? Thus, a consideration of the issues that arise for computer professionals, and which are often dealt with in codes of ethics, is both a fundamental and an integral part of any topic covered in the table. Fundamental, in that the approach assumed when addressing these issues should be that of the computing professional and not that of either the philosopher or the social scientist. Integral, because the issues of individual and professional responsibility should be explicitly addressed when dealing with every topic in the space (though for pedagogical purposes, we have included a column with that title). For example, a simple discourse on the nature and history of property rights or on cultural diversity would be out of place unless each were considered from the viewpoint of the computing professional, and unless questions about the practice of the profession in light of these issues were addressed. The methods, insights, and results of philosophers and social scientists should be used in the service of computer science interests, rather than controlling those interests.