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What Is Computer Ethics?

Article  in  Metaphilosophy · August 2007

DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9973.1985.tb00173.x





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James Moor

Dartmouth College



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2/27/22, 1:22 AM Reflection 2

https://sjsu.instructure.com/courses/1478005/assignments/6100936 1/2

Reflection 2

Due Sunday by 11:59pm Points 10 Submitting a file upload (Turnitin enabled)
Available Feb 19 at 11:59pm – May 7 at 11:59pm 3 months

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Kyle Yrigoyen


In a short writing of roughly 500 words, please respond to all of the following questions:

1. Now that you’ve been introduced to a variety of normative ethical theories, how do you now
understand the relationship between ethics in general and computers in particular? Next, reconsider
Moor’s paper, “What is Computer Ethics?”; what does Moor mean by claiming that computers are
logically malleable devices? Furthermore, how does this claim about logical malleability lead to what
Moor calls the invisibility factor (of which he offers three kinds)? Please be sure to define your terms
and give examples.


Write a short essay that addresses the questions above. When you respond to these questions, you
should be specific and cite specific details from the class readings and your own research. You may
provide references from your own research, but only in addition to material provided by the course. Also,
you MUST make sure to cite your sources in your response and include a reference list at the end of
your essay. Citations must be from reputable sources. Sites like Wikipedia, about.com, etc. are NOT
considered acceptable sources.

Higher credit will be given for responses that show evidence of a systematic and comprehensive
understanding of the topics involved.


2/27/22, 1:22 AM Reflection 2

https://sjsu.instructure.com/courses/1478005/assignments/6100936 2/2

Standard font, preferably Arial in either 11pt or 12pt. Be sure to structure your paper in proper paragraph
form. Do not write one, long run-on paragraph.

MLA, APA, or any other format is acceptable provided that it is consistent through the entire paper.
Please, no cover sheets.

ARISTOTLE. Nichomachean Ethics excerpts

Book 2, Chapter 1
Virtue, then, being of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual virtue in the main owes both its
birth and its growth to teaching (for which reason it requires experience and time), while moral
virtue comes about as a result of habit, whence also its name (ethike) is one that is formed by a
slight variation from the word ethos (habit). From this it is also plain that none of the moral virtues
arises in us by nature; for nothing that exists by nature can form a habit contrary to its nature. For
instance the stone which by nature moves downwards cannot be habituated to move upwards,
not even if one tries to train it by throwing it up ten thousand times; nor can fire be habituated to
move downwards, nor can anything else that by nature behaves in one way be trained to behave
in another. Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are
adapted by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit.

Again, of all the things that come to us by nature we first acquire the potentiality and later exhibit
the activity (this is plain in the case of the senses; for it was not by often seeing or often hearing
that we got these senses, but on the contrary we had them before we used them, and did not
come to have them by using them); but the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also
happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them,
we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyreplayers by playing the lyre;
so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing
brave acts.

This is confirmed by what happens in states; for legislators make the citizens good by forming
habits in them, and this is the wish of every legislator, and those who do not effect it miss their
mark, and it is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one.

Again, it is from the same causes and by the same means that every virtue is both produced and
destroyed, and similarly every art; for it is from playing the lyre that both good and bad lyre-
players are produced. And the corresponding statement is true of builders and of all the rest; men
will be good or bad builders as a result of building well or badly. For if this were not so, there
would have been no need of a teacher, but all men would have been born good or bad at their
craft. This, then, is the case with the virtues also; by doing the acts that we do in our transactions
with other men we become just or unjust, and by doing the acts that we do in the presence of
danger, and being habituated to feel fear or confidence, we become brave or cowardly. The same
is true of appetites and feelings of anger; some men become temperate and good-tempered,
others self-indulgent and irascible, by behaving in one way or the other in the appropriate
circumstances. Thus, in one word, states of character arise out of like activities. This is why the
activities we exhibit must be of a certain kind; it is because the states of character correspond to
the differences between these. It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one
kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference

Book 2, Chapter 4
The question might be asked, what we mean by saying that we must become just by doing just
acts, and temperate by doing temperate acts; for if men do just and temperate acts, they are
already just and temperate, exactly as, if they do what is in accordance with the laws of grammar
and of music, they are grammarians and musicians.

