Given the fact that we live in an information age, the concept of digital ethics (DE) seems non-surprisingly to be also on the rise. In general, DE tries to show the best course of action, as a consequence of the careful attention on the events in the information environment.
According to Luciano Floridi, the OII Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, DE- a term firstly coined by him- conceptualizes the individual as being info-centric and object-oriented rather than only biocentric. Individual moral actions are based on information, yet information extends beyond being a necessary requirement for any morally responsible action into being the primary object.
DE is not an ethics of virtue, as such, it claims that sometimes the right question to be asked is ‘what ought to be respected or improved?’ rather than ‘what ought I to be or to do?’.
From the DE perspective, in addition to the natural ecosystem, anything that exists, from paintings and books to stars and stones, entails an instance of information. Implying such a comprehensive approach, DE adopts the following universal principles:
- The principle of uniformity: All processes and acts can be treated as information processes.
- The principle of reflexivity: Any information process necessarily involves a trail of information.
- The principle of inevitability: The absence of an information process is also an information process.
- The principle of agency: An agent which is capable of having an awareness of knowledge and can do planning of their actions can be held responsible.
In general terms, entropy refers to the amount of disorder or randomness in a system: the greater the disorder, the higher the entropy. According to the second law of thermodynamics, during a change, the entropy of a system is either zero or positive. Using this concept of entropy, Luciano Floridi, the OII Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford identified the following laws for DE to determine what is morally right or wrong:
- entropy ought not to be caused in the infosphere (null law)
- entropy ought to be prevented in the infosphere
- entropy ought to be removed from the infosphere
- information welfare ought to be promoted by extending (information quantity), improving (information quality) and enriching (information variety) the infosphere.
According to DE, the well-being of the infosphere depends on the preservation and cultivation of its properties. Therefore, the DE moral imperative could be, for example: ‘act so that you never treat information, whether in your own being or in that of another entity, only as a means but always as an end at the same time’.
As Floridi claims, the DE perspective improves our understanding of moral facts while shaping our sense of value. All we require from DE is to help us to give an account of what we already intuit: “Action follows out of being”: the old medieval dictum can now be adopted as the motto of DE.