Rafael Capurro

Published in: Kenneth E. Himma & Herman T. Tavani (eds.): The Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics. New Jersey: Wiley, 2008, 639-665. Enlarged and updated version of Intercultural Information Ethics. Foundations and Applications.



Intercultural Information Ethics (IIE) can be defined in a narrow or in a broad sense. In a narrow sense it focuses on the impact of information and communication technology (ICT) on different cultures as well as on how specific issues are understood from different cultural traditions. In a broad sense IIE deals not only with intercultural issues raised by ICT but by other media as well allowing a large historical comparative view. IIE explores these issues under descriptive and normative perspectives. Such comparative studies can be done either at a concrete or ontic level or at the level of ontological or structural presuppositions.

The present IIE debate follows the international debate on information ethics that started with the “First International Congress on Ethical, Legal, and Societal Aspects of Digital Information” organized by UNESCO in 1997 in the Principality of Monaco and by subsequent ones and culminating in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) (Tunisia 2003, Geneva 2005). These conferences aimed particularly at reaching a consensus on ethical principles to be implemented through practical policy as in the case of the “Declaration of Principles” of the WSIS.

The academic debate on intercultural issues of ICT takes place in biennial conferences on “Cultural attitudes towards technology and communication” (CATaC) organized by Charles Ess and Fay Sudweeks since 1998. But intercultural issues are also raised in the ETHICOMP conferences organized by Simon Rogerson since 1995, the conferences on “Ethics of Electronic Information in the 21st Century” (EEI21) at the University of Memphis since 1997, and the CEPE conferences (Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiry) since 1997.

The first international symposium dealing explicitly with intercultural information ethics was organized by the International Center for Information Ethics (ICIE) entitled “Localizing the Internet. Ethical Issues in Intercultural Perspective.” It took place in Karlsruhe (Germany) in 2004. As far as I know, my introductory paper to this symposium was the first paper addressing the question of IIE already in its title (Capurro 2007). The proceedings were published online in the “International Review of Information Ethics” (IRIE 2004). A selection of papers was published as a book in 2007 (Capurro et al. 2007). The journal “Ethics and Information Technology” has dedicated a special issue edited by Charles Ess on privacy and data protection in Asia (Ess 2005). The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics together with the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, organized an international conference, entitled “Information Ethics: Agents, Artefacts and New Cultural Perspectives” that took place in 2005 at St Cross College Oxford. The conference addressed issues beyond the moral questions related to ‘agents’ and ‘artefacts’, considering also cultural questions of the globalization of information processes and flows, particularly “whether information ethics in this ontological or global sense may be biased in favour of Western values and interests and whether far-eastern cultures may provide new perspectives and heuristics for a successful development of the information society.” (Floridi, Savulescu 2006, 155-156). Soraj Hongladarom and Charles Ess have edited a book with the title “Information Technology Ethics: Cultural Perspectives” (Hongladarom and Ess 2007). The book puts together a selection of contributions on what Western and non-Western intellectual traditions have to say on various issues in information ethics, as well theoretical debates offering proposals for new synthesis between Western and Eastern traditions.

In the following, an overview on IIE as discussed in these sources is given. The first part deals with the foundational debate of morality in general as well as on IIE in paticular starting with the question of the relation of reason and emotions. This question is addressed within the background of continental European philosophy with hints to Eastern traditions. It follows a review of the foundational perspectives on IIE as developed by Charles Ess, Toru Nishigaki, Terrel Ward Bynum, Bernd Frohmann, Lorenzo Magnani, Thomas Herdin, Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Ursula Maier-Rabler, Barbara Paterson, Thomas Hausmanninger and myself. The second part presents some ethical questions about the impact of ICT on different cultures in Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Australia and Turkey. The third part addresses succinctly special issues such as privacy, intellectual property, online communities, governmentality, gender issues, mobile phones, health care, and the digital divide as addressed in the already mentioned IIE sources.



1. On the Sources of Morality

There is a classic debate in moral philosophy between cognitivism and non-cognitivism with regard to the truth-value of moral claims, namely:

(1) moral claims lack truth value and are merely expressive of human emotions of approval or disapproval (moral non-cognitivism)

(2) moral claims have truth-value (moral cognitivism).

Moral cognitivism concerns the following alternatives:

(1) morality is objective in the sense of being true or false in virtue of mind independent facts about the world – and not in virtue of what cultures or individuals think about them (i.e. moral objectivism);

(2) normative moral relativism (or conventionalism or intersubjectivism) which claims that morality is manufactured by the beliefs and practices of cultures (i.e., moral claims are true in a culture only if accepted, believed, or practiced by some sufficiently large majority of the culture); and

(3) normative moral subjectivism which claims that morality is manufactured by the beliefs and practices of individuals (i.e., moral claims are true for a person only if accepted by that person).

The distinction between cognitivism and non-cognitivism presupposes that human emotions have no cognitive value and vice versa, that human cognition has a truth-value if and only if it is free of emotions. This is, in my view, a wrong alternative since there is no emotion-free cognition and emotions have a cognitive value as demonstrated by neurobiologist Antonio Damasio (Damasio 1994). This empirical approach on the relation between reason and emotion converges in some regards with Martin Heidegger’s phenomenological approach on moods and understanding (Heidegger 1987, 172 ff). According to Heidegger, moods are not primarily private feelings but they disclose a public experience, i.e., they concern the way(s) we are in a given situation with others in a common world (Capurro 2005). Being originally social our feelings do not separate us from each other but even in the case in which we speak of mood as a subjective state, this belongs already to the situation in which I am embedded implicitly or explicitly together with others. The psychologist Eugene Gendlin remarks, that Heidegger’s conception of moods is “interactional” instead of “intrapsychic” (Gendlin 1978). Gendlin underlines another important difference with regard to the traditional subjectivist view, namely the relation of mood and understanding, or, more precisely, the conception of moods as a specific way of understanding. Moods are not just affections colouring a situation but an active although mostly implicit way of understanding a situation independently of what we actually say or not with explicit words. There is then, according to Heidegger, a difference as well as an intimate relation between mood, understanding and speech as basic parameters of human existence.

Within this background, my position concerning the truth-value of moral claims is neither subjectivist, nor objectivist or simply relativistic. They have a common ground to which they implicitly or explicitly relate. One classical answer to the question of the foundation of morality is that moral claims relate to the basic moral principle “Neminem laede, imo omnes, quantum potes, juva” (“do no harm, help where you can”). I believe that even if we can give good reasons for such a fundamental moral principle the knowledge of such reasons is not enough to move the will in order to do (or not) the good.

Is there a foundation for this principle? Nietzsche questioned the ambitious theories aiming at a religious and/or metaphysical foundation of morality such as Schopenhauer’s volitional metaphysics or intellectualistic theories (Nietzsche 1999/11: 171). His plea was for a more modest and patient practice, namely the comparison of the rich variety of human moralities and their theories. We live, according to Nietzsche, in the “epoch of comparison” (“Zeitalter der Vergleichung”) (Nietzsche 1999/2: 44-45). One example of this task of comparison between, for instance, Western moral theories and classical Chinese philosophy is the work of the French philosopher and sinologist François Jullien (1995).

