Moral Responsibility

Professional Responsibility
Summary of different senses of
Reactive Senses of Responsibility
• Causal
– Physical motions produce
an event
• Role
– individual stands
committed to carry out
common goods around
which a social or
professional role is
• Capacity
– Determining the conditions
under which someone can
be held responsible for
their actions
• Blame
– Praising or blaming
someone for what they
have done
Proactive Senses of Responsibility
• Sharing
– Answering for the actions of
others within one’s group.
(Share action-causing
– Providing moral support to
group members when they
have gone astray.
– Does not entail accepting
blame for their actions
• Responsibility as a
When responsibility becomes proactive
and supererogatory (i.e., goes beyond
what is minimally required)
Uncovering risk and preventing harm
Recognizing and taking advantage of
opportunities to promote value,
Expanding range of control,
Caring for stakeholders and their goods,
and …
Also indignation, shame, guilt, pride
and other participatory, self-referential
Developing overlapping role
Where one falls below the moral
Prerequisites for Blaming
Capacity Responsibility
• Conditions that connect an agent with an
action for moral evaluation
• When one is capacity responsible, one is
– …capable of acting freely and knowingly in a given
Acting Freely…
• When we act freely, we act without compulsion
• Compulsion is the production of a state of mind or
body independently of the will (F. H. Bradley)
– Overwhelming fear compels me to do something that I
would not do in a calm state of mind
– When somebody pushes me, they create a state of body
(my falling toward the floor) which runs contrary to my
actual will (remaining standing)
Acting knowingly…
• Acting knowingly means acting free from two
kinds of ignorance:
– Moral ignorance (Not being able to appreciate the
moral quality of my actions)
– Specific ignorance (Not knowing important details
in the situation in which I am acting)
Moral Ignorance
• Moral sense (the ability to appreciate the
moral quality of my actions) includes…
– bringing moral concepts, rules, and principles to bear on
the situation (social injustice)
– responding in an emotionally appropriate way to the
situation (indignation and rightful resentment)
– shaping one’s actions in accordance with moral
understanding and moral emotion (opposing injustice with
Specific Ignorance
• One fails to act responsibly in a situation
because one lacks crucially relevant
situational details
– I betray my sister’s secret
– But I am not responsible because I did not know that what
I told was in fact a secret
– My ignorance of that crucial detail relieves me of
responsibility in this situation
Not satisfying the knowledge and volitional
conditions allows for excuses
• Condition—Performing the action knowingly
– Excuse—I didn’t know what I was doing or I couldn’t
appreciate the moral quality of what I was doing
• Condition—Performing the action willingly
– Excuse—I was forced to do it (I couldn’t have done
Exception for Excuses
• Excuses based on ignorance and compulsion both have an
important qualification
• I am responsible for what I do under ignorance and under
compulsion if I got myself into the excuse-generating
situations in the first place
• Examples:
– My ignorance was caused by past negligence
– My being compelled was caused by past recklessness (I recklessly took
another drink and lost control)
Mitigating or exculpating conditions
Excuse Source
Excuse Statement
1. Conflicts within a role responsibility and
between different role responsibilities
I cannot, at once, carry out all my conflicting
role responsibilities.
