ideas on moral issues in information science have two sources: the
by Kostrewski and Oppenheim "Ethics in information
, and some observations by Schwarz (Royal Institute
of Technology Library, Sweden) on paper "Ethical problems in the field
of specialized information and communication" . First
I will refer to this background which can provide, I think, a general
to the moral issues in this field. In the second part, I present some
the latest discussions on these matters as recorded in information
I pay particular attention to the questions raised
by the production,
storage, dissemination, and use of specialized information through
devices ('reference databases' as well as 'source databases') .
Nevertheless, this does not exclude more general aspects concerning,
example, the broad social implications of computer technology. These
aspects of information science ethics can be discussed, I suggest,
the framework of 'communicative ethics', to which I shall refer in the
The paper by Kostrewski and Oppenheim
the editorial introducing the publication of "Ethics in Information
Gilchrist expresses the hope of promoting "some debate on whether
scientists can afford morals and, if so, whether they can translate
ideas into a practical code which can avoid pious sentiment on the one
hand, and unenforceable dogma on the other" . This
clear distinction between the debate of ethical problems, and the
of a professional code of ethics could quite profitably be emphasized.
It will occupy us later on in this paper.
the content of the Kostrewski-Oppenheim paper, the editor critically
that it is difficult to identify its aim, since the argument goes off
all directions. This dispersion should come as no great suprise if one
considers that the authors, as they themselves at the very beginning
are discussing questions which until then, i.e. until 1980, were not
on the front pages of the current information science literature. This
situation has, in my opinion, only slightly changed since then. By
the authors point to the evolution of American codes of practice in the
field of librarianship. The following topics are considered:
dishonesty (or 'cheating') in information science research is not a
ethical issue to be discussed, due mainly to the nature of research
in this science, which still lacks its own theoretical foundation and
empirical findings are (still) relatively few in comparison with other
credit to colleagues: this issue concerns questions of co-authorship as
well as questions of the right to publication.
of research that should not be attempted: The issue, raised by Belkin
Robertson , refers to the possible use of research
results for manipulating recipients of information in the case of
(in contrast to user-oriented) systems. I agree with Kostrewski and
that this point should not be underestimated, as information science is
essentially concerned not only with information (or knowledge content)
but also with its use, and so empirical observations of social behavior
must be carried out.
in the teaching of information science
concerning the influence of teaching presented in a biased manner
as the authors remark, to all subjects. Information science, being a
in its infancy, may be particularly affected by these problems.
in information work
third field of investigation raises the largest and, I think, also the
most specific questions. They are:
more accurately: abuse) of work facilities (databases, for instance) by
information scientists for private purposes.
of information: this point concerns the confidential treatment of
data and their requests by information officers. It implies also the
of advantageous accessibility to information on the part of information
officers with respect to the layman, and the possible conflicts (also
regard to third parties) which can derive from this situation.
information presented: this means for instance, filtering the search
for particular purposes.
of information brokers, i.e. of online searchers; for instance if two
ask for the same information and one of them wishes the exclusion of
to third parties of his search results. Also pricing policies play a
here in (ethical) decisions.
problems for online vendors: who must face up to problems of
regarding the correctness of the distribution of printed search
as well as other kinds of interrelations between both parties.
as power: the authors point to the broad social (and socio-political)
of online information retrieval and mainly to the possibility of
of distortion of the information flow. They argue in favour of a wide
of the new information techniques, while at the same time they admit
printed material, being less difficult to control, is more democratic.
The possibilities of abuse or distortion make the argument clearer,
information technology (and technology in general as well as science)
not neutral or, in other words, that it always implies an ethical
Within this context the authors discuss the problem of developing
as one particular set of underprivileged information users .
information scientists, researchers as well as practitioners, have
ethical responsibilities within their own professional fields of
and their own working institutions as well as with regard to society in
general. Concerning the question of a code of ethics, the authors want
it to be prepared by a controlling professional body, something which
not exist in our profession. The article provoked a number of reactions
which is indeed a sign that it addressed an important issue .
My own paper, to which I will now briefly refer, was inspired by
My own views
my paper in the Ethical problems in the field of specialized
and communication I conceived the concept of "specialized
as including all kinds of scientific, technical, economic, and societal
knowledge. I described as a main characteristic of our field what
 has called the "Copernican revolution" in information.