According to Karl Baier, basic moods through which the uniqueness of the world and the finitude of our existence become manifest, are a transcultural experience common to all human beings. They concern our awareness of the common world (Baier 2006). It is on the basis of the mood of anxiety (“Angst”), for instance, that we are aware of death (“Sterblichkeit”) and finitude or in the mood of “being born” (“Gebürtlichkeit”) in which we feel ourselves open for new possibilities of being. In "Being and Time", Heidegger gives a famous analysis of two moods, namely fear (“Furcht”) and anxiety (“Angst”), borrowing basic insights from Kierkegaard’s Concept of Anxiety (Heidegger 1987: 228ff). The key difference between these moods is that while fear is a mood in which one is afraid about something fearsome, anxiety, in contrast, faces us with our being-in-the-world itself in such a way that no intra-worldly entity is at its origin. But we are confronted with the very fact of the being there, with our existence in the world, and of the being of the world itself, without the possibility of giving an intrinsic reason for them. Hubert Dreyfus remarks: “In anxiety Dasein discovers that it has no meaning or content of its own; nothing individualizes it but its empty thrownness.” (Dreyfus 1991: 180) Such an experience is not necessarily accompanied by sweating and crying, but it is rather more near to what we could call today a "cool" experience of the gratuity of existence.

Ludwig Wittgenstein describes his “key experience” (“mein Erlebnis par excellence”) in the "Lecture on Ethics" with the following words: “This experience, in case I have it, can be described most properly, I believe, with the words I am amazed about the existence of the world. Then I tend to use formulations like these ones: 'How strange that something exists at all' or 'How strange that the world exists'" (Wittgenstein 1989: 14, my translation). According to Wittgenstein we have really no appropriate expression for this experience – other than the existence of language itself. On 30 December 1929 Wittgenstein remarked: “I can imagine what Heidegger means with being and anxiety. Human beings have the tendency to run against the boundaries of language. Think for instance about the astonishment that something at all exists. […] Ethics is this run against the boundaries of language.” (Wittgenstein 1984: 68, my translation). The primum movens of our actions lies in the very facticity or “thrownness” (“Geworfenheit”) (Heidegger) and finitude of human existence that is disclosed through moods.

In terms of Heidegger’s “Being and Time,” we are ontologically “indebted” or “guilty” towards the “calling” of the Other, in the various senses of the word “guilty” such as ‘having debts to someone’ or ‘being responsible for,’ (Heidegger 1987, 325 ff). We are primordially “guilty” in the sense that we are indebted to the “there” of our existence, between birth and death. Our existence is basically “care” (“Sorge”) of our factual and limited possibilities that manifest themselves within the framework of the uniqueness and “nullity” of our existence as well as of the fact of the world itself. Our moods, or more specifically, our “basic moods” (“Grundstimmungen”) play a key role in what we could call a holistic ethics that makes theoretically explicit the mechanism of our will being thus only a necessary but not a sufficient condition for our (moral) actions. The moral imperative is precisely this call for care and our capacity to give a finite or “guilty” answer. It is insofar a categorical imperative (‘take care of yourself’) as we cannot not take care of our lives but it allows at the same time, due to its indeterminate form, multiple options of life interpretation and design that arise from the open possibilities that ‘call’ our attention and challenge our practical reason. This basic human experience gives rise to different interpretations and their corresponding cultural articulations. As a historical being, humans accumulate as individuals as well as societies, unique existential experiences that constitute what we could call their dynamic cultural apriori laid down in their cultural memory.  The uniqueness of the facticity of the world and human existence can therefore be understood as a common abyssal ground for morality and for moral theory both being subject to different cogno-emotional interpretations.

This is not a plea for a kind of naturalistic fallacy of deriving ‘ought’ from ‘is’ but the awareness that we cannot not take care of our lives and the given world we live in.  In saying this I am not even providing a sufficient reason for doing the good just because such linguistic utterance would be unsufficient without the experience of the ‘call’ itself to which a theory can only point to without being able to give a foundation in which case the phenomenon of the ‘call’ and the facticity of the world would be negated as originating such utterance.

The enigmatic ‘fact’ of our being-in-the-world, our facticity, is the ‘first call’ or primum movens of our will. This provides, I believe, an experimental and theoretical frame of reference for different ethical theories and practices, which is not a metaphysical ground. Both experiences are contingent but at the same time prescriptive or normative in the sense that they urge or ‘call’ for situative, i.e., historical responsible thought and action by letting us become conscious of our ontological “guilt.” This kind of responsibility does not therefore aim necessarily at identical shared moral norms as answers to such a call, although such a search is theoretically reasonable and pragmatically necessary in a given situation or with regard to a global phenomenon as in the case of  ICT which is no less situated or ‘localized’ (Capurro et al. 2007).

Buddhism, for instance, experiences the world in all its transitoriness in a mood of sadness and happiness being also deeply moved by suffering. This mood ‘opens’ the world in a specific way. According to Baier, there is something common to all human beings in the basic or deep moods but at the same time there are specific moods at the beginning of human cultures, such as astonishment (“thaumazein”) in the Greek experience of the world. Baier is also well aware of the danger of building stereotypes particularly when dealing with the differences between East and West considering for instance the search for harmony as an apparently typical and unique mood of Asian cultures or the opposition between collectivity and individuality. As there are no absolute differences between cultures there are also no exclusive moods. Experiences such as nausea, pangs of moral conscience or the ‘great doubt’ are common to Japanese Buddhism and modern Western nihilism. For a sound future intercultural methodology Baier suggests that we look for the textual basis from literature, art, religion and everyday culture and to pay attention to complex phenomena and to the interaction between moods and world understanding. I would like to add also the role of legal and political institutions as well as the historical and geographical settings in which these experiences are located. If there is a danger of building stereotypes, there is also one of overlooking not only concrete or ontic but also structural or ontological differences by claiming a world culture that mostly reflects the interests and global life style of a small portion of humanity.

From this perspective, moral cognitivism and non-cognitivism are partial views of human existence which is grounded on moods and understanding. Normative moral subjectivism takes for granted that individuals can be conceived as separated from their being-in-the-world with others, i.e., of the social and historical network of practices and beliefs, without critically asking about the origin of this conception of an isolated individual itself. Morality is not founded on independent facts about the world but arises spontaneously (“sponte sua”) from (Greek: “hothen”) the awareness and respect for the abyssal facticity and uniqueness of the world itself and human existence which are the invaluable and theoretically non provable truth-values on which all moral claims rest. Beliefs, institutions, and practices of cultures give a long term stability to such claims and make them obvious. Cultural frameworks are not conceived as closed worlds but as grounded in common affective human experiences of sharing a finite existence in a common world. In other words, the ontic differences between human cultures are refractions of the common world awareness. Every effort to determine the nature of this awareness gives rise to different experiences and interpretations. We speak of multicultural ethics in case we juxtapose such interpretations instead of comparing them. The opposite is a mono-cultural view that conceives itself as the only valid one. Human reason is genuinely plural with regard to common tentative trans-cultural expressions of this common ground such as the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” whose principles are subject to permanent scrutiny and inter-cultural interpretation and, being linguistic utterances, build the necessary but not sufficient condition for moving the will of, say, the member states of the United Nations to put it into practice (Ladd 1985).



