Moral luck and computer ethics: Gauguin in cyberspace

David Horner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


I argue that the problem of ‘moral luck’ is an unjustly neglected topic within Computer Ethics. This is unfortunate given that the very nature of computer technology, its ‘logical malleability’, leads to ever greater levels of complexity, unreliability and uncertainty. The ever widening contexts of application in turn lead to greater scope for the operation of chance and the phenomenon of moral luck. Moral luck bears down most heavily on notions of professional responsibility, the identification and attribution of responsibility. It is immunity from luck that conventionally marks out moral value from other kinds of values such as instrumental, technical, and use value. The paper describes the nature of moral luck and its erosion of the scope of responsibility and agency. Moral luck poses a challenge to the kinds of theoretical approaches often deployed in Computer Ethics when analyzing moral questions arising from the design and implementation of information and communication technologies. The paper considers the impact on consequentialism; virtue ethics; and duty ethics. In addressing cases of moral luck within Computer Ethics, I argue that it is important to recognise the ways in which different types of moral systems are vulnerable, or resistant, to moral luck. Different resolutions are possible depending on the moral framework adopted. Equally, resolution of cases will depend on fundamental moral assumptions. The problem of moral luck in Computer Ethics should prompt us to new ways of looking at risk, accountability and responsibility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-312
Number of pages14
JournalEthics and Information Technology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2010

Bibliographical note

Romeo green journal, can archive pre or post print, not publishers version


  • Computer ethics
  • Consequentialism
  • Deontology
  • Moral luck
  • Professional ethics
  • Responsibility
  • Risk
  • Software testing
  • Value
  • Virtue ethics
  • Images


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