Or is this not true even of the arts? It is possible to do something that is in accordance with the
laws of grammar, either by chance or at the suggestion of another. A man will be a grammarian,

then, only when he has both done something grammatical and done it grammatically; and this
means doing it in accordance with the grammatical knowledge in himself.

Again, the case of the arts and that of the virtues are not similar; for the products of the arts have
their goodness in themselves, so that it is enough that they should have a certain character, but if
the acts that are in accordance with the virtues have themselves a certain character it does not
follow that they are done justly or temperately. The agent also must be in a certain condition
when he does them; in the first place he must have knowledge, secondly he must choose the
acts, and choose them for their own sakes, and thirdly his action must proceed from a firm and
unchangeable character. These are not reckoned in as conditions of the possession of the arts,
except the bare knowledge; but as a condition of the possession of the virtues knowledge has
little or no weight, while the other conditions count not for a little but for everything, i.e. the very
conditions which result from often doing just and temperate acts.

Actions, then, are called just and temperate when they are such as the just or the temperate man
would do; but it is not the man who does these that is just and temperate, but the man who also
does them as just and temperate men do them. It is well said, then, that it is by doing just acts
that the just man is produced, and by doing temperate acts the temperate man; without doing
these no one would have even a prospect of becoming good.

But most people do not do these, but take refuge in theory and think they are being philosophers
and will become good in this way, behaving somewhat like patients who listen attentively to their
doctors, but do none of the things they are ordered to do. As the latter will not be made well in
body by such a course of treatment, the former will not be made well in soul by such a course of

Book 2, Chapter 6
We must, however, not only describe virtue as a state of character, but also say what sort of state
it is. We may remark, then, that every virtue or excellence both brings into good condition the
thing of which it is the excellence and makes the work of that thing be done well; e.g. the
excellence of the eye makes both the eye and its work good; for it is by the excellence of the eye
that we see well. Similarly the excellence of the horse makes a horse both good in itself and good
at running and at carrying its rider and at awaiting the attack of the enemy. Therefore, if this is
true in every case, the virtue of man also will be the state of character which makes a man good
and which makes him do his own work well.

How this is to happen we have stated already, but it will be made plain also by the following
consideration of the specific nature of virtue. In everything that is continuous and divisible it is
possible to take more, less, or an equal amount, and that either in terms of the thing itself or
relatively to us; and the equal is an intermediate between excess and defect. By the intermediate
in the object I mean that which is equidistant from each of the extremes, which is one and the
same for all men; by the intermediate relatively to us that which is neither too much nor too little —
and this is not one, nor the same for all. For instance, if ten is many and two is few, six is the
intermediate, taken in terms of the object; for it exceeds and is exceeded by an equal amount;
this is intermediate according to arithmetical proportion. But the intermediate relatively to us is not
to be taken so; if ten pounds are too much for a particular person to eat and two too little, it does
not follow that the trainer will order six pounds; for this also is perhaps too much for the person
who is to take it, or too little — too little for Milo, too much for the beginner in athletic exercises.
The same is true of running and wrestling. Thus a master of any art avoids excess and defect, but
seeks the intermediate and chooses this — the intermediate not in the object but relatively to us.

