Ethical Approaches

Ethics has come to have many meanings. In general terms, ethics concerns the frameworks and principles that define our ability to have a good life and to clearly conceptualise our rights and responsibilities. In many fields of ethics, these frameworks and principles are either considered in terms of outcome, as in consequential ethics, or in terms of rules, as in deontological ethics. Our researchers at LSE and ITU propose to go beyond the consequentialist and utilitarian points of view, using alternative ethical approaches that we believe fit better with the problems at hand. These include virtue ethics which tend to focus on an individual’s process of attempting to live a good life, capabilities approaches that examine the ability to act, including to choose an alternative given the existing structural constraints and opportunities, and care ethics which not only examine responsibility and care but also the shifting obligations and responsibilities of individuals in a web of relations.

The following descriptions and diagrams came from an interview between Irina Shklovski (ITU) and CIID.



Virtue Ethics

An individual’s process of attempting to live a good life.

The notion of “what is good” is figured out through experiences and defined by your community and feeds back to your understanding and your goal towards virtuous-ness. Experiences build towards your practical wisdom - as you are out in the world, encountering problems, you make decisions that work or do not work, that get you closer or farther from “Good” - that all is wrapped up in your evolving sense of wisdom.

Your community’s codes of conduct help define your notion of “what is good.” For example - if you’re religious and part of a religious community, your understanding of what is good may be developed in relation to that community’s idea of Goodness. Thus community helps you narrow down the space in which you could deliberate. If you only do what someone tells you is good, that’s not virtuous. It has to also include being driven by internal virtues. The self is shaped through all these things. It’s developing these internal virtues. It develops through all of this. Trying to cultivate the right sorts of goodness. 


The Capabilities Approach

The ability to act, including to choose an alternative given the existing structural constraints and opportunities.

Internal capabilities get developed but transform into what you can do - which are your capabilities - but these are constrained again, and here you see what you actually do - not the same as what you Can Do - this might lead to a tragic choice.

Thus, in the beginning, you have some internal capabilities you can develop. You have structures that enable or constrain the development of those capabilities. This leads to what you could do. It sits in a box of structural constraints. It goes crunch crunch crunch and what comes out is what you actually do. And what you do can lead to many things but also can lead to a tragic choice. The tragic choice locks you in to a pattern. You have to select between one ideal and another. It’s a tragic tradeoff. You have to decide between two things that are both equally important to you. And there are a variety of pressures that decide that for you. It requires disruption or change to get out of that. 

Even though you are capable of doing something, the reality is that the structures in which you function are limiting your ability to Do. The box tells you that we are all within structures. The structure constraints are not a line you have to get through. They are constantly changing. The structural constraints force tradeoffs and those tradeoffs can become a tragic choice.


Care Ethics

Not only examining responsibility and care but also the shifting obligations and responsibilities of individuals in a web of relations.

You are a person and have identified a problem you will solve with a technical solution. The question you need to ask are: why is this problem here? And what sorts of relations happen between the people who are engaged with this problem? What are they negotiating? What is the relational structure the problem engenders? 

The next question is: when you think about the solution, the solution isn’t just about making the problem go away. The solution is about: what kinds of changes happen then, in the negotiations of relations? It’s about thinking about alternative choices and relational tensions - and that you may not understand the problem nearly as well as you think you do. There’s a responsibility in not being alone as much as there’s a comfort in not being alone.

Once you make a solution, it may not be successful. Recognise that and try again. 

Through trying to create this solution, this product, what is good is likely to change. It has to be established along the way, which means that the way your product is used may be entirely different and you may be solving a completely different problem than you think you are. Because while you imagine what might lead to a good life, different things happen, and that’s ok.