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Author Topic: Bitcoin Ethics Project - Ideas+Help?  (Read 1866 times)
Statical
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February 01, 2012, 06:38:38 AM
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Hey bitcointalk,

So I am currently in an ethics of technology class.  We were recently assigned a project where we get to present about a current technology topic of our choice.  I thought it would be a great way to talk about my bitcoin hobby and maybe get a few students in my class interested in it.  The problem is that my project has to focus on a moral/ethical question about the topic.  More specifically I have to analyze my chosen question using Kantian, Utilitarian, and Social Contract theories to come to a conclusion of the morality of either the actual resolution of the question posed by the topic or possible resolutions to the question posed by the topic.  I do get to talk about background information a little, but the bulk of the presentation has to revolve around those three ethical principles and how they break down my question. 

So I'm stumped as far as what my question should be.  Having it just be "are bitcoins ethical" seems to be way too broad and rather silly.  I ran it through in my head and applying the ethical principals to it makes little sense.   I think maybe it should be some sort of action as that would be easier to analyze.  Something like, "What if everyone used bitcoins?" or "what if bitcoins replaced ____". 

I have decent knowledge of BTC, but really only the technical side of it.  Clueless on much of the economics behind it. 

So any suggestions for a good ethics statement or question?
Any help is greatly appreciated.
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ForceField
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February 01, 2012, 08:42:11 PM
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Since it's for Ethics class, maybe something like

What would be the impact on ... if Bitcoins ...

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February 01, 2012, 08:47:00 PM
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Being able to buy anything, including drugs or weapons, a true free market provides using bitcoins is ethical ?

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February 01, 2012, 08:49:49 PM
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Being able to buy anything, including drugs or weapons, a true free market provides using bitcoins is ethical ?

You're able to buy those using any currency, does that make USD unethical too?

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February 01, 2012, 08:50:52 PM
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The ability to embed child pornography into the block chain and have thousands of nodes distribute it all over the internet is a fairly interesting one.
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February 01, 2012, 08:57:50 PM
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Being able to buy anything, including drugs or weapons, a true free market provides using bitcoins is ethical ?

You're able to buy those using any currency, does that make USD unethical too?

so it's a good question then... bitcoin is being bashed by a few congressman on that premise. could be redone by putting unethical in there

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February 01, 2012, 09:09:15 PM
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Maybe start with the question "Are Legal Tender Laws or Fiat Money Ethical?"

Define what money is...or could be.
Talk about ethics of a unrelated third party regulating or taking a profit out of the voluntary exchange between two others.
Spend time talking about the freedom and liberty that individuals ought to enjoy without nosey third parties interfering in private transactions.
Talk about Bitcoins as one possible solution and a useful currency once (or now) unethical legal tender laws are repealed.


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February 01, 2012, 10:16:54 PM
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I might use the CoiledCoin incident.

Kant: Luke's heart is in the right place, so it's justified, right?
Utility: Was the average person helped by the attack? Whose utility should Luke maximize?
Social contract: How much consent is required to use hashing power from pool members? What if it's for something that should/will benefit them?
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February 01, 2012, 10:55:32 PM
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Well I don't want to dive too deep into examining standard currencies.  Way over my head.

I was rethinking my original question "are bitcoins ethical?" which was hard to evaluate and realized just changing it to "is using bitcoins ethical?" makes it possible to apply the three principles.  Good idea? Or should I narrow it down to something like "using bitcoins to/for ______"?
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February 01, 2012, 11:05:32 PM
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Well, the no-brainer answer is to delve into the topic of drugs, guns, cartels, money-laundering, and tax-evasion.  Bitcoin is easier to use for these things than cash is without being detected.  For drugs and guns, you can order them online now (AFAIK, no place you can do that with USD without risking being tracked by authorities).  For cartels, I don't know.  For money-laundering, a person could deposit monies at one exchange, convert to Bitcoins, withdraw, deposit at another exchange, withdraw under a different identity.  For tax-evasion, do major transactions with other companies or persons within Bitcoin instead of USD.  Untraceable, and no one is the wiser if neither party tattles.

