Rhetoric, Technology, and the Virtues

(Reminder of community rules: let’s keep it calm, agreeing with the book’s authors or not)

It’s a book found while googling “Viki Discussions,” whose topic is ethics in technology and takes Viki as an example.

Authors: Jared S. Colton, Steve Holmes
Published in Utah State University Press in 2018.

2 main ideas that my friend on Viki and I discussed longer after reading snippets:

  1. Own motivation that leads to contribute. Is contributing ethical? Is any way of contributing ethical?

Excerpt from the Intro (p 4)

-"What working definition of ethics enables us to identify such a practice as an ethical good?

Do we locate ethics within the individual moral motive of the captioners (and I would add volunteers in general)?

Is it that a Viki user follows a correct a priori moral principle that is universal and unchanging for all time?
Is it the greater good that makes these practices ethical? Is it care for the deaf and heard-of-hearing communities, the Other? (=> Who is the Other on Viki? Who is included and who is excluded? Does each Viki user share the same Other definition in his mind?)

-Furthermore, Viki is a complex ethical situation because not all its users are supporting a single ethical good, such as helping to create access for the deaf or hard-of-hearing community. A quick survey of Viki’s community forum conversations reveals a wide range of value-driven rhetorical motives and purposes:

1/ Global universty or high-school students who enjoy practicing translation into a nonnative language;

2/ Fans who enjoy sharing cultural programs across cultures ([…] Viki strongly appeals to television fan culture: “All subtitles are created by fans like you!” => not true anymore. Do we define ethical by the way it is done and/or by the goal sought? Does the ethical value decrease depending on the way it is done? Is the same service provided?)

3/ Individuals who simply enjoy being part of this particular community (they derive value out of the community interactions and not necessarily the specific practices of the community);

4/ Deaf and able-bodied users seeking to increase accessibility;

5/ Users incentivized to receive premium content in exchange for their actions (because Viki employs gamification, some users may be motivated by a spirit of competition => We’d add that indeed, there’s a discussion of game, ranks, badges, prizes and competition on Viki. That thought of escalation and seeing numbers as an evolution. That could also be linked to capitalism with levels and games like Monopoly or even games where we have to harvest crops or collect money to level up.);

6/ Users taking part in numerous discussion forums devoted to a wide range of often heated criticism and debate about the quality of different programs’ genres, which programs are more important to caption (I’d add segment, subtitle, edit), and certain actors (the book refers to one discussion “The Perverts’ Club”);

7/ Users making ethical decisions entirely unrelated to captioning about how to respond to one another during live chats and timed comments in communal viewing sessions of a particular television program.

This list is hardly exhaustive. Any discussion of ethical practices in digital platforms such as Viki also now must consider James J. Brown’s claim in his book “Ethical Programs” that not all ethical decisions in a networked space are even made by humans. He provocatively suggests that software carries its own forms of ethical decision making (Brown 2015)."
(=> does Viki have its own form of ethics, knowing that ethics are not imposed by rules, laws or someone?)

2. Utilitarianism & Aristotle vs. Deontology & Kant (ethics in all domains):

Utilitarianism (p 22) and Aristotle:

"It’s a branch of normative ethical thought.
An action can be considered good or right only if the consequence is beneficial or useful to a majority. (=> We can ask ourselves the question of the Other. Who is it? Is the majority?)
It seeks to assess the outcomes and effects of a given action in order to determine ethical values.
For example, an utilitarian may justify an act of lying if that act benefits the greater good.
The philosophical foundation of capitalism is utilitarian in spirit, presupposing that individuals are best at defining their own needs, desires, or goals and that granting individuals the freedom to make their own choices (even if selfish) results in the greatest possible satisfaction for the majority of people. Once can also observe U. in cost/benefit-analysis business models, in which the costs of a given action are weighed against the benefits it may achieve.

My friend talks about Aristotle’s philosophy that looks like U: it’s the end contemplated that makes the ethical value of a behavior => the goodness it brings.(=> what is Good/Bad according to whom? Are ethics about Good/Bad?)

To put it simply, U. is most often framed simply as “the ends justify the means,” in which the means are justified if the end is deemed the greater good."

On the other side, the book cites criticism about this U.
“There are many circumstances under which U. would unfairly distribute fewer resources to people with disabilities than to nondisabled people on the grounds that people with disabilities would derive less benefit from those resources or that the good of the majority would outweigh the needs of the seemingly smaller population of people with disabilities.”

Ex: failing to caption videos on educational modules for MIT and Harvard => it may require universities to invest substantially in IT departements, thereby begging the question of utility given the relatively small or nonexistent percentages of deaf or hard-of-hearing students in any given classroom. It is not clear how U. would describe the cost as worthy of the ends it achieves for a variety of audiences."

=> (Again, what is good/bad according to whom?)

Deontology (p 25) and Kant (fairness):

On the other hand, we have deontology’s approach that we oppose to utilitarianism’s approach.
Kant: “Act so that you treat humaniry, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.”

We don’t look at the consequences of our actions, but we look at the fairness of an action for anyone.

Ex: Human rights, there’s an universal dimension and not analyzing case by case in deontology.

Ex: abortion.

  • with U: analyzing first case by case, the greater good, the end and it would be allowed on some cases.
  • with D: it’s not the same question. The question would be “Is it about freedom, rights?”
    Abortion would be universally allowed because it’s a freedom for anyone.

On Viki, what will define the way we contribute (alone, in small team, in big team, with contributors ABC, recruiting, editing, subtitling, segmenting) is (non-exhaustive):

  • experience
  • beliefs
  • self-motivation (cf. 1)
  • ethics’ approach (cf. 2) : utilitarianism (the ends justifies the means) vs. deontology (fairness).

And it’s often what I saw on Viki as a source of divergence between contributors on one hand who adopt Aristotle’s approach (utilitarianism) in decision making, and on the other hand, others who adopt Kant’s approach (deontology) in decision making.

The authors’ research was top!