a) Charles Ess

Charles Ess’ “global information ethics” seeks to avoid imperialistic homogenization while simultaneously preserving the irreducible differences between cultures and peoples (Ess 2006). He analyzes the connections of such an ethical pluralism between contemporary Western ethics and Confucian thought. Both traditions invoke notions of resonance and harmony to articulate pluralistic structures of connection alongside irreducible differences. Ess explores such a pros hen pluralism in Eastern and Western conceptions of privacy and data privacy protection. This kind of pluralism is the opposite to a purely modus vivendi pluralism that leaves tensions and conflicts unresolved and giving thus rise to a cycle of violence. Another more robust form of pluralism presupposes a shared set of ethical norms and standards but without overcoming deeply contradictions. An even stronger form of pluralism does not search identity but only some kind of coherence or, as Ess suggests, complementarity between two irreducible different entities. The problem with this position is that it still asks for some kind of unity between irreducible positions. In order to make this goal plausible and somehow rational one must show where the possible focus that allows complementary lies. Otherwise I see a contradiction between irreducibility and  complementarity. This is a similar problem as the one raised by Thomas Kuhn concerning the question of the incommensurability of scientific theories arising from a paradigm change through scientific revolutions (Kuhn 1962). Ess’ concepts of resonance, or complementarity raise the Aristotelian question of equivocity, analogy and univocity. I think that irreducible positions cannot be logically reduced to some kind of complementarity but it may be a deeper experimental source of unity such as the one I suggested at the beginning that is beyond the sphere of ontic or, to put it in Kantian terms, categorial oppositions. Kant’s solution was the presupposition of a noumenal world that manifests itself practically through the categorical imperative. I believe that the facticity and uniqueness of the world and human life offers an empirical hothen dimension if not for overcoming categorial differences at least for a dialogue on cognitive-emotive fundamental experiences of our common being in the world (Eldred 2006).

There are pitfalls of prima facie convergences, analogies and family resemblances that may be oversimplified by a pros hen strategy. In many cases we should try to dig into deeper layers in order to understand where these claims originate or simply accept the limits of human theoretical reason by celebrating the richness of human experience. In his critical response to Charles Ess, Kei Hiruta questions the necessity and desirability of pros hen pluralism. As he rightly stresses, it is no clear what the points of shared ethical agreements are and how this call for unity fits with a call for diversity concerning the judgements of such “ethical perspectives” (Hiruta 2006, 228). It looks as if the advocates of ethical pluralism would like to avoid the untolerable, such as child pornography in the Internet, working on the basis of a (pragmatic) problem-solving strategy leading to “points of agreement” or “responses” on the basis of Socratic dialogue. The problem with Socratic dialogue is that it is based on the spirit of parrhesia which is a key feature of Western philosophy. I come back to this issue.

b) Toru Nishigaki

In his contribution on information ethics in Japan, Toru Nishigaki makes a difference between the search of ethical norms in the context of new information technologies (IT) on the one hand, and the changes “on our views of human beings and society” becoming “necessary to accompany the emergence of the information society” on the other hand (Nishigaki 2006, 237). Such changes concern, for instance, the Western idea of a “coherent self” being questioned by information processing in robots. While this change may lead from a Western perspective to nihilism, Buddhist philosophy teaches that there is no such a thing as a “coherent self” ethics having to do with compassion as well as with the relationship between the individual and the community instead as with the preservation of a “coherent self” the key ethical question being how our communities are changing instead how far the “self” is endangered. As Nishigaki remarks: “It is possible to say, therefore, that in a sense the West now stands in need of Eastern ethics, while the East stands in need of Western ethics” (Nishigaki 2006, 238). Nishigaki stresses at the same time, that there is no “easy bridge” between IT and Eastern philosophy. IT as looked from a cultural standpoint “has a strong affinity with the Judeo-Christian pursuit for a universal interpretation of sacred texts.” (Nishigaki 2006, ibid.). While we in the West look for some kind of unchanged meaning of terms, such as in Charles Ess’ pros hen search for shared values and a tolerant or benevolent view on judgment diversity, the ZEN master is eager to exercise himself in his disciple “by doing away with universal or conventional interpretations of the meanings of words” (Nishigaki 2006, ibid.). In other words, the Buddhist stance teaches us, Westerners, another strategy beyond the controversy between monism and pluralism, by way of a different kind of practice than the Socratic dialogue. Nishigaki points to the controversy in the West between cognitive science and its view of cognition as a “representation” of the “outer world” and the view shared by our everyday experience as well as, for instance, phenomenology. Biologist Francisco Varela’s theory of autopoiesis offers an alternative based on the Buddhist view on cognition as “a history of actions performed by a subject in the world” being then not representation of a pregiven world by a pregiven mind but “enactment” of such a history in the world (Nishigaki 2006, 239). Nishigaki calls “ethical norms” the code or “behaviour pattern” as perceived by a social system’s observer. I would prefer to speak here of “moral norms” and reserve the concept of ethics for the reflection of such an observer on the factual norm. This is no less than the Aristotelian distinction between “ethos” and “techne ethike” or between morality and ethics. This terminological and conceptual difference has been proposed, for instance, by sociologist Niklas Luhmann (1990), being also broadly used in Western ethics. The undifferentiated use of these terms, as is mostly the case in everyday life, might lead to an uncritical approach of the role of ethics as observer-dependent reflection which is the standpoint addressed by Nishigaki’s “fundamental informatics.” From this perspective, the conflict raised by globalization does not consist in the universal application of Western ethics but of Western morality. The universal application of Western ethics means that the discussion on morality would take place only on the basis of Western conceptual schemes. This is exactly what intercultural information ethics questions, understood as a permanent process of reflection and ‘translation,’ intends to avoid. For a comprehensive view of this East/West dialogue see (Nishigaki/Takenouchi 2007).

c) Terrell Ward Bynum

‘The’ information society is (and has always been) culturally fragmented into different information societies. Consequently, what is (morally) good for one information society may be considered as less appropriate in another one. Terrell Ward Bynum advocates, borrowing insights from Aristotle, Norbert Wiener, and James Moor, for a “flourishing ethics” (FE) which means that “the overall purpose of a human life is to flourish as a person” according to the basic principles of freedom, equality and benevolence and the principle of minimum infringement of freedom (Bynum 2006, 163). If the goal is to maximize the opportunities of all humans to exercise their autonomy – a conception of human existence that is culturally grounded in Western social philosophy – Bynum rightly follows that “many different cultures, with a wide diversity of customs, religions, languages and practices, can provide a conductive context for human flourishing.” (Bynum 2006, ibid.) In other words, Wiener’s principles provide a foundation for a non-relativistic global ethics that is friendly to cultural diversity. Bynum widens the scope of this human-centered ethics into a “general theory of Flourishing Ethics” (General FE) which includes the question of delegation of responsibility to ‘artificial agents’ and the consequent need for ethical rules for such agents. Although Bynum welcomes different ethical traditions, he is well aware that some of them would not be compatible with General FE.

