Criteria for Choosing Moral Exemplars

We take our draft criteria originally from criteria developed by Colby & Damon (1992) for a similar study. Colby and Damon looked for patterns in the moral development of persons in America who exemplified strong moral commitment and action. To find their moral exemplars, Colby and Damon created a preliminary list of criteria and recruited a panel of experts to review and modify the criteria. The criteria that emerged from the panel discussion were:

  1. A sustained commitment to moral ideals or principles that include a generalized respect for humanity, or sustained evidence of moral virtue.
  2. A disposition to act in accord with one's moral ideals or principles, implying also a consistency between one's actions and intentions and between the means and ends of one's actions.
  3. A willingness to risk one's self-interest for the sake of one's moral values.
  4. A tendency to be inspiring to others and thereby to move them to moral action.
  5. A sense of realistic humility about one's own importance relative to the world at large, implying a relative lack of concern for one's own ego.

In the last few years, my students and I have been laying the theoretical and methodological groundwork for the proposed study (Harmon & Huff, 2001). With advice from our own panel of computer scientists, ethicists, and social scientists we adapted Colby and Damon's (1992) moral exemplar criteria to be particularly applicable to computing. Our minimalist changes help to focus the criteria on computing professionals with long standing, active commitments to widely shared ethical and moral ideals. Our modified criteria for the computing profession changed items 1, 2, and 4 of the original list, and kept items 3 and 5 unmodified:

  1. Either a) a sustained commitment to moral ideals or ethical principles in computing that include a generalized respect for humanity, or b) sustained evidence of moral virtue in the practice of computing.
  2. A disposition to make computing decisions in accord with one's moral ideals or ethical principles, implying also a consistency between one's actions and intentions and between the means and ends of one's actions.
  3. A willingness to risk one's self-interest for the sake of one's moral values.
  4. A tendency to be inspiring to other computing professionals and thereby to move them to moral action.
  5. A sense of realistic humility about one's own importance relative to the world at large, implying a relative lack of concern for one's own ego.

One task for the European panel to do is to review these criteria and modify them so that they will be applicable in the cultures in which we will be donig the interviews.

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