This means that instead of viewing knowledge as something 'ab-solute',
i.e. separated from its producers and users, information science is
with the relativizing situation of a plurality of views and goals from
which knowledge can be regarded and searched. As Henrichs remarked ,
this relativity remains tacit when we use the concept of 'objective
which can then be considered as 'potential information'.
into account these two ideas, I first raised the question of the
ground of information science ethics.
basic principle of any ethical reflection is human freedom. This
is related to the information and communication field for instance in
UN Chart of Human Rights (Art. 19), as well as in the 'Basic Law' (Grundgesetz)
of the Federal Republic of Germany (Art. 5, I, p.1). The principle of
freedom can be philosophically interpreted as the openness of human
to each other as well as to the world which they share, as the radical
possibility of talking to and hearing from each other. In this sense,
is something we are responsible form because our being together in a
world can, as we all know, be completely distorted, for instance in
ethical questions raised by research and teaching of information
are already being considered through educational theory as well as by
research ethics, I concentrated my exposition on the problems of
Ethical principles in the field of information production
already mentioned, the ethical questions in this field are closely
to those of the ethics of scientific research. I found that in
the results of research produced by specialists from the point of view
of their communication, authors are ethical responsible for the
and objectivity of their statements. Truthfulness means on the one hand
the honest search for truth and, on the other, openness to criticism.
points to the degree of informativeness, which should be more
than quantitative, as opposed to the point of view of the information
To achieve this goal it is necessary to use the best available
means. This can lead to different kinds of ethical conflicts if, for
such means are monopolized by a person or a group of persons, or they a
are practically not accessible, or they are explicitly eluded in order
to achieve premeditated goals.
Ethical principles in the field of information dissemination
the field of information dissemination practical work one is confronted
with the following ethical issues:
of accessibility. Specialized information
should be available
to everyone, while taking note of political, economical or other kinds
of restrictions. This is a matter of high ethical importance, if we
for instance of ethnic minorities, race discrimination, conflicts
'information rich' and 'information poor' nations ('information
information conflicts between developed nations, questions of
and democratic controls etc. Can a 'paperless society' (or, more
'paperless communication of specialized information') guarantee the
of printed media? How shall we achieve the ethical balance between
printed, and electronic communication?
of confidentiality. This ethical field
comprises all kinds
of questions concerning the responsibility of information disseminators
whith the information itself as well as with the protection of personal
data about producers and users including research results and
etc. This principle also concerns all kinds of intrusion into the
sphere of users from the side of the database producer.
of completeness. In the case of a database
instance, this principle points to the possibility of information
or of biased selectivity, through which users would be misled. This
concerns also the process of abstracting and indexing. At the same time
it should be remembered that a database producer is not responsible for
the truth content but only for the correctness (or correct
of data. Limitations of this principle concern the problem of
and evaluation of knowledge contents, and the problem of what can be
'information pollution', i.e. the inflationary character of information
to be coped with. Completeness is furthermore an ideal representation
can turn into ideology if one 'forgets' the radical incompleteness and
processibility of human knowledge as well as the many different
through which it is being distributed.
Ethical principles in the field of information use
the plurality of goals that users can have when they look for
information, the ethical questions concerning its use are very
indeed. In my paper, I pointed to the principles of objectivity,
completeness, and the search for truth. As we are accustomed to think
truth in the sense of scientific validity, I remarked on the broader
that this term must have, in order to include theoretical as well as
goals for handling information. Kostrewski and Oppenheim pointed to
possible ethical conflicts in the field of information use, as for
the filtering of search results, the misuse of information (and of
facilities) for different purposes.
conclusion, and quoting Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics
I remarked that ethics should not aim at the same kind of precision as
other sciences. The ethical discourse can only give hints for personal
and socially responsible action. Its two basic dangers are to fall into
casuistry on the one hand, or to consider itself, in a fundamentalist
as a dogmatic guideline for action or as its theoretical substitute.
this latter remark I would like to discuss the criticisms by Schwarz,
which I shall now turn.
The criticisms by Stephan Schwarz
I discussed these matters with Mr. Schwarz during a meeting some time
he made two basic comments on my ideas: one concerning the problem of
interrelation between general ethical statements and their practical
and the other regarding the nature of ethical 'oughts'. With regard to
first point, he stressed the intrinsic weakness of ethical codes which
do not capture the essence of ethical aspects, just because ethics
be codified. As a commentary to his views, he mentioned an article by
Ladd: The Quest for a Code of Professional Ethics. An Intellectual
Confusion presented at a workshop of the American Association for
Advancement of Science, and which has been recently published in a book
edited by Johnson and Snapper on Ethical Issues in the Use of
. In his paper, Ladd argues that due to its essentially
problematic character ethics cannot be codified. Ethical principles are
the (temporary) result of argumentation, and are not established by
or decision-making. To speak about a 'code of ethics' is therefore a
formulation. Such codes have pros and cons: they inspire 'ethical'
in professionals, advise and alert them, but they can also have
side-effects, giving professionals a sense of complacency, even
up 'irresponsible' conduct, and, what is more important, they can act
a defence mechanism diverting attention from the real 'macro-' and
problems of the profession.