d) Bernd Frohmann

Following the ethical thought of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, Bernd Frohmann proposes a philosophical interrogation of the local effects of the Internet through three main concepts: effect, locality, and ethics (Frohmann 2007). He discusses the relationships between the global and the local or, more specifically, between the flows of capital, information, technology, and organizational interaction by pointing to the similarities and difference of today’s “space of flow” (Manuel Castells) with some of its predecessors for instance in England’s global empire. According to Frohmann, who follows Foucault, “ethical action consists in a ’mode of subjectivation’ not eclipsed by the will to truth’s drive to knowledge, transcendence, and universality. A philosophical ethos seeks contingencies and singularities rather than universal determinants, which block the aim of getting ‘free of oneself’.” (Frohmann 2007, 64-65) This is a plea for a kind of IIE that focuses on a careful situational analysis starting with the local hothen conditions which does not mean mono-cultural chauvinism but critical appraisal of the way(s) computers control societies and the strategies people can develop in order to becoming “digitally imperceptible.” Frohmann asks for strategies of “escaping” the Internet rather than “localizing” it as far as it can become a local instrument of oppression.

e) Lorenzo Magnani

Lorenzo Magnani analyzes the rise of human hybridization with ICT and the building of what he calls, following Karl Roth, “material cultures” (Roth 2001). Material cultures refer to people’s material environments consisting of food, dwellings, and furniture in contrast to immaterial interactions dealing with language as well as the actors’ perceptions, attitudes and values. Magnani writes: “In our era of increasing globalization, ICT artifacts, such as the Internet, databases, wireless networks, and so forth, become crucial mediators of cross-cultural relationships between human beings and communities” (Magnani 2007, 39). If new artifacts become, ready-to-hand, the question is “at what ethical and cultural cost?” (Magnani 2007, 40). According to Magnani, there is evidence that technical instruments such as cell phones and laptops vary significantly in their use according to cultural differences. Local cultures are thus used as countercultures to globalization such as the case of the role played by cell phones in ensuring the success of the people’s revolution in the Republic of the Philippines (Magnani 2007, 45). Magnani introduces the concept of “moral mediator” to indicate “a cultural mediator in which ethical aspects are crucial and the importance in potential intercultural relationships is central.” (Magnani 2007, 45). A “moral mediator” consists of objects or structures that carry ethical or unethical consequences beyond human beings’ intentionalities. An Internet web site used to sell online, realizes not only an economic transaction “but also carries ethical effects insofar as it implies certain customer’s behaviors related to some policies and constraints.” (Magnani 2007, 45). ICTs can enhance but also jeopardize local cultures. Magnani advocates in favor of the “principle of isolation” as a mean to protect the self-identity of cultures that has to be equilibrated with the need to promote cyberdemocracy counterpoisoning the negative effects of globalization.

f) Thomas Herdin, Wolfgang Hofkirchner and Ursula Maier-Rabler

Thomas Herdin, Wolfgang Hofkirchner and Ursula Maier-Rabler discuss the mutual influence between culture and technology on a broad inter- and transcultural level. They write: “The cultural-social framework of a society is formed mainly by the political-social system, by the legislative system, and particularly by the predominating ethic and religious values. As a result of these diverse dimensions, a continuum between the poles of information-friendly vs. information-restrictive cultures emerges” (Herdin, Hofkirchner, Maier-Rabler 2007, 57). Following the concept of “transculturality” coined by Wolfgang Welsch (1999) the authors claim that cultures cannot be perceived as homogenous units anymore. They suggest that this concept should be enhanced with regard to the permeability between global and local cultures, allowing individuals to switch between different identities. The concept of “digital culture” is used to describe the model of mutual influence between cultural and ICT technology. Digital culture allows vast numbers of people with different cultural backgrounds to share knowledge but it also gives rise to what has been called the ‘digital divide’ based on low economic levels, as well as the ‘cultural divide’ based on low educational levels. They discuss the dialectic of shaping, diffusion, and usage of ICTs along the following dimensions: digital content culture, digital distribution culture, and digital context culture. A main challenge concerns the creation of one global culture on the basis of the “reductionist way of thinking in intercultural discourse [that] is called universalism. Cultural universalism reduces the variety of different cultural identities to what they have in common. Identities are homogeneized by a sort of melting pot that was named McWorld (Barber, 2001)” (Herdin, Hofkirchner, Maier-Rabler 2007, 65). According to the authors, cultural thinking that reconciles the one and the many is achievable only on the basis of a way of thinking that allows integration and differentiation for which such terms as “transculturalism” (Welsch 1999), “glocalization” (Robertson 1992) and “new mestizaje” (John Francis Burke in Wieviorka 2003) have been proposed.

g) Barbara Paterson

According to Barbara Paterson, the computer revolution not only threatens to marginalize non-Western cultural traditions, but the Western way of life also has caused large-scale environmental damage (Paterson 2007). The task of computer ethics being to critically analize such holistic effects. She proposes that the Earth Charter can function as a framework for such holistic research as it addresses, unlike the WSIS declaration, a broader public. In sum, “computer ethics needs to acknowledge the linkages between computing, development and environmental conduct” (Paterson 2007, 164)

h) Thomas Hausmanninger

According to Thomas Hausmanninger, the right to differ that can be observed in the realm of religious belief (Martin Luther) gains today, since the “turn to contingency” in the epistemological debate of the 20th century, something like the quality of a human right (Hausmanninger 2007). The ethical obligation to respect the difference and plurality of belief systems is grounded, according to Hausmanninger, in picturing human beings as persons or subjectivities owing to each other the right to free self-realization. What has to be respected in order to respect human dignity may differ between cultures. Hausmanninger intents to regain the concept of subjectivity as a basis of “our” intercultural information ethics. The task to encompassing it with other endeavours remains open.

i) Rafael Capurro

In today’s information society we form ourselves and our selves through digitally mediated perceptions of all kinds. The power of networks does not lead necessarily to slavery and oppression but also to reciprocity and mutual obligation. Globalisation gives rise to the question of what does locally matter. Cyberspace vanishes into the diversity of complex real/virtual space-time connections of all kinds which are not any more separable form everyday life and its materiality. The boundaries of language against which we are driven appear now as the boundaries of digital networks which not only pervade but accelerate all relationships between humans as well as between all kinds of natural phenomena and artificial things. For a more detailed analysis of the relation between moods and understanding with explicit relation to the information society see (Capurro 2005, Wurman 2001). There are no neutral natural and/or artificial things within the realm of human cognitive-emotional existence. Every appropriation of, say, the ‘same’ ICT creates cultural and moral differences. The task of IIE, understood as a reflection on morality, is not only to bridge these differences creating common moral codes but to try to articulate and understand them as well.