2. Overwhelming situational constraints:
hostile social surround or moral ecology
The moral ecology in which I act makes it
impossible to act responsibly. (Central
commitments exclude moral values)
3. Overwhelming situational constraints:
Money and Time
I lack time and money to carry out my role
4. Overwhelming situational constraints:
technical and manufacturing limits
Carrying out my role responsibility goes
beyond technical and manufacturing limits
5. Overwhelming social constraints: persons, Personalities, societies, laws, or political
societies, legal, and political
climate set forth overwhelming obstacles to
my carrying out my role responsibilities
6. Knowledge limitations: general and
situation-based ignorance
I lack the knowledge (general or specific) to
act effectively and responsibly in this
Blame Responsibility
When one runs out of excuses
Blame Responsibility: Prerequisites
• 1. Untoward Event
– A wrong or harm has occurred
• 2. Causal Connection
– The agent identified is the one who has brought
about the untoward event
Blame Responsibility: Prerequisites
• 3. Moral Fault
– A moral fault contributed directly to the occurrence of the
untoward event
– The moral fault can be attributed to the agent in question
• Examples of Moral Fault
– Intentional Wrongdoing
– Negligence
– Recklessness
Blame Responsibility: Prerequisites
• 4. Capacity Responsibility
– The agent satisfies the requirements of capacity
– Acted free from compulsion
– Action free from general and particular ignorance
Blame Responsibility: Results
• Agent is answerable for the action and subject
to punishment
– Agent must answer for action by explaining it,
justifying it, or excusing it
• Obligation to responsively adjust to avoid
action in future
– Taking measures to prevent the act from
A Brief Excursion on Moral Fault
Intentional Wrongdoing
Moral Fault: Intentional Wrongdoing
• Agent intends, through the untoward action, to bring
about a wrong or harm
• The intended harm or wrong contributes to the
untowardness of the action
• A disgruntled employee intentionally introduces a virus
into the company’s computer system which causes the
system to break down and produces severe financial
Moral Fault: Negligence
• No harm or wrong is intended but nevertheless occurs
because the agent did not exercise minimal care
• A software program malfunctions producing harm. The
programmer did not know of the error that produced the
malfunction but normal testing would have exposed this error
• The programmer failed to subject the program to normal
testing and was, therefore, negligent
Moral Fault: Recklessness
• Agent does not intend the harm but foresaw it and
was willing to risk it in pursuit of another intention
• French’s Example:
– The pianist practices at 2:00 a.m. in his apartment with its
paper thin walls
– His primary intention is to improve his playing skills
– But he is willing to risk disturbing his neighbor in pursuit of
his primary intention
Feinberg on Negligence and Recklessness
• “When one knowingly creates an unreasonable risk
to self or others, one is reckless;
• when one unknowingly but faultily creates such a
risk, one is negligent.”
• Joel Feinberg, Doing and Deserving, 193
Role Responsibility
Ties to Codes
Role Responsibility
• Commitment to carry out common goods
around which a professional or social role is
– Goods arise in relations
– Example:
• Relation—professional to public
• Goods—well-being, health, and safety
• Professionals should not deprive the public of goods,
work to prevent others from depriving, and strive
(through their work) to increase goods
Sources of Role Responsibilities
• 1. Explicit commitments such as contractual
obligations and promises
• 2. Implicit commitments embedded in our social
relations and roles
• 3. Legal Responsibilities
– Due care, avoiding conflicts of interests, maintaining
confidences, and faithful agency (law of agency)
– Professionals: Due care
– Employees: Faithful agency as specified under law of
Sources of Role Responsibilities
• 4. Job Description
• 5. Codes of Ethics (Professional and
– Arise from professional relations and the goods
– Public, Client, Employers, Peers, Profession
Role Responsibilities arise out of key relations of
computing professional (AMC/IEEE Code)
• Public
– Contribute to society and human well-being (1.1)
• Protect fundamental human rights
• Respect the diversity of all cultures
• Minimize negative consequences of computing systems
including threats to health and safety
• Ensure that CT and CS are used in socially responsible
• Accessed 10/14/10
Role Responsibilities in Code
• Public
– Avoid harm to others (1.2)
• Injury or negative consequences
• Generally accepted standards for system design and
• Credible assessment of risk and responsibility