these two concepts, Ladd points to the problems that a group confronts
in its relation to society, and to the problem within the group itself
(including clients, colleagues, and employers). The key question for a
professional society concerning ethics is not to establish a code, but
to promote the discussion on ethical issues connected with its
Following this argument, Schwarz stressed the doubts he has, on whether
ethical codes may cause more harm that good, since good people in the
will not need them, and the 'bad guys' will not adhere to them
with Ladd's arguments concerning the difference between ethical
and codes. I also think that the discussion on ethical problems should
be the key issue. This discussion should lead to consideration of "the
inherent incompatibilities and limitations" (Schwarz) of ethical
The concept of 'principle', having metaphysical connotations, could,
be misleading if it were taken as a dogmatic ground to establishing a
of ethics' in the sense criticized by Ladd. If principles are the
of argument, and therefore always open to further discussion, then they
are, as the word itself expresses, not an 'end' but a 'beginning'...
are not absolute grounds imposed as rules or laws. In this sense, and
regard to the nature of 'oughts', I considered the ground on which
problems arise in our field, namely human freedom, as openness to each
other and to the world. To talk about the 'oughts' can indeed be
In his paper Research, integrity and privacy 
Schwarz cites the following passage from J. Weizenbaum's Computer
and human reason:
scientists, though by no means all, maintain that the domain of science
is universal, that there can be nothing which, as a consequence of some
'higher' principle, ought not to be studied. And from this premise the
conclusion is usually drawn that any talk of ethical 'oughts' which
to science is inherently subversive and antiscientific, even
of integrity and privacy discussed by Schwarz concern the protection of
personal data I referred to under the principle of confidentiality.
on integrity presuppose, as Schwarz remarks, a reflection on
'liberty', 'confidence' and 'respect'. Privacy, as defined by Schwarz:
"concerns the individual's right and ability to decide for himself what
information may be communicated to, from, or about him, and the
of others to respect such right." Integrity
to do with the individual's right and ability to decide and act
perhaps in particular matters of developing and adhering to a personal
morality (functioning as a 'moral agent'), and the obligation of others
to respect this freedom" .
concepts lead to ethical problems, for instance when the information
communicated by authors is unduly manipulated by storage and retrieval
processes. To quote Schwarz again:
in representing and communicating purely technical or scientific data
has to be extremely careful to avoid any interpretation or application
of data that is incompatible with their true significance." 
into consideration that something like 'absolute objectivity' is
the significance of this ethical issue is manifest.
regard to 'ethical codes' Schwarz concludes that ethical problems are
complex to be formalized. Codes entail generalizations and have to
the question of application by the individual agent "which is after all
the essential part of morality" . The discussion
of the concept of 'freedom of research' carried out by Schwarz has, I
a similar significance and is also intrinsically related to the
of 'freedom of information' and to the special problems raised by the
storage and dissemination of specialized information. Ethics need to be
specified in an argumentative manner in our field, if we want to deal
its problems which lack, also in this respect, empirical studies and
foundations. Given the complexity of ethical matters which is distorted
if reduced to generalized codes as well as to a rigid canon of
unequivocal and dogmatic principles, ethical discourse must be above
and this is also underlined by Schwarz, a prudential
is a virtue, i.e. a source of action which characterizes the situation
of someone who is conscious of his or her limitations.
delimits the anti-criterion 'Everything is allowed', as it makes us
of an ambivalent situation which does not allow the schizoid
of opposites, or the simplistic 'solution' of giving one of them up. We
just do not know in advance what is absolutely 'good' or 'bad'. A
ethical discourse has the function of preserving ethical sensitivity,
is therefore the condition for becoming responsible, i.e. moral within
an unforseeable future .
Moral issues in information science literature
base the following exposition on the distinction made by Ladd between
and 'micro-ethical' problems. The former concern, as I have already
the problems that a group confronts in its relation to society. In our
case it has to do with the general social implications of information
and, in particular, of information retrieval. The topics discussed here
include: post-industrial society, the relationship between 'information
poor' and 'information rich' countries, free flow of information,
and media etc. 'Micro-ethical problems are those problems arising
the group itself.