In my introductory paper to the ICIE symposium, I situate IIE within the framework of intercultural philosophy and analyze the question of universality with special regard to the WSIS discussions, particularly to the question of the human right to communicate and the right to cultural diversity. I point to society’s responsibility to enable cultural appropriation. Following Michael Walzer (1994) and Soraj Hongladarom (2001) I conceive moral arguments as “thick” or “thin” regarding whether they are contextualized or not but I question the view that there is no third alternative (“tertium non datur”) between mono- and meta-cultural ethical claims. A purely meta-cultural information ethics remains abstract if it is not inter-culturally reflected. The task of IIE is to intertwin “thick” and “think” ethical arguments in the information field.

In a contribution on the ontological foundation of information ethics, I point, following the analysis by Michel Foucault, to the Western tradition of parrhesia or ‘direct speech’ as a special trait of Western moral behaviour and democratic practice in contrast to the importance of ‘indirect speech’ in Eastern traditions. I have developed this difference with regard to Confucian and Daoist thought and their relevance for the development of the Chinese information society (Capurro 2006a). I point to the fact that the debate on an ontological foundation of information ethics, its questions, terminology and aim, is deeply rooted in Western philosophy so far (Capurro 2006, 184).

In resonance to Charles Ess’ Aristotelian concept of an ethical pros hen (“towards one”) that looks for the pluralist interpretation and application of shared ethical norms (Ess 2006), I argue in favor of a hothen approach that turns the attention to the question of the source(s) of ethical norms including the multiple cognitive-emotional experience of such source(s). The task of IIE is not only to describe and criticize different kind of cognitive-emotional interpretations of the common origin (“arché”) of moral experiences, but to open the endless task of ethical comparison or translation between such interpretations. As Susan Sontag suggests, the task of the translator can be seen as an ethical task if we conceive it as the experience of the otherness of other languages that moves us to transform our mother tongue – including the terminologies used by different philosophic schools – instead of just preserving it from foreign or, as I would say, heretic influences (Sontag 2004).



The ICIE symposium addressed the question of how embodied human life is possible within local cultural traditions and the horizon of a global digital environment. This topic with its normative and formative dimensions was discussed in three different perspectives, namely: Internet for social and political development, Internet for cultural development and Internet for economic development. The symposium dealt with questions such as: How far does the Internet affect, for the better or the worse, local community building? How far does it allow democratic consultation? How do people construct their lives within this medium and how does it affect their customs, languages, and everyday problems? It also dealt with the impact of the Internet in traditional media, on cultural and economic development as well as on the environment.

Charles Ess reviews examples of the cultural conflicts that occur when computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies are deployed “outside” the boundaries of the Western cultural values and communicative preferences that shape their initial design and implementation leading to the danger of “computer-mediated colonization” (Ess 2007). Ess argues that ethnocentrism and its attendant colonization on the part of those who design and implement CMC technologies ought to be resisted through the use of “culturally-aware” approaches to implementation and design.

1. Asia and the Pacific 

Frances Grodzinsky and Herman Tavani analyze the question whether the Internet has benefited life overall (Grodzinsky/Tavani 2007). They point to the cultural and linguistic diversity of countries in Asia and the Pacific where governments have established either a monopolistic model of development under their strict control or one that opens ICT infrastructure to private and international organizations. The global network involves a tension between cultural homogenization and heterogenization that can lead to increased fragmentation as well as increased homogenization. They believe that there are good reasons why cyberspace should not be homogenized. Even if cultural sovereignty may disappear along with national borders, the particulars of cultural autonomy should be preserved. They see no contradiction between the cultural richness of the cyberspace incorporating some aspects of universalism in ways that do not erode such diversification by ending into an “e-McDonalds.”  

Makoto Nakada examines the relationships between people’s attitudes towards their society and culture and the meaning of the Internet in Japan (Nakada 2007). According to the empirical evaluation, it seems as if Japanese live in a world consisting of old Japan (Seken) and new Japan (Shakai) (See the discussion below on privacy in Japan).

Tadashi Takenouchi questions the prevailing materialism and individualism in today’s Japanese society as well as what he calls “digital reductionism” according to which humans and other living beings are “nothing but” digital processing machines (Takenouchi 2006, 188). As a remedy he advocates for an “informatic turn” understood as an “unrestricted capability of interpretation” which comes near to Western philosophical hermeneutics as well as to Eastern Buddhist concepts of “nothingness” (mu) and “self-understanding through relationships with others.” He analyzes some correspondences between this turn in “fundamental informatics” with some ideas by Viktor Frankl, particularly the relation between homo patiens, who fulfills his/her life by trying to give an interpretative answer to the sufferings of others by taking care of them and the homo sapiens who manages things rationally and effectively through high-tech information processing skills. Frankl’s homo patiens closely resembles the Buddhist idea of compassion “as it is produced by applying imagination to patience with regard to other fellow beings.” (Takenouchi 2006, 191). According to Takenouchi the axis of homo patiens, with the tension between despair and fulfillment  is more essential to humans than the axis of homo sapiens with the poles of low-information and high-information skilled. Japanese present information society debates on how far mastering IT skills will allow social participation of the handicapped or create a gap.

Along with this line of reasoning and experience, Vikas Nath  reports on the diversity of digital governance models in countries such a India, Brazil, South Africa, Bangladesh and the Philippines (Nath 2007).

According to Lü Yao-Huai, a basic universal set of ethical standards is needed, otherwise global information interaction will be thrown into chaos (Lü 2007). This minimum set includes three basic principles namely information justice, information equality, and information reciprocity. He points to the concept of “Shen Du” (‘be watchful of oneself when one is alone’) as having a special value in raising the moral consciousness of individual beyond legal frameworks.

2. Latin America and the Caribbean

Daniel Pimienta reports on his experience with a Latin American/Caribbean virtual community leading to discussions about the intersection and boundaries of ethics and cultures in the new social movements based on the Internet (Pimienta 2007). According to Pimienta these models of communication are not the same in different parts of the world. Another example of such difference is given by Hugo Alberto Figueroa Alcántara in his report on collective construction of identity on an Internet basis in Mexico (Figueroa Alcántara 2007) and by Susana Finquelievich with regard to Latin America (Finquelievich 2007).

