Globalisation, ICT-ethics and value conflicts

Goran Collste


We live in an age of globalisation. Globalisation refers to: processes and relations (social, economic, political, cultural etc) that are transcending national borders, that link distant places and peoples and that are spontaneous rather than the result of political decisions.

Information and communication technologies, such as the Internet, global media etc are important means for this development.

Globalisation implies, e g, an encounter of different moral traditions and systems of values. What happens when different moral traditions and value systems are confronted? Will globalisation lead to inevitable value conflicts?

In the discussion about ICT-ethics certain values have been stressed. These are for example privacy, transparency, freedom of speech and responsibility. Although there are different views of the justification and implications of these values as well as different interpretations of their meaning, they are parts of a “common morality” and there seems to be a basic consensus on their importance in the Western ICT-ethics community. (Johnson, 2001, Spinello, 1995, Johnson and Nissenbaum, 1995) With the global reach of ICT, can one also expect a global consensus on these values?

Communitarians stress the contextuality and incommensurability of different ideological and moral traditions. According to Alasdair MacIntyre there is no common ground between different traditions. Instead each tradition has its own criteria for rationality and justice (MacIntyre, 1988). Hence, according to communitarianism one can not expect a global consensus on ICT-ethics.

In contrast to communitarianism, thinkers in the liberal tradition have argued that there are real possibilities to achieve a global moral consensus. In this paper I will discuss three different views:

The first view is the idea of an overlapping consensus developed by political philosopher John Rawls. A value consensus can, according to Rawls, be achieved through, what he calls, an “overlapping consensus” of different reasonable comprehensive doctrines, i.e. world-views, philosophies and religions. Albeit pluralism, it is possible to reach an agreement on principles of justice, core values and rights. These values and rights are then anchored in different religions and world-views and can thus achieve a broad theoretical support and motivational force. (Rawls, 1993)

The second view is developed by Amartya Sen. Sen argues for a plural interpretation of different cultures and value systems. According to Sen, a moral tradition contains different and also conflicting values. Value conflicts are thus as much internal to traditions as conflicts between different traditions. (Sen, 1999)

According to the third view one can expect a convergence of moral standards when people from different traditions interact. According to Chandran Kukathas: “Moral standards, like social standards generally, arise out of the interaction of individuals in particular circumstances and contexts”, (Kukathas 1994, p.14). We chose to act in conformity with what we expect other people wishes. When cultures are isolated from each other this will also imply different systems of norms. But when social contacts and social cooperation increase this will lead to a convergence of norms leading to a moral consensus. Kukathas even maintains that “…the interaction of different cultures might turn out to be a source of moral insight.” (ibid, p. 16)

In this paper I will analyse these different views of the possibility to overcome value conflicts. I will then relate the views to possible value conflicts related to ICT and see whether they are helpful for the undertaking to develop a global ICT-ethics.


Johnson, Deborah, Computer Ethics, Upper Sadle River, New Jersey, 2001

Johnson, Deborah and Nissenbaum, Helen, eds, Computers, Ethics and Social Values, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1995

Kukathas, Chandran, ”Explaining Moral Variety”, i Cultural Pluralism and Moral Knowledge, ed Paul, Miller, Paul, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994

MacIntyre, Alasdair, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? London, Duckworth, 1988

Rawls, John, Political Liberalism, New York, Columbia University Press, 1993

Rawls, John, ”The Idea of Public Reason Revisited”, i The Law of Peoples, Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 1999

Sen, Amartya, Freedom as Development, New York, Anchor Books, 1999

Spinello, Richard, Ethical Aspects of Information Technology, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1995