The group of information workers includes users, producers,
and disseminators of specialized information. Some of the ethical
being discussed are for instance: the question of accessibility, data
professional ethics, (ethics of research, teaching, and information
copyright issues, etc.
state-of-the-art reviews on the broad subject 'Information and Society'
have been published in the Annual Review of Information Science and
Technology; one by Parker in 1973, and the other by Kochen in 1983
the introduction Kochen states that the term 'information', which in
1950's, under the influence of mathematical communication theory, was
(unrealistically, as Kochen remarks) to be distinguished from
has now (in the 1980's) come to mean 'decision-relevant data'. With
to the concept of 'society', it was Bell who characterized the
stage as information-based, i.e. as a society based on high technology
which facilitates well-informed rational decision-making. Of course, as
Kochen remarks, other less technocratic alternatives are possible, but
it seems that no matter what, the production and communication of
and not so much the technology itself, would play the significant role
in the future society.
central theme of the discussion", says Kochen, "is that information and
knowledge can help us cope with these dilemmas but only if it is
by human values and judgement. It will not suffice for information
to have only specialized technical or professional skills . They
also be humanistically enlightened generalists if they are to help
knowledge to bear on these vital issues." 
discusses the following six dilemmas:
Security and information
ethical dilemmas are considered. One concerns the gap between expert
and the informedness of the public in matters concerning defence and
The other point concerns the dilemma between openness or freedom of
and the constraints of national (and, as I would like to add,
security. The discussion on this subject has been recently critically
in a book by Demac . According to Russell Pipe,
Employment and information
formidable challenge in the 1980s is how to reconcile the traditional
of an open and largely unrestricted flow of information across borders
with legitimate protective measures and outright protectionism." 
is a broad and (indeed) important field. In the narrow field of
information Kochen foresees a further development of the general trend
end-user searching, while information specialists will take care of the
design and maintenance of user-friendly systems and languages. The
discussion concerning the dilemma between technological change and the
organization of work is of vital societal relevance.
Business, industry, and information
this heading Kochen discusses the political and economical conflicts
in the shaping of the 'information society' on the one hand, and the
of informed decision-making in the business world on the other.
the dilemma arises when one considers the complexity of computer-based
systems, and the questions of their control. In the field of
information, we see the problem of having adequate knowledge relevant
planning, which ist not communicated to and used by decision-makers. We
have only to remember the ecological crises, institutional changes,
of social health, etc.
the field of information retrieval we have been observing the tendency
of computing centers towards an ever increasing degree of
The fusion of computer through international networks is also one more
step in this direction. This enables collective work to be conducted
supports the internationalization of information. Parallel to these
we are confronted with the growing presence of microcomputers, and
in the field of expert systems. At a recent conference on the
of microcomputers in information, Kochen formulated the ethical
of the problem with the following words:
then, are the benefits of the new technologies? Will microcomputers and
associated communication media, as has the car and TV, change our
and, in retrospect, make us aware of as many negative as positive
Will they restrict or expand the options for our individual choice and
will they help us make more or less informed choices? On balance, will
they help us become a more informed society and if so, will that help
become more human in our evolution toward a wiser and better species?
is the key question." 
same conference Henrichs  in his welcoming address
pointed to the dilemma of an increasing decentralization which would
about an irresponsible fragmentation of the world's knowledge, limiting
efforts at cooperation, and creating mini-monopolies which are, in the
final analysis, nothing but the reverse of the coin of large scale
The problem is complicated even more if we consider that systems
should not mean giving up privacy and integrity, and the confidential
of certain types of information; especially when this confidentiality
desired by the producer and/or user of the information.
Information overload and mismatch
dilemma came at the beginning of the modern information revolution, and
in particular, of information retrieval with bibliographic databases.
issues require complex interdisciplinary, as well as integrated
to information. New forms of knowledge representation and processing
our self appraisal.
epistemological and ethical discussions concerning the implications of
research and development in the field of Artificial Intelligence are an
expression of this challenge.
internationality of information raises cultural questions, concerning,
for instance, the problem of information barriers ,
on the one hand, whereas on the other it poses new problems (for
to developing countries) concerning their legitimate national rights
interests, the problems of information colonialism (or even
the threat of cultural traditions (as underlined by Rosenberg .
The question of privacy and integrity pervades all these dilemmas .
