Mikael Erlandsson and Iordanis Kavathatzopoulos


As a result of the advances made within the field of information technology, many complex and cognitively demanding tools have been introduced into modern transportation. This technology, introduced with the purpose of aiding, can sometimes work against the drivers’ goals. One example is the navigation systems that are getting common in modern cars. When the very first navigation systems were introduced, the interaction with them was complicated and demanded much attention, especially to enter new destinations [Llaneras & Singer, 2003]. It is ethically questionable if navigation systems with such problems should be let out on the roads. In a situation like this, who will identify the problem? How is it dealt with, and by whom? The primary focus within the car business is not ethical dilemmas, and the level of ethical awareness is expected to be low. Therefore, it could be valuable to aid the practitioners by providing ethical tools and skills that are suited for them.

Here we do not use normative moral theory to argue about what is morally right or wrong, in fact we do not even attempt to find an answer at all. We only suggest a tool that can aid people, who are not informed about ethical theories, when making decisions related to ethical aspects. This tool can increase the level of ethical competence before a decision is taken, by simply describing all relevant values and aspects for all involved parts in a structured way. By iteratively considering how each possible action or decision affects each possible value for each involved person, company, organisation, etc, a broader and more complex view of the moral dilemma is achieved. The output from this tool works both as a decision support, but also as a kind of documentation for future reference, for continuous dialog and for argumentation reasons. If someone later questions a decision then the documentation can work to explain it, or if additional aspects of the dilemma are revealed then the documentation can be extended with this.

A successful inclusion of moral aspects in car navigation systems analysis, decision making and decision application can easily fail. The cause of this failure may be found in the way thinking, problem solving and decision making are performed by, for example, a car manufacturer. People use different ways to handle moral problems. Psychological theory and research [Kohlberg, 1985; Piaget, 1932] differentiate between two different moral functions, heteronomy and autonomy, which decide a person’s ability to handle moral problems. Heteronomy is constrained and involve authoritarian thinking. Heteronomous thinking is a purely automatic reflex or it is fixed on one or a few general moral principles, while ignoring other principles relevant to the same problem. Autonomy, on the other hand, is dominated by asking questions, by a continuous search for missing parts, and of an effort to take control of the situation. Its main emotional characteristics are insecurity and anxiety, which are nevertheless effectively lessened by the confidence on one’s own ability to handle moral issues. Autonomy is a psychological process of ethical problem solving and decision making, which lays the ground for higher ethical competence. The autonomy tool described here uses a matrix in which all alternative ways to treat a moral problem are systematically compared with all values and aspects relevant to anyone affected by it. This matrix effectively describes a more complex picture of the problem. In this study, two researchers examined the dilemma of introducing navigation systems in car using the autonomy method

Technically our approach is similar to other ethical tools suggested previously, for example Paramedic [Collins & Miller, 1992] and Value Sensitive Design (VSD) [Friedman, Kahn and Borning, in press]. However, those approaches do not focus exclusively on what psychological theory and research describe as the basis of competent ethical problem solving and decision making, namely the tension between heteronomous and autonomous moral reasoning [Kohlberg, 1985; Piaget, 1932]. What we need are tools that promote autonomy and hinder heteronomy. Both Paramedic and VSD are excellent tools to systematize, organize and take control of own thinking on concrete moral issues. Nevertheless, since both, in different degrees, urge and lead the extension of thinking to moral philosophical considerations and other details there is a risk of being too complex and of missing the main goal, namely blocking heteronomous thinking. Focus should be on how to handle practical problems rather than on philosophical normative issues.

The suggested tool does not provide the right answer, but is rather a document used for decision support. Even though this tool can be useful for ethical decisions, it is general enough to be used in any situation where an autonomous approach is favourable. The process of creating and refining the matrix takes both time and effort, compared to more heteronomous approaches. Qualitative analyses of this study indicate that the usage of this method to this particular problem gave a better understanding of the complexity of studied dilemma. However, it is not possible to cover all aspects of a certain dilemma. Because of this, it is also difficult to know when to stop i.e. how much is enough. This method needs to predict how each action affects the values of each involved party, but many times the outcome of different decisions is not known in advance. Finally, if someone questions the appropriateness of a decision by referring to some aspect relevant to that person, the resulting document from the autonomy method will show either that this aspect was missed during the decision making, or that it was in fact considered together with all other aspects but that the conclusion was another. In either case, the decision maker has the ability to explain, motivate and support the decision made.


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Friedman, B., Kahn, P. H. Jr. and Borning, A. (in press). Value sensitive design and information systems. In P. Zhang & D. Galletta (Eds.), Human-computer interaction in management information systems: Foundations. New York: M. E. Sharpe, Inc.

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Llaneras, R. E. and Singer, J. P. (2003). In-vehicle navigation systems: Interface characteristics and industry trends. Proceedings of the Second International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training and Vehicle Design. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa.

Piaget, J., (1932). The moral judgement of the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul (pp.1-103).