Ethics of IT related piracy: An exploration of cognitive moral philosophies

AUTHOR
Nivedita Debnath and Dr Kanika T Bhal

ABSTRACT

The theory of cultural lag postulates that material culture like technology changes very fast however the non-material culture like social norms and values take much longer to change. Information technology too has given us the advantages of speed, time and accessibility at a level which was inconceivable till very recently, however the concomitant social and ethical issues of piracy, intrusion of privacy and accuracy too have become increasingly significant, which need to be addressed both at the level of laws and social norms. With the introduction and use of technology are sought to be resolved through old paradigms, which applied to the older social order. Since these paradigms often are not generic they fail to address the typical issues. In these situations understanding how individuals construe the reality in their minds helps us in not only understanding how they would behave, it also helps in the evolution of subsequent social norms.

Piracy in the workplace is one of major ethical issues that have arisen in the context of IT usage. The ease of copying has made the issue of piracy very prominent in the current society. In this paper we first explore whether people perceived doing piracy as ethical or not. Since the personal norms and cognitive maps are important, we next explore the personal norms (mental frameworks) that people use for their perception of ethicality. Kohlberg’s model (1981) of cognitive development tested over the last 30 years emphasizes the cognitive development or reasoning aspect of moral decision -making. It addresses how the cognitive processes of moral decision-making become more complex with development. The emphasis here is on the cognitive decision-making processes, the reasons an individual uses to justify a moral choice, rather than the decision itself (e.g., the outcome). Kohlberg proposed that people go through stages of moral development, and naturally the stage of moral development will influence his decision-making process. His framework provides three broad levels of cognitive moral development; each composed of two stages. Moral development involves the individual’s passage from stage to stage in an invariant irreversible sequence. The profile of an individual represent a dominant stage the person is in, a stage the person is leaving, and a stage he or she is moving into. Though this process the individual develops a personal philosophy.

The various cognitive logics can be mapped on Kohlberg’s stages of moral development by looking at the content of the logics. If the moral logic corresponds with the normative principles the individual is at the principled level, however if logics of self-interest and other defense mechanisms (like neutralization, negation etc) are used they represent lower levels of moral logics. Though Kohlberg and others have used the level to explain moral development of an individual it is possible that certain situations (issues) might either reflect use of different moral principles while making ethical decisions. It is also possible that the situations under enquiry are amenable to various interpretations of principles. Thus, we build in a possibility of the situation under condition determining the use of cognitive logics as well. The major thrust of the research on cognitive logics has been identifying normative logics, taken from philosophy and /or existing psychological defense mechanism while identifying the predominant moral logic. The research has been done through a positivist approach wherein the individual chooses from a given set of philosophies. This methodology is useful when applied to traditional issues, which have clear normative principles, however if we use the existing frameworks we are less likely to explore the unique connotations of ethical issues that a new situation brings in.

In this paper we first explore whether people perceived software piracy as ethical or not. Since the personal norms and cognitive maps are important, we next explore the personal norms (mental frameworks) that people use for their perception of ethicality. Thus, this paper reports the findings of in depth interviews conducted to find out whether people perceive the situation of piracy as ethical or not, and the logic or personal norms that they use for their perceptions. For this purpose data has been collected through in depth interviews of 38 software professionals, from 6 different IT organizations based in North, South and West region of India. Out of 38 respondents 29 were male and only 9 respondents were female. Mostly the respondents were in the age group of 25-30 years. The paper would identify the personal norms of the people and their construction of reality. The paper reports the findings of these interviews conducted to find out whether people perceive piracy in the workplace as ethical or not, and the logic or personal norms that they use for their perceptions. Interviews have been analyzed using grounded theory. Grounded theory “is a qualitative method that inductively discovered by careful collection and analysis of qualitative empirical data. This methods does not being with theory, and then seek proof. Instead, it begins with an area of study and allows theory to emerge from that area of study” (Strauss and Corbin, 1990 p23). The theory that is literally grounded in the data, but is not the data itself (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). Since the interviews are open ended they are likely to get insight into the people’s mental models/personal norms instead of imposing the current models.

Interestingly, besides using the normative principles for ethical decision making individuals use psychological defense mechanism too as guiding philosophies. Results have implications for future research and practice.

REFERENCES

Glaser, B. and Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory – strategies for qualitative research. London: Weiderfeld and Nicolson.

Kohlberg, L. (1981). The Philosophy of Moral Development. San Francisco: CA, Harper and Row.

Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1990). Basic of qualitative research techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. California: Sage.

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