Auerbach  has recently stressed the urgent need
for ethical reflection if professional responsibility towards society
is to become, as it should, a topic of major concern in a society based
and threatened by information.
of ethics, or, pace Ladd, codes of practice, should not by any
be identified, as we have already seen, with the argument and open
of ethical problems within a profession. Nevertheless, they are, I
an expression of such discussions or, in other words, they are among
one kind of response to the ethical problems with which the
are confronted. As a result of such inner-professional discussions the
American Society for Information Science identified the following
in 1984, where professional values or ethics play a significant
Privacy (deliberate or inadvertent disclosure of files/data),
Copyright (software privacy, intellectual property, etc.),
Computer Crime (felonious actions),
Security (protection of passwords, IDs, etc.),
Career Paths/Job Security/Tenure,
Transborder Data Flow,
Public/Private Sector (fee paid, free goods, subsidy, etc.),
Concealing or Falsifying Information .
discussion of each one of these points, as well as of others not
mentioned as, for instance, ethical responsibilities for indexers ,
or ethics in database searching , goes beyond the
scope of this review. I will, however, mention in some detail, the
of practice issued by EUSIDIC. Three have been published up to now.
deal respectively with:
Database and databank producers,
Telecommunications for publicly available information services.
on 'Brokers and End Users', and 'Downloading' are at the draft
like to mention some of the points discussed by EUSIDIC members
to the publication of the codes.
the 1982 issue of Newsidic, the EUSIDIC newsletter, 
Aitchison drew attention to the interrelations between the database
and author/publisher, host/online service, and user. While, for
the database producer should reproduce documents (or their surrogates)
accurately (I mentioned this point in my ethics paper under the
of completeness), publishers should supply their journals regularly.
producers should provide databases to selected hosts under
arrangements or, if provided generally, under the same conditions to
hosts on the one hand; while hosts should maintain a satisfactory
providing continuous and reliable access to the database on the other
With regard to the use of data, they should be treated confidentially
the database producer and, correspondingly, they should be provided by
the host to the producer.
brokers should be permitted to make temporary storage on
form of copies of search outputs for display, but they should not
generally or sell copies of outputs from the database without the
of the database producer.
with regard to the user, the database producer should make every effort
to ensure that the user can obtain the documents referred to on the
and should provide training opportunities; while the user should make
use of them, providing feedback on problems and errors encountered in
database or in its implementation.
the same Newsidic issue, Popper underlined the question of a
of conduct from the point of view of what a user can expect from online
systems. He accentuates, for instance, reliable access to those
the user requires. There should be no interference by the
element, or by other reasons not stipulated in the contract. Users
have access to commercially offered information sources. Their data
remain confidential. Fees and dues should not be discriminatory. Their
obligations concern the contract stipulations, especially with regard
exploiting (without permission) copies of databases or duplication of
output for profit.
Citroen made some remarks to promote discussion of a code of conduct
information intermediaries: they should inform clients about the
of the techniques employed, they should only accept professional
for which they are qualified, they should guarantee the confidentiality
of information entrusted to them, they should not use passwords for
purposes than for those they were allocated, they should treat personal
data confidentially, and charges should be reasonable.
EUSIDIC code of practice for database and databank producers comprises
eight points of which a selection follows:
There should be a clearly stated policy with respect to the selection
material for inclusion in the database (points 1.1 and 1.2) (cf. my
The information in the database should be correct. Users and vendors
be made aware of significant errors. The responsibility for corrections
lies with the producer (points 1.3, 1.4, 1.5) (cf. my 'principle of
The principles used in creating specialised indexes should be clearly
Online vendors should make clear how a database is implemented, and
should give notice to the users, when a database is withdrawn either
or from a particular service (points 1.6, 1.7, 1.8) (cf. my 'principle
regard to host services EUSIDIC proposes eight rules (cf. my 'principle
of accessibility') including:
Free availability of services to all potential users (points 2.1,
Personal data may be collected by hosts for different purposes (for
on behalf of a database producer or for legal and/or accounting
It should be treated confidentially, including the data concerning
search strategy. All parties concerned should have full details of what
information is being collected, for what purposes, who has access to
and for how long it is retained (points 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6).
The host should ensure that the documentation necessary to use the
is made available to all users. If the system is internationally
the services (user support, documentation, and training) should be
in different geographical locations (points 2.7, 2.8).
EUSIDIC proposes ten rules concerning telecommunications for
information services which include:
It considers that the fairest basis for the calculation of
charges for a given services provided by public administrations is on
basis of the cost of providing that service, plus a reasonable profit
If a database network required cannot for any reason be provided by
administration, physical or legal obstacles should not be placed in the
way of other bodies offering to provide the required services (point
Administrations have a duty to ensure that what is connected to public
networks will not harm the network or maintenance personnel. No
geographic or economic discrimination for or against equipment should
made (point 3.3).