• Report any signs of system dangers
– May require whistle blowing
Other Responsibilities to Public
– Respect the privacy of others (1.5)
– Honor property rights including copyrights and
patents (1.6)
– Improve public understanding of computing
and its consequences (2.7)
Responsibilities as Employees
• Contractual
Working hours
Job responsibilities
Codes of ethics
Position in org decision
– HR issues
• As Employees (law
of agency)
Honor Employer interests
Follow legal orders
Avoid conflicts of interests
Maintain confidences
Responsibilities to Client
• Exercise due care in carrying out interests of client
– Due care defined in terms of professional standards
– Avoiding bad faith, negligence or recklessness
• Avoid conflicts of interests
• Maintain confidences
• When professional judgment is overruled, notify client of
– Includes dissent when issues of public health and safety are involved
– May require that engineers do not approve plans even when public
safety is not involved
• Maintaining trust
Responsibilities to Peers
• Give peers due credit for their work
• Refrain from slandering peers
• Share research and innovation
• Refrain from disloyal competition
Responsibilities to Profession
• Work to uphold the reputation and integrity
of the profession
• Support ethical professionals
• Honor and support professional standards and
professional codes of ethics
Proactive Responsibility
Going Above and Beyond the
Responsibility as a Virtue
Responsibility as a Virtue
• Proactive
– Future-oriented, focusing on preventing harm and
realizing value
• Supererogatory
– Goes above and beyond what is minimally
required for avoiding blame
Responsibility as a Virtue
• Uncovering risk and preventing harm
• Uncovering risk
– Imaginatively reconstructing ordinary situations to
produce scenarios in which normal events take on unusual
configurations and produce harm
• Preventing harm
– Developing/designing effective counter-measures to these
scenarios to prevent the latent harms from occurring
Responsibility as a Virtue
• Recognizing and taking advantage of
opportunities to promote value
– Developing an expertise in participatory design
– Working to uncover community needs
– Creatively using one’s professional knowledge and skill
to respond to these needs
Responsibility as a Virtue
• Expanding area of control
• Not giving way to the temptation to retreat from action in
order to avoid blame
• Extending knowledge and skills to fill in gaps that can lead to
loss of control accidents
• See Ladd, Perrow, and Reason for description of loss of control
– Perrow: Chain reaction metaphor
– Reason: Disease metaphor
– Ladd: Accidents caused by lack of care
Responsibility as a Virtue
• Caring for stakeholders and their goods
• Lack of care is at the root of many normal accidents
• Boisjoly tests:
– Is it safe enough for someone I care about?
– Identify oneself with one’s designs and actions
Responsibility as a Virtue
• Developing overlapping of role responsibilities
• The scope or range of one’s role responsibilities overlap
with others
• One “takes up” task-responsibilities that others have
• Recognition that responsibilities can and should be
• Hitting the volleyball between different players or
between front and back row
Responsibility as a Virtue
• Taking responsibility can be understood
as a virtue
• Publicity Test
– Computing specialists choose actions and designs
that reveal them as responsible
– These actions and designs would be chosen by
MECP (=morally responsible computing
Virtue Ethics
• Virtue comes from the Greek word, arete, which
means excellence
– Represent characteristics that exemplify human excellences
– Stem from dispositions that are refined by moral reason and
appropriate emotion
– Especially suited to promoting the common goods around
which professional roles are constituted
• Preventing harm, Promoting safety & health, Enhancing well-being,
Maintaining/promoting client trust
Virtue as the mean between two
• Aristotle characterizes virtue as the skill of
identifying and acting from the mean between
two extremes, excess and defect
• Courage is the skill of identifying the mean
between two extremes in facing danger
– Recklessness—taking too great a risk
– Cowardice—taking too little risk
Responsibility as a Virtue
Mean: Taking
Carrying the
World on Your
1. Negligence and
2. Egocentric or
egoistic attitude
1. Uncovering risk and
preventing harm
2. Recognizing and
exploiting opportunities to do good
3. Extending causal
4. Attitude of care for
region of RR
5. Overlapping
mapping of RR
1. Paralysis of
analysis and action
2. Telescopic
3. Retreating to avoid
4. Apathy &
5. Mapping RR into
separate domains
3. Trying to control
4. Too much care
5. Mapping includes

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