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Ethics of Digital Technologies


Course description (Elective)

This elective course is intended to give students the opportunity to further develop their knowledge and understanding of ethical issues that may arise when operating as a legal professional in the domain of digital technologies. How transparent are you as a company when it comes to the processing of data? Should there be a –moral- duty to ensure that society also benefits from data analysis? How “open” are open data? What are the necessary conditions to be acknowledged as a trustworthy actor in the realm of digital technologies? As technologies may disrupt established practices across different domains (private, governmental, and public) and bring forth unintended consequences that cannot always be adequately addressed by traditional regulation, students will be trained in identifying and mitigating these ethical dilemmas.

Underpinned by theories in the field of ethics, philosophy of technology, and sociology, students will develop strategies to take into account and balance interests of different stakeholders and the society at large. They will be able to present their ethical assessment in a policy advice, adding an extra and highly needed dimension to their legal analysis. The aim of this course is two-sided: (1) to thoroughly familiarize the students with ethical theory and (2) to develop the necessary skills to bring this theory into practice by constructively discussing these dilemmas and drafting a policy advise to address possible measures and solutions.

The learning method is first and foremost interactive. Theoretical knowledge is always presented in relation to ethical cases that will be analysed by the students. Specific attention will be paid to different cultural elements and approaches to mitigate ethical issues. Students are explicitly asked to bring in their own knowledge and expertise in order to develop a multifaceted ethical assessment.

The following subjects are considered: the dominant ethical theories, ethics of technology, the relation between law and ethics, techno-moral values, stakeholder models, and the ethical matrix.

Literature: As the field of ethics and technology is continuously evolving, there is no one excellent book in English covering all the course material. A course reader will be available to students on Blackboard. Every year, the course coordinator, to provide students with state-of-the art research on the subject, will update this reader. The reader will contain amongst other the following key (excerpts of) works and articles:

  • Vallor, S. Technology and the Virtues. A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
    -Richards, N.M. and J.H. King, Big data ethics. Wake Forest Law Review, 2014. 49: p. 393-432.
    -Swierstra, T. and K. Waelbers, Designing a Good Life: A Matrix for the Technological Mediation of Morality. Science and Engineering Ethics, 2012. 18(1): p. 157-172.
    -Verbeek, P.-P., Moralizing technology: Understanding and designing the morality of things. 2011, Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press. ix, 183 p.
    -Keymolen, E., Trust on the line. A philosophical exploration of trust in the networked era. 2016, Amsterdam: Wolf Legal Publisher.

Course requirement

Master Degree

Assessment method

  • Written exam (50%)

  • Policy Advice (50%)