If it is thus, then, that every art does its work well — by looking to the intermediate and judgling its
works by this standard (so that we often say of good works of art that it is not possible either to

take away or to add anything, implying that excess and defect destroy the goodness of works of
art, while the mean preserves it; and good artists, as we say, look to this in their work), and if,
further, virtue is more exact and better than any art, as nature also is, then virtue must have the
quality of aiming at the intermediate. I mean moral virtue; for it is this that is concerned with
passions and actions, and in these there is excess, defect, and the intermediate. For instance,
both fear and confidence and appetite and anger and pity and in general pleasure and pain may
be felt both too much and too little, and in both cases not well; but to feel them at the right times,
with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right
way, is what is both intermediate and best, and this is characteristic of virtue. Similarly with regard
to actions also there is excess, defect, and the intermediate. Now virtue is concerned with
passions and actions, in which excess is a form of failure, and so is defect, while the intermediate
is praised and is a form of success; and being praised and being successful are both
characteristics of virtue. Therefore virtue is a kind of mean, since, as we have seen, it aims at
what is intermediate.

Again, it is possible to fail in many ways (for evil belongs to the class of the unlimited, as the
Pythagoreans conjectured, and good to that of the limited), while to succeed is possible only in
one way (for which reason also one is easy and the other difficult — to miss the mark easy, to hit it
difficult); for these reasons also, then, excess and defect are characteristic of vice, and the mean
of virtue;

For men are good in but one way, but bad in many.

Virtue, then, is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e. the mean relative
to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of
practical wisdom would determine it. Now it is a mean between two vices, that which depends on
excess and that which depends on defect; and again it is a mean because the vices respectively
fall short of or exceed what is right in both passions and actions, while virtue both finds and
chooses that which is intermediate. Hence in respect of its substance and the definition which
states its essence virtue is a mean, with regard to what is best and right an extreme.

But not every action nor every passion admits of a mean; for some have names that already
imply badness, e.g. spite, shamelessness, envy, and in the case of actions adultery, theft,
murder; for all of these and suchlike things imply by their names that they are themselves bad,
and not the excesses or deficiencies of them. It is not possible, then, ever to be right with regard
to them; one must always be wrong. Nor does goodness or badness with regard to such things
depend on committing adultery with the right woman, at the right time, and in the right way, but
simply to do any of them is to go wrong. It would be equally absurd, then, to expect that in unjust,
cowardly, and voluptuous action there should be a mean, an excess, and a deficiency; for at that
rate there would be a mean of excess and of deficiency, an excess of excess, and a deficiency of
deficiency. But as there is no excess and deficiency of temperance and courage because what is
intermediate is in a sense an extreme, so too of the actions we have mentioned there is no mean
nor any excess and deficiency, but however they are done they are wrong; for in general there is
neither a mean of excess and deficiency, nor excess and deficiency of a mean.

Book 2, Chapter 7
We must, however, not only make this general statement, but also apply it to the individual facts.
For among statements about conduct those which are general apply more widely, but those
which are particular are more genuine, since conduct has to do with individual cases, and our
statements must harmonize with the facts in these cases. We may take these cases from our
table. With regard to feelings of fear and confidence courage is the mean; of the people who

exceed, he who exceeds in fearlessness has no name (many of the states have no name), while
the man who exceeds in confidence is rash, and he who exceeds in fear and falls short in
confidence is a coward. With regard to pleasures and pains — not all of them, and not so much
with regard to the pains — the mean is temperance, the excess self-indulgence. Persons deficient
with regard to the pleasures are not often found; hence such persons also have received no
name. But let us call them ‘insensible’.

With regard to giving and taking of money the mean is liberality, the excess and the defect
prodigality and meanness. In these actions people exceed and fall short in contrary ways; the
prodigal exceeds in spending and falls short in taking, while the mean man exceeds in taking and
falls short in spending. (At present we are giving a mere outline or summary, and are satisfied
with this; later these states will be more exactly determined.) With regard to money there are also
other dispositions — a mean, magnificence (for the magnificent man differs from the liberal man;
the former deals with large sums, the latter with small ones), an excess, tastelessness and
vulgarity, and a deficiency, niggardliness; these differ from the states opposed to liberality, and
the mode of their difference will be stated later. With regard to honour and dishonour the mean is
proper pride, the excess is known as a sort of ’empty vanity’, and the deficiency is undue humility;
and as we said liberality was related to magnificence, differing from it by dealing with small sums,
so there is a state similarly related to proper pride, being concerned with small honours while that
is concerned with great. For it is possible to desire honour as one ought, and more than one
ought, and less, and the man who exceeds in his desires is called ambitious, the man who falls
short unambitious, while the intermediate person has no name. The dispositions also are
nameless, except that that of the ambitious man is called ambition. Hence the people who are at
the extremes lay claim to the middle place; and we ourselves sometimes call the intermediate
person ambitious and sometimes unambitious, and sometimes praise the ambitious man and
sometimes the unambitious. The reason of our doing this will be stated in what follows; but now
let us speak of the remaining states according to the method which has been indicated.

