Learning Analytics and Ethics: A Framework beyond Utilitarianism

James E. Willis, III, Foundations of Creativity, Sept 02, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This is an unfortunately superficial treatment of ethics as it relates to big data analysis. The title itself ("Beyond utilitarianism...") treats an entire family of theories as though they were one - but there is a world of difference between (say) act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism (it's like the author never read Mill on the subject). Moreover, the breakdown of approaches to ethics into utopian, ambiguous and nihilist departs from standard classifications of ethical approaches (and tends in all instances to focus on ethics as an axiomatic or systematic enterprise, which is only one aspect of ethics). Finally, even the presentation of positions ("so-called big data") seems to have its own agenda. Even the image - the scales of justice - is wrong for a treatment of ethics. I recommend people attempting to treat ethical questions in this field get a good grounding in introductory ethics - I personally would recommend Feldman, or maybe this online source - and then try again. Related: AAUP Statement of Professional Ethics.

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