“Don’t Be Evil”: Ethics and the Model

By Torben Berns.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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“In 2006, when Google declared their self-censorship move into China, their ‘Don't be evil’ motto was somewhat replaced with an ‘evil scale’ balancing system, allowing smaller evils for a greater good, as explained by CEO Eric Schmidt at the time.”

It should be a truism that one cannot prepare oneself, one’s family nor one’s society for any particular situation simply by repeating a set of “values” or mantras—no matter how many of those mantras one is in possession of. In effect those mantras, commandments, laws, or at worst, cliches, can only be guideposts to thinking—theories—which at every instance they are put to the test must rely on the in situ, ethical judgments and actions of those concerned. Aristotle identified this ability to spontaneously judge and act correctly as φρόνησις, and observed, that phronēsis, like ethics, could not be taught. It was only experience with lived situations that taught us how to think — itself a technique — but we were never absolved from the responsibility to continually think anew and for ourselves what is appropriate. The importance here for us is the simple observation that thinking is linked more closely to action (and by default, also to techne) than it is to theoretical encoding (speech or writing). This paper follows through these observations with regard to considering anew the role of engineering in the expanded field of computationally assisted empirical observation. The mode in which our scientific models function, to the degree that they are entirely underwritten and indeed perform as technical models, is scaled to carefully consider science as action—as opposed to observation — and to thus propose a “political” understanding of technical knowledge that is ethical and projective by virtue of its reconfiguration of technique with respect to theoretical knowledge and the given.

Keywords: Phronesis, Model, Ethics, Techne, Theoretical Knowledge, Empirical Knowledge

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp.153-158. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 935.244KB).

Dr. Torben Berns

Visiting Professor, School of Architecture, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

I teach contemporary theory in architecture with a focus on media and mediation. My research is primarily concerned with the architectural model as a means of building and elaborating the sensus communis. I am particularly interested in the relation between space inhabitation and virtual communities. I am currently the Planetary Society Visiting Professor of Architecture at McGill University School of Architecture.