So, from a legal standpoint, I would discuss whether the use and promotion of the Bitcoin protocol implicates a person in assisting in these activities, or whether that might be a possible ruling in courtrooms in the future.  From an ethical standpoint, I would discuss whether the use and promotion of the Bitcoin protocol implies support of those activities.  Maybe try to find some similar parallel of implied support for unethical activities within other real-life activities.  For instance, supporting a musician by purchasing their music when they are using their money to support dog fighting rings (or something).
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February 01, 2012, 11:11:37 PM
 #11

Is it ethical to support a system/technology which makes it easier for some people to evade the law?

Conversely is it ethical for a nation to pass laws that restrict access to alternative currencies?
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February 01, 2012, 11:20:02 PM
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I'll just dump some ideas here, although I haven't thought about these thoroughly.

If everyone used Bitcoin, the game would go on, but the playground would be mostly leveled. Barrier of entry becomes very low, your legal status, citizenship, registered residence or where you actually live are no longer important. I am in a privileged position where I have access to most types of transactions (have a residence permit, bank account, credit card, paypal, etc.) and have a registered business where I live.

But I am aware of what I had to agree with to be able to be in this position, and wish I didn't have to. It is my personal obligation to support a system that lets everyone have access to unrestricted value transfer, because this is what I strove to attain. It is no different than my obligation to support systems that give everyone equal access to information. It used to be books, but now it's the Internet (and by necessity TOR/I2P/Freenet and such technologies, and maybe in the near future unregulated mesh networks). I guess this is tangentially Kantian.

My duties about what should be done with the information or value transfer comes after the fact that there should be such a system, by the mere fact that I myself need to be as free as possible to be able to conceive the biggest picture. It's a priori for me, so it should be for others. Furthermore, it would be very hard to form a judgement about an action if the will behind it is more restricted than I am. You can't judge that someone is poor because of attitude when there is a lack of economic reach. Along the same lines, you can, for instance, blame someone of ignorance when they are factually wrong, if there is an encyclopedia sitting on the shelf.

What I'm more interested in though, is what my actions should be once it's settled that it would be a good thing if everyone had unrestricted access to value transfer. For instance, how do I know if Bitcoin is the right choice? I imagine, from a Kantian perspective, I need to start using it the same way that I would be using it if it were the norm for all humanity. A utilitarian would maybe rather prefer promoting it first.
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February 01, 2012, 11:44:11 PM
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Well, the no-brainer answer is to delve into the topic of drugs, guns, cartels, money-laundering, and tax-evasion.  Bitcoin is easier to use for these things than cash is without being detected.  For drugs and guns, you can order them online now (AFAIK, no place you can do that with USD without risking being tracked by authorities).  For cartels, I don't know.  For money-laundering, a person could deposit monies at one exchange, convert to Bitcoins, withdraw, deposit at another exchange, withdraw under a different identity.  For tax-evasion, do major transactions with other companies or persons within Bitcoin instead of USD.  Untraceable, and no one is the wiser if neither party tattles.

So, from a legal standpoint, I would discuss whether the use and promotion of the Bitcoin protocol implicates a person in assisting in these activities, or whether that might be a possible ruling in courtrooms in the future.  From an ethical standpoint, I would discuss whether the use and promotion of the Bitcoin protocol implies support of those activities.  Maybe try to find some similar parallel of implied support for unethical activities within other real-life activities.  For instance, supporting a musician by purchasing their music when they are using their money to support dog fighting rings (or something).

Aha! This is the direction I should go for.  I mean obviously using BTC for things like tax-evasion, drug dealing, and money laundering is wrong, but using that as my question makes for a very easy evaluation.  So that would be an easy way out.  Or I could go with your idea I was very impressed by, which is focusing on whether or not using promoting and using bitcoins supports these activities or not.  I hope the conclusion I come to says they don't support it if I pick that topic.  Thanks for the idea SgtSpike. 

Also, thanks memvola for giving me those perspectives.  You are absolutely right about about both your Kantian and utilitarian evaluations. 
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February 02, 2012, 04:46:11 AM
 #14

The ability to embed child pornography into the block chain and have thousands of nodes distribute it all over the internet is a fairly interesting one.

This would be Terrible , and morally wrong , Not to mention unethical

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February 02, 2012, 06:35:35 AM
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The ability to embed child pornography into the block chain and have thousands of nodes distribute it all over the internet is a fairly interesting one.

This would be Terrible , and morally wrong , Not to mention unethical

Exactly — and that's why we need to discuss it.
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