3. Africa

The first African Information Ethics Conference was held in Pretoria/Tshwane, South Africa, in 5-7 February 2007 (Africa Information Ethics 2007). It was organized by the University of Pretoria, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the International Center for Information Ethics. Not much has been published on the challenges to African philosophy arising from the impact of ICT on African societies and cultures. In my keynote address I explore some relationships between information ethics and the concept of ubuntu. (Capurro 2007a). One of the few detailed analysis of the relationship between ubuntu and privacy was presented by H. N. Olinger, Johannes Britz and M.S. Olivier at the Sixth International Conference of Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiry (CEPE 2005). According to Barbara Peterson “African thought emphasizes the close links among knowledge of space, of self, and one’s position in the community” participation being the “keystone of traditional African society” (Paterson 2007, 157). As Mogobe Ramose remarks, ubuntu is “the central concept of social and political organization in African philosophy, particularly among the Bantu-speaking peoples. It consists of the principles of sharing and caring for one another” (Ramose 2002, 643). Ramose discuses two aphorisms “to be found in almost all indigenous African languages,” namely: “Motho ke motho ka batho” and “Feta kgomo tschware motho.” The first aphorism means that “to be human is to affirm one’s humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and, on that basis, establish humane respectful relations with them. Accordingly, it is ubuntu which constitutes the core meaning of the aphorism.” The second aphorism means “that if and when one is faced with a decisive choice between wealth and the preservation of life of another human being, then one should opt for the preservation of life” (Ramose 2002, 644). Following this analysis we can ask: what is the role of ubuntu in African information ethics? How is the intertwining of information and communication technology with the principles of communalism and humanity expressed in aphorisms such as “Motho ke motho ka batho” which can be translated as “people are other people through other people”? What is the relation between community and privacy in African information society? What kind of questions do African people ask about the effects of information and communication technology in their everyday lives? The proceedings of the Pretoria conference as well as an “Africa Reader on Information Ethics” will provide substantial contributions to IIE in and from Africa. The already started dialogue on the basis of the ANIE platform promises a fruitful intercultural exchange in the mood expressed in the motto of this conference: “The joy of sharing knowledge.”

This conference was unique in several respects. First, it dealt with information ethics in Africa from an African perspective. Second, it encouraged African scholars to articulate the challenges of a genuine African information society. Third, it was devoted to fundamental ethical challenges such as the foundations of African information ethics, the issue cultural diversity and globalization dealing particularly with the protection and promotion of indigenous knowledge, and the question of the impact of ICT on development and poverty, as well as on socio-political and economic inclusion/exclusion, North-South flow of information in terms of information imperialism and the flight of intellectual expertise from Africa. One important outcome of the conference was the “Tshwane Declaration on Information Ethics in Africa” (Tshwane Declaration 2007) as well as the creation of the Africa Network for Information Ethics (ANIE 2007). A “Reader on Africa Information Ethics” is in preparation.

4. Australia

Maja van der Velden analyzes how far the preoccupation with content and connectivity obscures the role of IT by making invisible different ways of knowing and other logics and experiences (van der Velden 2007). She presents an aboriginal database in Northern Australia useful for people with little or no literacy skills. According to van der Velden, “the technological design of an information system controls, to a large extent, how information is produced, categorized, archived, and shared in the system. This design reflects the politics, culture, and even race, gender, class, and ethnicity of the people involved” (van der Velden 2007, 85).

5. Turkey

Gonca Telli Yamamoto and Faruk Karaman deal with IIE in Turkey, a country in which Western, Islamic, and Turkish cultures compete. They write: “With its Westernization efforts, Turkey presents a very special case for analyzing IT ethics. In spite of the great efforts to become part of the Western civilization, Turkey is still struggling to decide to which civilization it wants to belong – Western civilization or Islamic or Eastern civilizations” (Yamamoto, Karaman 2007, 190). Even the Western-oriented population do not see, for instance, an ethical issue in copying intellectual property. The Internet revolution is felt in a delayed fashion in Turkey, which means that the digital divide became a serious problem.




1. Privacy

Privacy is a key question as it deals with basic conceptions of the human person. Intercultural dialogue is the antidote to the danger of getting “lost in translation” that arises from a mono-logical discourse aiming at reducing all differences to the own language. In his introduction to the special issue of the journal “Ethics and Information Technology” on  privacy and data privacy protection in Asia, Charles Ess underlines the importance of “an informed and respectful global dialogue in information ethics” (Ess 2005, 1).

a) China

Lü Yao-Huai analyzes the privacy experience of today’s ordinary Chinese people (Lü 2005). According to Lü there is a transformation of contemporary Chinese consciousness of privacy starting with economic and political reforms since 1980. He writes: “Before 1978, if someone publicly expressed the intention of pursuing individual interests, he or she would have certainly been called an egoist.” (Lü 2005, 12). This cultural and moral change concerns mainly three aspects: 1) Individual freedom is not any more a taboo topic. A conversation partner can refuse to answer a question on the plea that “this is my privacy.” 2) There is also a tendency not to interfere with what ones perceives to be the privacy of the other. 3) The common Chinese concept of privacy Yinsi (“shameful secret”) has been expanded to include all personal information whether shameful or not that people do not want others to know.

With the rise of the Internet in the 1990s the question of data privacy emerged in China. Lü provides an overview of the legal framework of Chinese data protection and discusses the following ethical principles: 1) the principle of respect, 2) the principle of informed consent, 3) the principle of equilibrium (between the safety of personal privacy and the safety of society), and 4) the principle of social rectification. The last two principles take society as the higher value. Lü questions the claim that privacy remains a foreign concept for many Chinese people. He argues that in rural areas, following the tradition of collectivism, people are more interested in other people’s lives than in the cities. But also all published papers on information ethics dealing with privacy interpret it as an instrumental instead as an intrinsic good. Chinese researchers argue that privacy protection has a function with regard to social order. Although many Chinese still think that there is no right to privacy within the family, a survey among the young generation shows the opposite interest. Lü foresees a strong influence of Western views on privacy without Chinese traditional culture becoming fully Westernized in this regard.

b) Thailand

Krisana Kitiyadisai explores the changes of the concept of privacy in Thai culture, based on collectivism and non-confrontation (Kitiyadisai 2005). ‘Being private’ applies in traditional Thailand to the space shared by family members. The lack of a Thai word for privacy is due, according to Kitiyadisai, to the feudal heritage of Thai society with a system of hierarchical ranking, politeness protocols and patronage. Strong relationships are based on the principle of non-confrontation avoiding the disastrous results of ‘losing-face’ (‘siar-na’) instead of face-saving (‘koo-na’). According to Kitiyadisai, “the combination of privacy as ‘private affairs’ (‘rueng-suan-tua’) and the right of ‘non-interference’ works in support of ‘saving face’” (Kitiyadisai 2007, 18). These values are similar to Confucian values of “ancestor reverence, respect for ‘face’, responsibility, loyalty, modesty and humility” (Kitiyadisai 2007, 24) According to Buddhism, human rights are not intrinsic to human individuals but they are necessary for conducting a virtuous human existence. Kitiyadisai provides an overview of the data protection legislation in Thailand. She stresses the ongoing tensions between “imported liberal democratic values” and “traditional Thai values.”

Soraj Hongladarom describes a grave challenge to the privacy of Thai citizens.  The Thai government plans to introduce a digital national identification card in a country with no specific law protecting personal information. The threat of political misuse raises the question on the nature of privacy and its justification. Hongladarom explores this question from the perspective of two famous Budhhist sages, namely Nagarjuna (c. 150-250 AD), founder of the Mahahāyāna Buddhism, and Nagasena (c. 150 BC). He writes: “The reason I believe the Buddhist perspective is important in this area is that Buddhism has a very interesting claim to make about the self and the individual on whose concept the whole idea of privacy depends.” (Hongladarom 2007, 109).

