Analyzing codes of ethics

Updated 3/12/18

A code of ethics is

Rule(s) for ethical conduct

Code of ethics
Ethical code


Codes of ethics are all around us

  • The ACM has one of its own
  • Almost any profession has one!
    • If you can think of a profession . . .
      • . . . it probably has a code of ethics
    • We could try a few now
  • There are informal codes of ethics too




Here is a very short ethical code:


Is this code of ethics

. . .Deontologically based?

. . .Consequentialism based?

. . .Virtue ethics based?

. . . . . .Character traits are key

. . . . . .Character traits make you ethical or not

. . . . . . . . .Aristotle, Confucius, Hume . . .

. . . . . .What character trait(s) might work in this example?


How could we redesign this code of ethics to be



Humean virtue based (benevolent)?


Ethical codes can be influenced by

  • Virtue ethics
    • (e.g. Aristotle, Confucius, Hume)
    • – universally admired values
  • Consequentialism
    • – ethical if result is good, otherwise not
  • Deontology
    • – ethical if rule is followed regardless of result
  • Law or other required rules that are not ethics based




Two major theories of law as it relates to ethics

Ref: A. Marmor,

       “The Nature of Law”,

       The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Laws can be legitimate or not (obviously?)

Why is a law legitimate (or not)?





Two theories about how a law can be legitimate:

1. “Legal Positivism” theory

Legitimate laws reflect socially defined rules

2. “Natural Law” theory


Laws should meet ethical standards

St. Augustine:

  “lex iniusta non est lex”

             Can you guess any words?


Each part of an ethical code (and the whole code) can be analyzed

  • Which types of ethics explains it?
  • How could the same thing be coded using a different type?
  • Which works better?
  • How can you tell?

Let’s analyze another example . . .

The Eastern Kentucky University Code of Ethics for Computing and Communications

Here’s an important case . . .

The IEEE/ACM Software Engineering Code of Ethics

        Joint IEEE Computer Society / ACM Software Engineering Code of Ethics

Professional organizations usually have ethical codes

  • If you are a member,
    • you are supposed to adhere to it

IEEE, ACM, etc., all have ethical codes


(Posted next to CS office)

  • Typical behaviors covered are:
    • Truthfulness
    • Integrity
    • Impartiality
    • Respect for clients/colleagues/others
    • Adherence to law of the land
    • Confidentiality
    • Responsibility

ACM Code of Ethics

IEEE Code of Ethics

Tennis Coaches’ Code of Ethics

Boyfriend Code of Ethics?