Today, DLB tries to put our house in order, laying out some steps for the task ahead: developing our positive discussion of design ethics.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about children and advertising. The point of that post was this: we don’t find it conscionable to advertise cigarettes to kids. In fact, we seem to find it so uniformly unconscionable that we’re willing to make it illegal. This indicated to me that we have here a wide-spread and serious moral commitment.
Since I wrote that post, I’ve been thinking more about the role of children in the advertising culture, and specifically about this legislation. It seems to me that here we have a stable empirical starting point for what I hope will become our positive discussion of design ethics (following both our argument for the pragmatic role of ethics in design, our diagnosis of the trust relationship at the heart of advertising, and of advertising’s pursuant follies).
That said, I think the cart has been put just slightly in front of the horse, here. While we may (or may not) have stumbled on the empirical clue for our ongoing positive discussion of design ethics, the development of this line seems to me nevertheless very tricky.
In the interest of taking design ethics seriously and getting it right, then, there are some fairly significant unanswered questions left to address. While I am convinced that I will not answer a single one of these questions definitively here on BlogLESS, I am also convinced that having some rough and ready answers will provide the kind of scaffolding we’ll need to develop any serious practical principles.
Today, then, I’ll merely index the issues which I want to partially address over the next months. Each of these questions — on my view — need either to be answered or proven irrelevant by any sufficiently robust theory of design ethics.
- What is an ethical design?
- What is a “design” in the first place? To what kinds of objects, processes, etc. will a theory of design ethics apply?
- Why should there be any ethical concerns that are relevant to the success of a design?
- What is a legitimate algorithm to determine the “rightness” of a design? Is “rightness” what counts? Is it all that counts?
- Should normative moral consensus legislate ethical design?
- Why is it important that codified ethics gel with our intuitions in the first place?
- Is the best moral heuristic democracy? Is a tyranny of the majority legitimate?
- How can we account for the fact that designers with otherwise fine moral compasses are responsible for unethical designs?
- Doesn’t the fact that a designer tries to be ethical count for anything?
- Can their designs be justified by some subset of rules that apply specifically to the practice of design in free market economies (or some other set of relevant practice-specific rules)?
I’ll jump right in on Wednesday, and do my best to pick out what it is we mean here on BlogLESS when we talk about “design.” (Maybe Nick will help me out with this on Tuesday or Thursday.)