An Ethics App?

Difficult ethical decision? There’s an app for that

I was taken by this interesting development in applying academic research to real world issues. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on a new mobile app intended to help with decision support on those difficult ethical issues:

The disclaimer on Santa Clara University’s new mobile app strikes an ominous tone:

“In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this website/app.”

Then again the Ethical Decision Making app, developed by the university’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, aims for more-consequential uses than, say, Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds. The Santa Clara ethicists hope that people who make decisions that will change lives—business leaders, hospital administrators, and school officials, for instance—will use the app as a guide.

Alternative ethical decision making aids are available

Alternative ethical decision making aids are available

The Ethical Decision Making app is an attempt to bring applied ethics into 21st century. It is not so much a Magic 8-Ball as a pocket Socrates, which is to say the app asks more questions than it answers. The idea is that someone facing a decision can use it to evaluate each possible option.

Once the user gets past the disclaimer, the app asks him or her to list all the stakeholders in the decision. The app then asks the user to consider the implications of the option at hand according to five categories of “good”: utility (“Does this action produce the most good and do the least harm for all who are affected?”), rights (“Does my action best respect the rights of all who have a stake?”), justice (“Does this action treat people equally or proportionally?”), virtue (“Does this option lead me to act as the sort of person I want to be?”), and the common good (“Does this action best serve the community as a whole, not just some members?”).

For each of the five categories, the user rates where the option would fall on a scale of “more good” to “more harm,” and so on. The app also asks the user to assign a weight to each of the five categories that reflects how important it is.

Then the app spits out a number. The number supposedly represents how ethical the option would be on a scale of 1 to 100, according to the values supplied by the user.

Convinced of the value of this? I’m not sure. If you need an app to help you with your ethical positioning you are possibly not ideally placed to reach any kind of decision on an issue.

I was almost tempted to download the app and test it out on some ethical dilemmas. Then I thought I could pretend I had done so (which would be a lot quicker) and make up some absurd results. But then I tossed a coin and it told me to ditch the whole project. Ethics eh?

Advertisements