With regard to anger also there is an excess, a deficiency, and a mean. Although they can
scarcely be said to have names, yet since we call the intermediate person good-tempered let us
call the mean good temper; of the persons at the extremes let the one who exceeds be called
irascible, and his vice irascibility, and the man who falls short an inirascible sort of person, and
the deficiency inirascibility.

There are also three other means, which have a certain likeness to one another, but differ from
one another: for they are all concerned with intercourse in words and actions, but differ in that
one is concerned with truth in this sphere, the other two with pleasantness; and of this one kind is
exhibited in giving amusement, the other in all the circumstances of life. We must therefore speak
of these too, that we may the better see that in all things the mean is praise-worthy, and the
extremes neither praiseworthy nor right, but worthy of blame. Now most of these states also have
no names, but we must try, as in the other cases, to invent names ourselves so that we may be
clear and easy to follow. With regard to truth, then, the intermediate is a truthful sort of person
and the mean may be called truthfulness, while the pretence which exaggerates is boastfulness
and the person characterized by it a boaster, and that which understates is mock modesty and
the person characterized by it mock-modest. With regard to pleasantness in the giving of
amusement the intermediate person is ready-witted and the disposition ready wit, the excess is
buffoonery and the person characterized by it a buffoon, while the man who falls short is a sort of
boor and his state is boorishness. With regard to the remaining kind of pleasantness, that which
is exhibited in life in general, the man who is pleasant in the right way is friendly and the mean is
friendliness, while the man who exceeds is an obsequious person if he has no end in view, a
flatterer if he is aiming at his own advantage, and the man who falls short and is unpleasant in all
circumstances is a quarrelsome and surly sort of person.

There are also means in the passions and concerned with the passions; since shame is not a
virtue, and yet praise is extended to the modest man. For even in these matters one man is said

to be intermediate, and another to exceed, as for instance the bashful man who is ashamed of
everything; while he who falls short or is not ashamed of anything at all is shameless, and the
intermediate person is modest. Righteous indignation is a mean between envy and spite, and
these states are concerned with the pain and pleasure that are felt at the fortunes of our
neighbours; the man who is characterized by righteous indignation is pained at undeserved good
fortune, the envious man, going beyond him, is pained at all good fortune, and the spiteful man
falls so far short of being pained that he even rejoices. But these states there will be an
opportunity of describing elsewhere; with regard to justice, since it has not one simple meaning,
we shall, after describing the other states, distinguish its two kinds and say how each of them is a
mean; and similarly we shall treat also of the rational virtues.

Book 2, Chapter 8
There are three kinds of disposition, then, two of them vices, involving excess and deficiency
respectively, and one a virtue, viz. the mean, and all are in a sense opposed to all; for the
extreme states are contrary both to the intermediate state and to each other, and the intermediate
to the extremes; as the equal is greater relatively to the less, less relatively to the greater, so the
middle states are excessive relatively to the deficiencies, deficient relatively to the excesses, both
in passions and in actions. For the brave man appears rash relatively to the coward, and
cowardly relatively to the rash man; and similarly the temperate man appears self-indulgent
relatively to the insensible man, insensible relatively to the self-indulgent, and the liberal man
prodigal relatively to the mean man, mean relatively to the prodigal. Hence also the people at the
extremes push the intermediate man each over to the other, and the brave man is called rash by
the coward, cowardly by the rash man, and correspondingly in the other cases.