Administrations should recognise that continental and intercontinental
data networks are vital for many new and future information services.
should be efficient and economic. Leased circuits are an important
which should not be impeded by administrations (points 3.4, 3.5, 3.6,
The communication authority should not normally be concerned with the
of what is being carried (3.8).
New publicly-available data services will require the maximum of
in terms of charging and access (point 3.9).
Administrations have the duty to attempt to satisfy many different
both nationally and internationally (point 3.10).
sum up, then, we can say that all these rules aim to preserve the
of information flow, taking into account at the same time the
of personal data as well as the legitimate interests of all parties
in the process of producing, storing, distributing and user
confidentiality, accuracy, and fairness can be considered as essential
ethical cornerstones in our field. But, as Ladd remarked, they should
be used to give us a sense of complacency or, what is worse, to cover
conduct. Professional ethics is not a 'special' ethics, basically
from 'macro-' or 'communicative ethics', as I suggest in the last part
of this paper.
The paradigm of communicative ethics
now, I have used the term 'morality' and 'ethics' as if they were
This is partly correct, if we consider that Latin thinkers, such as
translated the Greek concept of ethiké as philosophia
moralis . In both cases the meaning originated
in connection with the designation of customs, practices, and
(ethe, mores). Since Cicero, philosophy has often been
into philosophia rationalis or logic, philosophia naturalis
or physics, and philosophia moralis or ethics.
the domain of ethics, which was established as a science by Aristotle,
a distinction is usually made between ethics and morality. Bertrand
for example, defines ethics as consisting of "general principles which
help to determine rules of conduct", whereas
is not the business of ethics to arrive at actual rules of conduct,
as 'Thou shalt not steal'. This is the province of morals. Ethics is
to provide a basis from which such rules can be deduced" .
is, I believe, a misinterpretation, if one hopes to deduce the concrete
historical forms of morality from their ethical foundations. If we are
not to commit the 'naturalistic fallacy' (G.E. Moore) of deducing moral
categories from empirical (or metaphysical) concepts, then we have to
that concepts such as 'responsibility', 'duty' etc. are to be founded
human freedom "Ought does not follow from is", as
say. Ethics is then the search by argument for a (non-naturalistic as
as non-subjectivistic) foundation of morality .
what sense do we speak of ethics as a science, or, in other terms, how
well (or mis-) founded can ethical reasoning be?
his introduction to Aristotle's Analytics Ross remarks that
attitude to logic is not unlike his attitude to ethics. In his study of
each there is much that is pure theory, but in both cases the theory is
thought of as ancillary to practice - to right living in the one case,
to right thinking in the other" . In both cases,
according to Aristotle, we start by intuitive knowledge of first
and combine them with (scientific) knowledge got (by induction) from
In the field of ethics this combination is called sophia.
Aristotelian approach fails in two respects:
sense-perception is not of 'pure facts' but it is (as it would be
in hermeneutics) interpreted perception.
first principles are not really so self-evident, i.e. we cannot rely
there is no absolute ground for ethical reasoning, and if the
of ethical problems is influenced by our ethical (and non-ethical)
then all ethical discourse is necessarily hermeneutical, i.e. open to
and it never substitutes the moral option itself that cannot be
deduced from it. According to Gadamer  (in implicit
opposition to Ross) this was clearly seen by Aristotle, whose ethics do
not rest on an absolute ground (as do Plato's and Kant's) but, as I
already quoted (Eth. Nic. 1094b) it does not aim at the same kind of
as other scientific disciplines.
is also in this sense, I think, that Schwarz criticizes the role of
codes' as preconceived patterns, where 'prospective responsibility' is
restricted in terms of correspondence with foreseen performance. Such a
to simplify and generalize real life situations to fit them into a too
narrow framework of norms and values... it tends to transform a dynamic
morality into a static one" .
suggests, as a possible remedy, a 'cybernetic approach' to moral
within which the whole complexity of moral and non-moral components as
well as prospective and retrospective aspects should be analyzed,
the alternatives, and stressing the role of personal responsibility,
is not just the mechanical application of anonymous rules.
