Should cyber ethics education be based on utilitarian or deontological foundations or both?

Normative ethics and intellectual property

Ethics Education

There seems to be a certain consensus that there is a “moral crisis” in American schools relating to applications of information

technology. The crisis revolves around how students are treating so-called “intellectual property” and the widespread perception that

the ethics governing intellectual property are different from those applying to other kinds of property such as physical objects.

Authoritioes, on the other hand, argue that property is just property and ought to be subject to the same protections across the

board; thus “stealing” a song or an article online is pretty much the same as stealing bread or sneaking into the circus. This isn’t just

an academic question; it has enormous financial and social implications, and as information technology becomes ever more

pervasive, the question becomes one that we all live with every day.

The first step is to become familiar with some working vocabulary. We have prepared a brief “lecture” about how the terms

“utilitarian” and “deontological” are applied to ethical premises. Please read this lecture carefully, since it will form the basis of all the

modules in this course. It’s essential that you have this conceptual structure clearly in mind before leaping out into the wide world of

ethical reasoning:

Gold, S.J. (2010). Normative ethics: A lecture on utilitarian and deontological reasoning. Unpublished working paper, Trident

University. Available here.

Now here are two discussions of how these issues of intellectual property access and management ought to be taught in schools:

Mintz, S. (2011). Cyber ethics education is a must in today’s environment. Ethics Sage. Retrieved from

Starr, L. (2011). Tools for teaching cyber ethics. EducationWorld. Retrieved from


Collin, C. (2011, November 15). Cyber command presses for more cyberwar authority. AOL Defense. Retrieved from

When you’ve explored as many aspects of these issues as you can (perhaps involving your own research on the Internet), you are to

write a short paper on the question:

Should cyber ethics education be based on utilitarian or deontological foundations or both?

In coming to your conclusions, you should review how each approach might treat the general question of the morality of file sharing.


Your paper should be between three and five pages. Take a definite stand on the issues, and develop your supporting argument

carefully. Using material from the background information and any other sources you can find to support specific points in your

argument is highly recommended; try to avoid making assertions for which you can find no support other than your own opinion.

Make sure to spell out the utilitarian and deontological considerations involved, and distinguish between them.

Be sure to provide proper citations for any material you reference from other sources! Please be guided by the TUI Guidelines cited in

the background information for help in structuring and developing your paper. See also the Purdue University Guide if you are unsure

as to how proper citations work.

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