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3 COMMON ETHICAL SYSTEMS | A PRÉCIS CEPHAD 2010 | DAN M ARKS D ESIG N SKO LE KEITH OWENS | ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR

January 26 –29, 2010 UNT College of Visual Arts + Design


Copenhagen, Denmark kowens@unt.edu

PERSONAL MORALITY THE LAW PROFESSIONAL CODES

Ourselves as Our Measure Our Shared Ideals as Our Measure Our Work as Our Measure

Core Belief(s) F – 1: personal morality is a sufficient guide for professional practice F – 1: (positive) existing legal frameworks provide sufficient guidance F – 1: codified professional responsibilities and prohibitions are sufficient
F = Formulation F – 2: salutary public consequences can result from actions guided by for ethical professional practice guides to ethical practice
private morality F – 2: (negative) the law functions as an effective check on unethical F – 2: the hortatory yet nonbinding nature of professional design codes
Not the case that individuals are claiming their morality is superior, rather that the behavior or practice does not diminish their moral value, formative capacities or wider
morality of the ‘other’ is likewise not superior. This belief sits well with modern under- social legitimacy
standings of personhood often justified by or derived from conceptions listed below:

Justification | Foundations Political – liberal procedural republic (Sandel, 1996 contra republican traditions) A tacit or normative belief that... Interpreted broadly (spirit of) rather than narrowly (letter of) professional
Freedom consists in the ability of persons to chose their own ends, . most universal aspects of western morality are enshrined in codes can help guide practice by embodying and systematizing minimum
thus the state (or other human forms of collective control) shall not modern legal systems. standards – not low standards, rather “levels of excellence that could be realistically
affirm or legislate a particular version of the good. . the rule of law is the bulwark against tyranny, recourse for all who demanded of the vast majority of [a given group] of professionals” (Martin, 2009).
Legal – rights ‘talk’ (classic and contemporary liberal formulation) have suffered wrongs and institutionalized corrective for immorality. Professional codes institutionalize shared standards like the law, however,
UNITED BY FREE CHOICE . Individuals entitled to inalienable rights by virtue of their humanity. . pluralistic societies have no homogenous source of prescriptive unlike the law they are tailored to specific groups, affect a narrower range
OF ENDS AND VALUES
. Positive right to create individualized forms of life and virtues. of activities and are often nonbinding.
morality existing above the law, thus jurisprudence becomes or remains
. Negative right to be left to own self-made ends (freedom from coercion).
the one abiding standard against which to judge others’ behavior.
Social – post enlightenment ‘authenticity’ (Taylor, 1991 following Trilling, 1972)
The need (therefore right) to develop a potentiality properly our own.

Benefits General Disciplinary Specific – the law... Disciplinary Specific – professional codes...
Positively formulated, stance respects the right of everyone to mini- . can effectively govern professional relations while concurrently . provide professionals subject to them and the public affected by them
mum standards of justice, liberty and dignity. Negatively formulated, inducing ethical behavior. For example, stipulating aspects of contrac- with a shared moral understanding.
recognizes the need to advance the good of others but only if we so tual agreements while promoting truthfulness, trustworthiness and a . provide designers with a framework within which to envision, debate, codify
choose, centralizing the independent self. fiduciary responsibility to perform in the clients’ best interests. and articulate discipline specific conceptions of common goods and the
Disciplinary Specific – private morality provides... . suffuses unethical human relations, including those between designers and means to achieve them.
. mutual recognition of personhood and centralizes individuals in profes- the public, with social if not legal consequences. . allow practitioners to coordinate their activities in serving the public interest
sional moral conduct and ethical calculations. Thus, it becomes a basis for . may ultimately provide design with a heightened claim to social legitimacy and/or the common good and articulate the duties they will bear in exchange
discourse and practice focused on universal and/or participatory design. if the profession becomes subject to legal oversight. for elevated social legitimacy.
. a foundation for professional claims to social legitimacy.

Concerns Since all moral views (bounded by law, rights and social convention) are legitimate, none Reliance on the law externalizes sources of moral behavior — transforms design practice Professional codes rely on enforcement for their formative or prescriptive force. By claiming
can claim precedence as objective standards for resolving moral conflict (soft relativism, into a function of compliance with extrinsic standards rather than the outgrowth of intrinsic professional status based on expressed but unenforceable professional codes, designers risk
Taylor, 1991). virtues (Petrick & Quinn, 2000). placing themselves and the profession in moral jeopardy: free riders, reduced public trust and
Ontological Moral Dilemma – conflict over contradictory but worthy ends Many actions deemed legal can nonetheless be unethical or immoral. diminished social legitimacy.
1. contractual obligation to client (promise keeping, trustworthiness) Legal but not ethical – a question of appropriate standards. 1. Free riders:
2. desire to help sustain the environment (altruism, stewardship) It is not illegal to exhort children to influence their parents’ purchasing decisions. Designers who benefit from but choose to ignore standards embodied
Procedural Moral Dilemma – We agree that human flourishing requires distributive However, this action prompts ethical questions: in a professional code diminish not only their peers moral commitment
justice but we disagree over the means to achieve this end. 1. Is design, advertising or other persuasive forms of marketing that to the code but also the profession’s community standing.
1. (Neo)liberal belief in the free market system as the most efficient target children exploiting their natural gullibility? 2. Reduced public trust:
means for equitable distribution among self-interested contractarians 2. Is this exploitation denying or abridging the ‘right’ to pursue their Without enforceable vocational qualifications, design ‘membership’ is
encourages market participation. own best ends? voluntary and accompanying lax standards could erode public trust.
2. Progressive belief in the inherently unfair nature of the market compels 3. How should these actions be judged in a world where childhood 3. Diminished social legitimacy:
action to restrain capitalistic forms of goods distribution or to remove obesity and soft drink consumption correlate and where teens murder Without intrinsic enforcement of public facing professional code stan-
design practice from the market domain. each other for their branded sneakers? dards, designers remain subject to extrinsic, self-serving market forces.
3 COMMON ETHICAL SYSTEMS | ACTION CEPHAD 2010 | DAN M ARKS D ESIG N SKO LE KEITH OWENS | ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR
January 26 –29, 2010 UNT College of Visual Arts + Design
Copenhagen, Denmark kowens@unt.edu