the Belgian philosopher Hottois recently remarked , prudence
is the cardinal virtue of ethical reasoning, if
to avoid the fallacies of metaphysical, technocratic, and positivistic
theories which overvalue man's knowledge or power, or just aim to leave
aside the perspective of enigma, and openness which characterizes not
human existence but also the technical, and, or course, the cosmic
the field of information science (and technology) we need, I think,
a prudent ethics which is a communicative, and an evolutionary one. It
is a communicative ethics not only because it deals with the field of
information and communication, but also because it considers
as the medium through which the complexity of retrospective and
aspects in this field can be discussed. It is an evolutionary or, as we
could also say, a hermeneutical ethics because it does not presuppose
clarity and validity of first principles, but it questions and
them, taking into account the complexity and limitations of concrete
paradigm of a communicative ethics has been further developed by the
philosophers Apel  and Habermas ,
and it has been recently put into explicit relation to our field by the
sociologist Vowe . A key feature of this paradigm
is the conception of an open community in which argumentation and
respect are the basic results. Ideally, a 'universal audience' is
concerned from which the actual or real communication communities are
Without going now into the details of this (transcendental)
I would like to comment that such an 'ideal' could become an ideology,
if a real community aiming at its performance closes itself by becoming
what the French philosopher Lévinas  calls
a 'totality', i.e. a structure which can no longer be questioned by all
those communities which are excluded de facto.
is founded, as Lévinas rightly stresses, on a face to face
basis, and not on the primacy of anonymous rules. It is, I think, this
specific ethical interrelation between human beings which we want to
when we talk about privacy, be preserving at the same time its
It would be an illusion to believe that because we have 'better'
media, we are communicating better. We would be reducing means to
and at the end, we could even be dominated by the communication power
But there is no reason for passivity or resignation,
I think, if we aim
at a constant and tentative clarification of the process of
Such a clarification should take seriously the 'finite' or conjectural
nature of human knowledge, which could be ethically used for promoting
survival . The ethics of knowing, the information
science ethics, is (or should be) an ethics of individual and
responsibility towards knowledge, its production, communication, and
A community that takes for granted a vacuum in these matters is
oriented towards dissolution.
B. J. Kostrewski and C. Oppenheim, Ethics in information science, Journal
of Information Science 1 (1980) 227-283.
update: July 18, 2017
R. Capurro, Zur Frage
der Ethik in Fachinformation und -kommunikation, Nachrichten
für Dokumentation 32 (1) (1981)
Cf., C. Cuadra, Ed., Directory of Online Databases, Vol. 5
Monica, CA, 1983).
A. Gilchrist, Editorial, Journal of Information Science 1
N. J. Belkin and S. E. Robertson, Some ethical and political
of theoretical research in information science, paper presented at ASIS
Annual Meeting, 1976.
Together with the article by Kostrewski and Oppenheim, two other
in the same issue of the Journal of Information Science deal
problems of information in the third world: A. M. Woodward, Future
requirements of the third world, pp. 259-265, and B. V. Tell, The
information needs of the developing countries, pp. 285-289. A.
commented on the interrelations between the three papers with the
words: "A journalist writing recently remarked that 'Information is
rapid and wide access to information is power', and this is perhaps one
of the more interesting and more intractable problems underlying the
aspects for the Information Society, and those engaged in peddling
This is highlighted particularly in connection with the 'information
between the industrial countries and the Third World - which is touched
on in the paper by Kostrewski and Oppenheim, and which underlies the
by Woodward and by Tell, also in this issue. At this level, it is
to distinguish between ethics as a way of life and ethics as a
code - and yet the two are obviously related" /4/. Cf., L. f. Lunin, G.
K. Eres, Eds., Perspectives on international information issues, J. ASIS
(May 1985) 143-199; and J. Conquy Beer-Gabel, Information du Tiers
et Coopération Internationale (Paris, La Doc. Francaise
Cf., M.E.D. Koenig, Ethics in information science, Journal of
Science 3 (1981) 45-48.
Cf., A. Diemer, Klassifikation, Thesaurus und was dann? Nachrichten
für Dokumentation 23 (2) (1972) 52-57.
N. Henrichs, Informationswissenschaft und Wissensorganisation, W. Kunz,
Ed., Informationswissenschaft. (Oldenbourg, München 1978)
J. Ladd, The quest for a code of professional ethics: an intellectual
moral confusion, in, Deborah G. Johnson and J. W. Snapper, Eds., Ethical
Issues in the Use of Computers (Wadsworth, Belmont, 1985)
Stephan Schwarz, Research, integrity and privacy. Notes on a conceptual
complex, Social Science Information 18 (1) (1979) 103-136.
J. Weizenbaum, Computer Power and Human Reason (Freeman, San Francisco,
S. Schwarz (11, pp. 104-105).
Op. cit. p. 106.
Op. cit. p. 109.
Cf., R. Capurro, Technics, Ethics, and the Question of Phenomenology,
presented at the XVIIth International Phenomenology Conference (Theme:
"Morality within the Life World") Frankfurt, 21-26 June, 1985, In:
Tymieniecka, Hrsg.: Morality within the Life- und Social World.