The fact that Buddhism rejects the individual self does not mean that it rejects privacy. In order to understand this counterintuitive argument Hongladarom distinguish between the absolute and conventional level of assertion. From an absolute point there is no distinction between subject and object. If there is no inherently existing self then privacy is grounded on the conventional idea that it is necessary for democracy which means that privacy has an instrumental instead of an intrinsic or core value. But, according to Hongladarom, the distinction between instrinsic and instrumental values has an insecure foundation as all values rest on our attachment to them  (Hongladarom 2007, 116). According to Nagasena, the conventional self exists in conventional reality and is shown to be a mere illusion after analysis in terms of the “ultimate truth.” Hongladarom parallels Nagarjuna’s distinction between “conventional truth” and “ultimate truth” with Kant’s distinction between a “phenomenal” and a “noumenal” realm. But in contrast to Kant there is no “I” providing a transcendental unity of apperception. Privacy as used in everyday life, is not denied in Buddhism. It is in fact justified as an instrument for the purpose of living harmoniously according to democratic ideals. But “from the ultimate perspective of a Buddha, privacy just makes no sense whatsoever” (Hongladarom 2007, 120). Violations of privacy are based on the three “mental defilements” (kleshas), namely greed, anger, and delusion, the antidote being to cultivate love and compassion. He writes: “Compassion naturally arises from this realization when one realizes that other beings are no different from oneself. All want to get rid of suffering, and all do want happiness. The benefit of this realization for information ethics is that compassion is the key that determines the value of an action” (Hongladarom 2007, 120). Compassion is, I would say, the “basic mood” of Buddhist experience of the uniqueness of the world and our existence of which we have nolens volens to take care.

Pirongrong Ramasoota Rananand examines information privacy in Thai society. Classical Buddhist teaching may not necessarily reflect the behaviour of relatively secularized Buddhists in contemporary Thai society” (Ramasoota 2007, 125). She presents an overview of privacy and data protection in Thai legislation. The Thai public is aware of the importance of control over the circulation of one’s personal information particularly in the Internet in order to limit state surveillance. Pattarasinee Bhattarakosol indicates that there are various factors related to the development of IT ethics in Thailand, one main factor being family background. She writes: “When ICT was implemented as a necessary tool, people became independent, self-centered, object-oriented, and careless. Therefore, most of the time, people spend time to serve their own needs more than sharing time with family members” (Bhattarakosol 2007, 149). Given the fact that Thai culture is part of religion, the author concludes that religion is the only antidote to the present ethical challenges.

c) Japan and the West

Similar tensions can be found in Japan as Makoto Nakada and Takanori Tamura analyze in a paper that was originally conceived as a dialogue with them and myself published also in this issue of “Ethics and Information Technology” (Nakada, Tamura 2005, Capurro 2005a). It is a pity that the constraints of Western monologic academic culture did not allow the publication this original dialogical essay. According to Nakada and Tamura, Japanese people live in a three-fold world, namely Shakai or the world influenced by Western values, Seken or the traditional and indigenous worldview, and Ikai which is a world from evils, disasters and crime seem to emerge. On the basis of the analysis of the way an homicide was portrayed in the quality newspaper Asahi Shimbum, Nakada and Tamura show the ambiguities of the concept of privacy in modern Japan. They write: “while the standpoint of Shakai would consider publishing personal information about the Tutiura murder victims to be an invasion of privacy and violation of human rights, from the standpoint of the traditional values and beliefs of Seken, this publication at the same time functions as a warning against the breakdown of moral and ethics – an breakdown, finally, that is rooted in Ikai as the domain of such betrayal” (Nakada, Tamura 2005, 28).

Living in three worlds creates a kind of discontinuous identity that is very different from Western metaphysical dichotomies as I show in my contribution to this inter-cultural dialogue (Capurro 2005a). One main difference concerns the question of ‘denial of self’ (Musi) which seems to be one of the most important Buddhist values for the majority of Japanese people. This view is the opposite to the idea of Western subjectivity from which we, Westerners, derive the concepts and ‘intrinsic values’ of autonomy and privacy. It follows from this that for Japanese people private things are less worthy than public ones. But our modern dichotomy between the public and the private sphere offers only loosely parallels to the Japanese distinction between Ohyake (public) and Watakusi (private). Ohyake means the ‘big house’ and refers to the imperial court and the government, while Watakusi means ‘not Ohyake’ i.e., what is partial, secret and selfish. Japanese imported the notion of ‘privacy’ taking it in the form of puraibashii as a loan word which means data privacy in the sense of ‘personal information’ used in the West. In other words, there are two axes and they are intermixed. This is, I believe, another outstanding example of cultural hybridization that gives rise to a complex inter-cultural ethical analysis.

In Western societies I perceive a no less dramatic transformation of the concepts of autonomy and privacy towards what I call “networked individualities” (Capurro 2005a, 40). Our being-in-the-networked-world is not based on the principle of autonomy but also on the principle of solidarity. As an example I present the discussion of data privacy in Germany since 1983 that lead to the principle of informational privacy. Without becoming Easternized, we now speak of privacy in reference to communities, not just to isolated subjects. Behind a conceptual analysis there is the history of societies with its correspondent cognitive-emotional perceptions of the world, i.e., of the web of human relations and contingent experiences, laid down in language and shared through oral and/or written traditions as the primordial medium of social cultural memory. Even if we agree on the surface of our intercultural dialogues that one concept in one culture ‘in some way’ corresponds to the other, their factical or historical resonance is different and leads to different options about to what is considered morally good or bad.

2. Intellectual Property

Dan Burk examines the question of intellectual property from the perspective of utilitarian and deontological traditions in the United States and Europe in contrast to some non-Western approaches (Burk 2007). In the United States “intellectual property rights are justified only to the extent that they benefit the public in general” which means that they could be eliminated “if a convincing case against public benefit could be shown” (Burk 2007, 96). The industries supporting copyright usually make the case for public benefit arising from the incentives offered by such constraints. The European tradition regards creative work as reflecting the author’s personality. According to Burk, two similar models of privacy regulation have emerged. The United States has adopted a sectoral approach, “eschewing comprehensive data protection laws in favor of piecemeal treatment of the issue” while the European Union has adopted an approach “based on comprehensive legislation, and grounded in strong, even inalienable individual rights” (Burk 2007, 97-98).

In China, the Confucian tradition largely denied the value of novel creative contribution by instead promoting the respect for the classical work that should be emulated. Under this perspective, copying becomes a cardinal virtue. For New Zealand Maori, creative works belong to the tribe or group, not to a single author. Similarly, among some sub-Saharan communities as well as in the case of many Native American tribes the control of cultural property may be restricted to certain families. In all these cases the goal of ownership is “to maintain such control, rather than to generate new works” (Burk 2007, 102).

In line with arguments by Lawrence Lessig, Wolfgang Coy explores the question of sharing intellectual properties in global communities from a historical point of view. Through there is a growing interest in commercially useful intellectual artifacts, there are still vast unregulated areas, for instance, native cultural practices, including regional cooking, natural healing, and use of herbal remedies (Coy 2007).

Similar alternatives to Western individualist conceptions and practices of privacy can be found in non-Western cultures such as the indigenous African norms based on the concept of ubuntu that emphasizes communal values or in Japanese norms of information access as defined by “situated community.”

