Finally, we have seen that some modern Western ethical frameworks contrast starkly with their non-Western counterparts. Aristotle’s virtue ethics, however, resonates with similar emphases on becoming an excellent or exemplary human being as a focus of one’s life that are found in a number of philosophical and religious traditions around the world, including Buddhism and Confucian thought. We will explore this more fully below.
Virtue ethics: sample applications to digital media An initial way of applying a virtue ethics to digital media, as noted in the previous chapter, is to ask the question: what sort of person do I want/need to become to be content – not simply in the immediate present, but across the course of my entire (I hope, long) life? Along these lines: what sorts of habits should I cultivate in my behaviors that will lead to fostering my reason (both theoretical and practical) and thereby lead to greater harmony in myself and with others, including the larger natural (and, for religious folk, supernatural) orders?
As part of its resurgence in the contemporary West, virtue ethics has found wide application, beginning with such increasingly urgent topics as designing ethics for robot. Most broadly, Julie Cohen draws on the work of virtue ethicist Martha Nussbaum and communitarian political philosopher Amartya Sen vis-à-vis a range of issues facing contemporary users of digital media, including copyright and privacy. Most remarkably, virtue ethics, coupled with deontology, has become central in ICT design broadly. Examples here include James Hughes’s Buddhist approach to “Compassionate AI and Selfless Robots” and Sarah Spiekermann’s foundational textbook for “eudaimonic” ICT design. More specifically, within
the European Union, central philosophical and policy-related documents take up the language of flourishing and well-being (eudaimonia). So Floridi et al. appeal to human dignity (as resting on explicitly Kantian notions of autonomy) and flourishing as the key ethical pillars of their ethical roadmap for moving toward “a Good AI Society” (2–3). In particular, “self-realisation” is a primary capacity to be preserved and enhanced by AI: their definition is instantly recognizable from virtue ethics – namely, “the ability for people to flourish in terms of their own characteristics, interests, potential abilities or skills, aspirations, and life projects”