Ethical Theories

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The concepts of ethics, character, right and wrong, and good and evil have captivated humankind since we began to live in groups, communicate, and pass judgment on each other. The morality of our actions is based on motivation, group rules and norms, and the end result. The difficult questions of ethics and information technology (IT) may not have been considered by previous generations, but what is good, evil, right, and wrong in human behavior certainly has been. With these historical foundations and systematic analyses of present-day and future IT challenges, we are equipped for both the varied ethical battles we will face and the ethical successes we desire.

Although most of you will be called upon to practice applied ethics in typical business situations, you'll find that the foundation for such application is a basic understanding of fundamental ethical theories. These ethical theories include the work of ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. This module introduces the widely accepted core ethical philosophies, which will serve to provide you with a basic understanding of ethical thought. With this knowledge, you can begin to relate these theoretical frameworks to practical ethical applications in today's IT environment.

Let's start with a fundamental question: "Why be ethical and moral?" At the most existential level, it may not matter. But we don't live our lives in a vacuum—we live our lives with our friends, relatives, acquaintances, co-workers, strangers, and fellow wanderers. To be ethical and moral allows us to be counted upon by others and to be better than we would otherwise be. This, in turn, engenders trust and allows us to have productive relationships with other people and in society. Our ethical system, supported by critical thinking skills, is what enables us to make distinctions between what is good, bad, right, or wrong.

An individual's ethical system is based upon his or her personal values and beliefs as they relate...
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