These states being thus opposed to one another, the greatest contrariety is that of the extremes
to each other, rather than to the intermediate; for these are further from each other than from the
intermediate, as the great is further from the small and the small from the great than both are
from the equal. Again, to the intermediate some extremes show a certain likeness, as that of
rashness to courage and that of prodigality to liberality; but the extremes show the greatest
unlikeness to each other; now contraries are defined as the things that are furthest from each
other, so that things that are further apart are more contrary.

To the mean in some cases the deficiency, in some the excess is more opposed; e.g. it is not
rashness, which is an excess, but cowardice, which is a deficiency, that is more opposed to
courage, and not insensibility, which is a deficiency, but self-indulgence, which is an excess, that
is more opposed to temperance. This happens from two reasons, one being drawn from the thing
itself; for because one extreme is nearer and liker to the intermediate, we oppose not this but
rather its contrary to the intermediate. E.g. since rashness is thought liker and nearer to courage,
and cowardice more unlike, we oppose rather the latter to courage; for things that are further from
the intermediate are thought more contrary to it. This, then, is one cause, drawn from the thing
itself; another is drawn from ourselves; for the things to which we ourselves more naturally tend
seem more contrary to the intermediate. For instance, we ourselves tend more naturally to
pleasures, and hence are more easily carried away towards self-indulgence than towards
propriety. We describe as contrary to the mean, then, rather the directions in which we more often
go to great lengths; and therefore self-indulgence, which is an excess, is the more contrary to

Book 2, Chapter 9

That moral virtue is a mean, then, and in what sense it is so, and that it is a mean between two
vices, the one involving excess, the other deficiency, and that it is such because its character is to
aim at what is intermediate in passions and in actions, has been sufficiently stated. Hence also it
is no easy task to be good. For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle, e.g. to find the
middle of a circle is not for every one but for him who knows; so, too, any one can get angry —
that is easy — or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the
right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy;
wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.

Hence he who aims at the intermediate must first depart from what is the more contrary to it, as
Calypso advises —

Hold the ship out beyond that surf and spray.

For of the extremes one is more erroneous, one less so; therefore, since to hit the mean is hard
in the extreme, we must as a second best, as people say, take the least of the evils; and this will
be done best in the way we describe. But we must consider the things towards which we
ourselves also are easily carried away; for some of us tend to one thing, some to another; and
this will be recognizable from the pleasure and the pain we feel. We must drag ourselves away to
the contrary extreme; for we shall get into the intermediate state by drawing well away from error,
as people do in straightening sticks that are bent.

Now in everything the pleasant or pleasure is most to be guarded against; for we do not judge it
impartially. We ought, then, to feel towards pleasure as the elders of the people felt towards
Helen, and in all circumstances repeat their saying; for if we dismiss pleasure thus we are less
likely to go astray. It is by doing this, then, (to sum the matter up) that we shall best be able to hit
the mean.

But this is no doubt difficult, and especially in individual cases; for or is not easy to determine both
how and with whom and on what provocation and how long one should be angry; for we too
sometimes praise those who fall short and call them good-tempered, but sometimes we praise
those who get angry and call them manly. The man, however, who deviates little from goodness
is not blamed, whether he do so in the direction of the more or of the less, but only the man who
deviates more widely; for he does not fail to be noticed. But up to what point and to what extent a
man must deviate before he becomes blameworthy it is not easy to determine by reasoning, any
more than anything else that is perceived by the senses; such things depend on particular facts,
and the decision rests with perception. So much, then, is plain, that the intermediate state is in all
things to be praised, but that we must incline sometimes towards the excess, sometimes towards
the deficiency; for so shall we most easily hit the mean and what is right.

  • ARISTOTLE. Nichomachean Ethics excerpts
  • Book 2, Chapter 1
  • Book 2, Chapter 4