3. Online communities

Wolfgang Sützl compares different conceptions of locality in the Internet on the one hand and in the emerging localized “free networks” on the other, investigating the ethical and intercultural status of both conceptions (Sützl 2007). Free networks are guided by the idea of the commons and the principle of sharing and participating in contrast to a closed conception of location as the negation of freedom. Following  Martin Heidegger and Emmanuel Levinas, Lucas Introna argues that communities are communities because their members already share concerns or a meaning horizon of ongoing being, i.e., a world. According to Introna the boundary between the insiders and the outsiders must continually remain unsettled. Virtual strangers raise the possibility of ‘crossing’ and questioning these boundaries. But virtuality may also function to confirm them (Introna 2007).

Frances Grodzinsky and Herman Tavani examine some pros and cons of online communities particularly with regard to the digital divide and its effects at the local level, i.e., in the United States as well as in other nations such as Malawi (Grodzinky, Tavani 2007).

4. Governmentality

Fernando Elitchirigoity  discusses various facets of the Internet in the context of Michel Foucault’s notions of “governmentality” and “technologies of the self” (Elichirigoity 2007). He argues that the emergence of new forms of informational empowerment do not function independently from the informational practices that make them possible and, thus, need to be understood less as an absolute gain of freedom and more as the way freedom and power are continually produced and reproduced as processes of governmentality. He analyzes the significance of these tools in connection with significant changes in retirement and pension programs in the United States and other Western countries.

5. Gender Issues

Britta Schinzel criticises common attitudes within the computer professions and the working cultures in which they develop. Alternative perspectives for responsible technological action may be derived from (feminist) situational, welfare-based- close-range ethics or micro-ethics (Schinzel 2007).

The first part of the volume deals with “Theoretical Concerns” addressing a number of issues such as ascribing a “moral status” to (digital) information and IT (Søraker 2007). According to Johny Søraker it is possible to broaden the moral status of such entities in case they have become “an irreplaceable and constitutive part of someone’s identity” (Søraker 2007, 17). The author draws insights from Western as well as from East Asian classical philosophy.

6. Mobile Phones

Theptawee Chokvasin shows how the condition of self-government arising from hi-tech mobilization affects Thai culture (Chokvasin 2007). Buddhism encourages us to detach ourselves from our selves, the self having no existence of its own. The Buddhist teachings of “self-adjustment” and “self-government” should not be misunderstood as if there is a “persistent person who acts as their bearer” (Chokvasin 2007, 78). Autonomy means to adjust oneself to the right course of living. According to Chokvasin this Buddhist concept of autonomy can only be conceived by those who know the Buddhist teachings (dhamma). There is a kind of freedom in the Buddhist concept of autonomy that is related to impermanence (Anitya), suffering (Duhkha) and not-self (Anatta). Not clinging to our individual selves is the condition of possibility for moral behavior, i.e., for “human nobility.” Chokvasin claims that the mobility made possible by the mobile phone makes possible a new view on individuality as an instrumental value at the cost of disregarding the morally good.

Richard Spinello argues that all regulators, but especially those in developing countries, should refrain from imposing any regulations on IP telephony intended to protect a state-sponsored telecomm and its legacy systems (Spinello 2007).

7. Health Care

In their analysis of cross-cultural ethical issues of the current and future state of ICT deployment and utilization in healthcare, Bernd Stahl, Simon Rogerson and Amin Kashmeery argue that the ethical implications of such applications are multifaceted and have diverse degrees of sensitivity from culture to culture (Stahl, Rogerson, Kashmeery 2007). They use the term “informatics” instead of information systems or computer science because it is more inclusive and social oriented. For the purpose of this study, culture is being defined as the totality of shared meanings and interpretations. They write: “An important aspect of culture is that it has a normative function. This means that cultures contain an idea of how things should be and how its members are expected to behave. This means that they are inherently utopian and imply a good state of the world” (Stahl, Rogerson, Kashmeery 2007, 171). The normative character of culture is transmitted through morality, values as well as tenets and creeds which are called by the authors “meta-ethics.” Cultures are deeply linked to the question of identity. The authors see a close link between culture and technology starting with agricultural cultures and, nowadays, with the importance of ICT for our culture(s). Applications of ICT in healthcare raise not only a policy but also an ethics vacuum that becomes manifest in the debate on values-based practice (VBP) vs. evidence-based practice (EBP) of decision making. The authors analyze cases of Western and non-Western cultures in order to show the complexity of the issues they deal with. British culture is an example of Western liberalism, utilitarianism, and modernism that is fundamentally appreciative of new technologies. This modernist view overlooks the pitfalls of healthcare as a complex system with conflicting actors and interests. In islamic cultures, governed by Shari’a code of conduct, the question of, for instance, “a male healthcare provider to examine a female patient (or vice versa) are hot debate topics” (Stahl, Rogerson, Kashmeery 2007, 178). The authors present six scenarios in order to give an idea of such ethical conflicts when dealing with ICT in health care.

8. Digital Divide

Lynettee Kvasny explores the existential significance of the digital divide for America’s historically underserved populations (Kvasny 2007). According to Kvasny, the increased physical access to ICT does not signal the closure of the digital divide in the US. She writes: “For me, the digital divide is fundamentally about evil – it is a painful discourse softened through statistics and dehumanized by numbers. [...] Instead of understanding the everyday practices of people who historically have been excluded from the eWorld and developing technology services and information sources to serve their unique needs, the more common response is to convert and educate the backward masses. We produce discourses that discount their values and cultures and show them why they need to catch up.” (Kvasny 2007, 205). In other words, she refuses the instrumental depiction of the digital divide (Himma 2007).



IIE is an emerging discipline. The present debate shows a variety of foundational perspectives as well as a preference for the narrow view that focuses IIE on ICT. Consequently comparative studies with other media and epochs are mostly not being considered so far. With regard to IIE issues in today’s information societies, there are a lot of cultures that have not been analyzed such as Eastern Europe and the Arabic world. Asia and the Pacific is represented by Japan, China and Thailand. Latin America and Africa are still underrepresented. I plea for the enlargement of the historical scope of our field beyond the limited horizon of the present digital infospheres even if such a view is not an easy task for research. IIE is in this regard no less complex than, say, comparative literature.

IIE deals not only with the question of the impact of ICT on local cultures but explores also how specific ICT issues or, more generally, media issues, can be analyzed from different IIE perspectives. The present debate emphazises the question of privacy but other issues such as online communities, governmentality, gender issues, mobile phones, health care, and, last but not least, the digital divide are on the agenda. New issues such as blogs and wikis are arising within what is being called Web 2.0.

We have to deepen the foundational debate on the sources of morality from a IIE perspective. According to Michel Foucault, ethics can be understood not just as the theory but as the “problematization” of morality (Foucault 1983). IIE has a critical task to achieve when it compares information moralities. This concerns the ontological or structural as well as the ontic or empirical levels of analysis. One important issue in this regard is the question of the universality of values vs. the locality of cultures and vice versa which is related to the problem of their homogenization or hybridization as well as the question of the relation between cognition and moods and the corresponding (un-) successful interplay between information cultures.



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