Husserliana XXII (Dordrecht: Reidel 1987) S. 475-482. My paper is based
on an analysis of Gilbert Hottois, Le Signe et la Technique (Paris,
Manfred Kochen, Information and society, in: Martha E. Williams, Annual
Rev. Sc. Techn. 18 (1983) 277-304. For further issues see: Bruce
The information society - how different? Aslib Proceedings 37
Michael Marien, Some questions for the information society, The
Society 3 (1984) 181-197; Susan Artandi: Computerized information
- implications for society, in: K. R. Brown, ed., The Challenge of
Technology, FID Congress, 1982, (North-Holland, Amsterdam, 1983)
Jack Meadows, Social limitations on the use of new information
technology, Journal of Information Science 6 (1983) 11-20;
Information and Communication: information is the answer, but what is
question? Journal of Information Science 7 (1983) 159-167.
Op. cit. p. 281.
Donna A. Demac, Keeping America Uninformed. Government Secrecy in the
(The Pilgrim Press, New York, 1984). For a review of the literature on
this subject see my report: Schützt die Einschränkung des
Informationstransfers die US-'National Security'? (FIZ-KA---3,
G. Russel Pipe, Transforder data flow: main issues, trends and impacts
on international business, in: Juan F. Rada and G. Russel Pipe, Eds.: Communication
Regulation and International Business, Proceedings of a Workshop
at the International Management Institute (IMI), Geneva, Switzerland,
1983 (North-Holland, Amsterdam, 1983) 470.
Manfred Kochen, Impacts of microcomputers on information use patterns,
in, Carl Keren and Linda Perlmutter, Eds., The Application of Mini-
and Micro-Computers in Information, Documentation and Libraries,
Tel-Aviv, Israel, March 13-18, 1983 (North-Holland, Amsterdam, 1983)
N. Henrichs, Welcoming address, in: Carl Keren et al. (21, pp.
Cf., J. Michel, Linguistic and political barriers in the international
transfer of information in science and technology, Journal of
Science 5 (49 (1982) 131-135; and the discussion of the arguments
Jim Davies, Linguistic and political barriers in the international
of information in science and technology: A reinterpretation, Journal
of Information Science 6 (1983) 179-181.
Victor Rosenberg, Cultural and political traditions and their impact on
the transfer and use of scientific information, Information
& Use 1 (1981) 75-80.
Isaac L. Auerbach, Professional responsibility for information privacy,
Information Systems Management 2 (1985) 77-81: "The
price that concerns
me, and should concern you, is the forfeiture of individual freedom
the loss of privacy. ... I am increasingly concerned about the
potential of centralized data banks. As information management
you are the experts in computer security, and with this knowledge you
act as if the private rights of individuals throughout the world depend
on you - because they do. A professional ethic that directly concerns
safety and well-being of the public applies here." (p. 81). Cf., G.
A progress report on information privacy and data security, J. Amer.
Soc. Inf. Science (March, 1980) 75-83; cf., David H Flaherty, ed., Privacy
and Data Protection - An International Bibliography
Julia C. Blixurd and Edmond J. Sawyer, A code of ethics for ASIS. The
before us, ASIS Bulletin (October, 1984) 8-10.
Cf., Harold Borko and Charles L. Bernier, Indexing Concepts and
(Academic Press, New York, 1978) 223-226.
Cf., B. Childress, Ethics in Database Searching, Inline '83 Conference
Proceedings, Chicago, IL, 10-12 October, 1983, pp. 11-14.
Cf., Newsidic 52 (March, 1982)
Cf., Cicero, De fato 1.
Bertrand Russell, Outline of Philosophy (Unwin, London, 1979)
Cf., Stephen E. Toulmin, An Examination of the Place of Reason in
Cf., Aristotle's Prior and Posterior Analytics, a revised text
introduction and commentary by W. D. Ross (Clarendon Press, Oxford,
Cf., Hans-Georg Gadamer, Über die Möglichkeit einer
Ethik, in: Kleine Schriften I (Mohr, Tübingen, 1967)
Cf., Stephan Schwarz, On responsibility in planning and decision
report TRITA-LIB-6006, May 1977, p. 275.
Cf., K.-O. Apel, Die Kommunikationsgemeinschaft als transzendentale
der Sozialwissenschften, in: Transformation der Philosophie
Cf., J. Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns
Cf., G. Vowe, Information und Kommunikation (Westdeutscher
Cf., E. Lévinas, Totalité et Infini (Martinus
The Hague, 1969).
Cf., Charles L. Bernier, Ethics of knowing, J. Amer. Soc. Inf.
(May 1985) 211-212.