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For ethical reflection, establish a clear technical foundation

Chuck Huff (Department of Psychology, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 4 September 2019

Issue publication date: 17 September 2019




This viewpoint aims to highlight the necessarily technical nature of ethics in software development, propose a label (ethical bypassing) for ethical analysis that does not lead to ethical action and introduce a philosophical foundation for technical analysis that leads to ethical software development.


The methodological approach is one of technical analysis that is aware of social science and philosophical knowledge bases.


The findings establish a clear technical foundation that is crucial to ethical analysis that will actually inform software development.

Research limitations/implications

The idea that beginning with technical expertise is the best way to begin ethical reflection on a technical implementation has been often suggested, but not really empircally tested. Research using cases or other qualitative approaches would need to be done to add credibility to the claim.

Practical implications

This approach suggests that collaboration between technically informed ethicists and ethically informed technical experts should begin with the exploration of the technical questions rather than with ethical speculation.

Social implications

A common approach to ethical education is to concentrate on ethical theory and its application in technical contexts. This approach suggests that this may lead to ethical bypassing by the student, the avoidance of the making technical decisions by extensive ethical reflection.


This paper introduces a new term, ethical bypassing, to the literature on the ethics of software development.



Huff, C. (2019), "For ethical reflection, establish a clear technical foundation", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 292-294.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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