When Unreason Masquerades as Reason: Can Law Regulate Trade and Networked Communication Ethically?

THE HANDBOOK OF COMMUNICATION ETHICS, pp. 475-493, George Cheney, Steven May and Debashish Munshi, eds., New York, USA; Oxon, UK: Routledge 2011

U. of Westminster School of Law Research Paper No. 11-11

35 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2011


Typically, critical approaches to ethical issues in trade and networked communication view the ethical dilemmas arising from trade and networked communication through the prism of moral philosophy, and seek solutions to ethical problems by using regulatory mechanisms of law, domestic and international. This approach entails a movement from critical engagement with what is to what ought to be, using Law as the mechanism to realise what ought to be. The is/ought axis for examining ethical regulation of networked communication and trade invites us to save communication technology, trade, and ethics by harmonising the three. What if the very natures of communication technologies, trade, and regulation make harmonization impossible? What if their very existence is contingent on disharmony between the three? This essay attempts to bring together meta and micro level analyses with a view to going beyond familiar conundrums and to interrogate a more fundamental tension that underpins the paradigm crisis of our times: the nature of ontological reality and our discourses about the world.

The chapter argues that one consequence of disciplines, each with their distinctive normative codes, and the assumptions one discipline makes about others, is that, a disjuncture has developed between theoretical and philosophical inquiries in communication ethics on the one hand and applied communication ethics at the user end, on the other.

The ramifications of disciplinary knowledge, the disciplinary assumptions about the premises of trade/economy, law/ethics, technology/society, are examined along three trajectories. First is the trajectory of human relationship with Nature, the subject matter of Science, a trajectory that has presented us with cybernetics, and with the communication technologies used for trade. This relationship is examined in Section 2 through the life and work of Nobert Weiner the father of cybernetics and campaigner for ethics in Science. Cyber technologies take ethics beyond norms that govern relations between people to norms that govern relations between humans and machines and between machines.

In a social context where scientific and technological innovations are led by militarism is it possible to exclude its social ramification when considering regulation of the economy? The question brings us to the second trajectory: “The Economy” as a distinct social sphere with distinctive institutions that make it a hypostatised entity in capitalist societies. The institutional dimensions of monopoly-finance capitalism take ethics beyond relations between human beings and involve regulating relations between human beings and organisations, and between organisations, issues explored in Section 3 using the case of INTELSAT. The case invites us to reconsider methodological assumptions in social sciences about recurrence of events and precedents as the basis for evaluative judgments about norms.

The third trajectory concerns human purpose entailed in ethical judgments. Because of their specific character, the question that cyber technologies pose for ethics is this: can legal persons like incorporated entities make moral judgments and evaluate human purposes in the same way as natural persons? This question is examined in Section 4. The three trajectories can be pared down to the relationship between Science and Society. The way that relationship is studied in philosophy and theory is addressed in section 5 drawing insights from Science, Technology and Society studies in particular Bruno Latour, and communication theories, in particular Jurgen Habermas. Section 6 reflects on trade, ethics, and networked technology in the light of the arguments made in the preceding sections.

Keywords: communication, regulation, technology, trade, law, science and society, scientists, militarism, psychology, institutions, disciplines, assumptions in disciplines, communication ethics, Habermas, Latour, nature-society-human relations, economics-law-technology relations.

Suggested Citation

D'Souza, Radha, When Unreason Masquerades as Reason: Can Law Regulate Trade and Networked Communication Ethically?. THE HANDBOOK OF COMMUNICATION ETHICS, pp. 475-493, George Cheney, Steven May and Debashish Munshi, eds., New York, USA; Oxon, UK: Routledge 2011, U. of Westminster School of Law Research Paper No. 11-11, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1767911

Radha D'Souza (Contact Author)

University of Westminster ( email )

School of Law, University of Westminster
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London, W1W 7UW
United Kingdom
02079115000 x 2706 (Phone)

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