The field of moral psychology has recently emerged from hibernation in its Kohlbergian orthodoxy and become an exciting interdisciplinary field. It is connecting work on neuroscience, evolution, automatic and controlled processing, the self-system, and social ecology with the revival of virtue ethics and the new area of experimental philosophy. My theoretical work in this area has been an integration of these diverse trends in a model of the influences on virtuous practice (personality, integration of morality into the self, moral ecology, and skills, or PRIMES) and the processes that instantiate it (deciding or judgment and decision making, feeling or moral emotion and intuition, and acting or the architecture of controlled guidance of personal projects). My empirical work in this area has been based in in-depth life-story interviews with moral exemplars in computing in the UK and Scandinavia. This work has resulted in a multifaceted picture of computer professionals as craftspersons (using well-designed technology to help people), reformers (challenging and changing social and professional systems), educators, mentors, and other idiosyncratic roles that emphasize the many forms of moral/ethical excellence. One outcome of this has been an appreciation of the moral diversity that is required to support good design.
Ethical Analysis of Software Systems
With NSF support, I began a project in 2000 to provide 'thick' cases of computing ethics on the web (www.computingcases.org). These cases showcase the necessity of understanding software within its socio-technical system, as that system changes over time, influenced by actors in the moral ecology. Since 2004, I have been using this material in a required class in our computer science major: Ethical Issues in Software Design. In this course, students initially practice ethical analysis of software systems using these cases, but then move on to team-based consulting with real clients and real (or proposed) software systems. Students use empirical skills gleaned from methods in Human-Computer-Interaction to map out and understand the socio-technical systems of their clients and then make solution-oriented proposals to their clients that address the issues they identify, but that can be implemented with the budget, time, cultural, and other constraints of their client.
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