SHORTCOMINGS | RESPONSES

Axiomatic Incomplete Passive Questioning received wisdom Activate professional codes Synthesize law and morality
Through systematic effort and a willing- The ‘taken-as-given’ nature of These normalized ethical systems Perhaps more than others, these Rather than accepting the moral More than just a collection of Attempts to resolve discrepancies
ness to question accepted ethical systems these common types of ethical share the inability to effectively three systems have often been em- relativism that commonly arises rules, professional codes are the between legal and ethical behavior
and the conceptions upon which they are systems can insulate them from resolve ethical conflicts or deeper ployed to characterize ethical design out of tacitly conditioned ethical embodiment of their respective may not lie in a forced moral choice
built, designers can begin to produce the ‘everyday’ ethical discussions and moral dilemmas. This incomplete practice as passive rule following thinking, designers might evolve profession’s conception of the between seemingly dichotomous
understanding necessary to construct more render them resistant to close cri- capacity is evident when design- rather than active discernment and more coherent, robust ethical good and the burden its members values. Rather, designers could
reflexive groundings for ethical practice. tique. Normalized thus, they are ers appeal to one or more of decision making. Transforming models for practice by probing the are collectively willing to bear to first seek to understand that the
COMMON
The need is pressing. Design’s ability to seen by many designers as settled these systems when making diffi- purposeful, productive trajectories foundational first principles upon achieve that end. While design ap- law is home to multiple theories of
SHORTCOMINGS
shape and mediate an increasing artificial ethical positions upon which little cult moral choices: between con- through messy moral dilemmas into which such systems are grounded. pears to have adopted a particular justice: positive, natural, civic and
world should compel its practitioners to time need be spent or consider- flicting virtuous ends, about the circumscribed movements within POSSIBLE Explicitly questioning conceptions good – sustainability – its ability social. One or more of these theo-
illuminate and clarify the conceptual am- ation given. proper means to achieve agreed tidy safe zones – each guarded by R ES P O N S ES of personhood, authenticity, free- to further this good and thereby ries might readily parallel ethical
biguities shaping their reasoning about upon ends, when disagreeing over clearly defined but nonetheless eas- dom, justice, legal theories, and the claim legitimate professional sta- conceptions of justice – ‘allowing
responsible design. Because each of these proper standards for behavior ily avoidable moral ‘tripwires’. nature of the greater good. tus may ultimately hinge on the the external forum for just behavior, e.g.,
three ethical systems are party to common or judgement, and when volun- profession’s willingness to trans- courts of law to support rather than
shortcomings, any of these deficiencies can tary enforcement opens the door form their descriptive codes into compete with the internal forum, e.g.,
provide the starting point for possible to ethical ambiguity or reduced prescriptive ones, the turn begin- the court of conscience’ (Crawford and
responses. Examples of such responses public trust. ning when stringent membership Quinn, 1991).
are listed to the right. standards allow for disciplinary
and legal oversight.

INTENSITY OF DISCOURSE

TA C I T AWA R E N E S S S O U R C E O F J U S T I F I C AT I O N NORMALIZED WORLD VIEW

CONCEPTIONS TO AWARENESS TO ACTION D O M A I N | F O U N D AT I O N STRUCTURE CORE PRINCIPLES LOGICAL EXPRESSIONS BASIS FOR PRACTICE | ACTION

Liberal political tradition Freedom Freedom of self-government and the Economic freedom Pursue economic wellbeing by participa-
(Mill, Locke, Rawls, Nozick) Procedural right to private political expression (e.g., Neoliberal – self-regulating market and tion in contemporary market system.
Utilitarianism Neutral preference expression by voting). ‘trickle down’ distribution of wealth Align practice with the private good of
Kantian Liberalism Freedom enjoyed within neutral frame- powering freedom to pursue private ends, market-focused clients.
work unconcerned with ultimate ends. (Hayek, Friedman, Chicago School, et al.).
New Right – a civic obligation to secure
PERSONHOOD
Liberty financial self-sufficiency (Heater, 1990).
Freedom from|to

Republican political tradition Freedom Freedom through communal political Economic Obligation Pursue a balance between market, state
(Aristotle Tocqueville, MacIntyre) Substantive activity and concern for public affairs. Welfare state as ‘middle way’ between and civil society, three organizing
Virtue Ethics Formative Freedom achieved through public centralized statist control and laissez-faire structures necessary to the wellbeing of
concern for and deliberations about the market capitalism. modern culture.
common good. Citizens – constituents rather than con- Align altruism and egoism by supporting
sumers of a political system – concern both public and private good through
themselves with the common sufficiency synthetic practice.
of society.