258: Design Ethics with Robyn Kanner and Mike Monteiro

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We’ve got Robyn Kanner and Mike Monteiro on the show to talk about ethics in design. When and, more importantly, how should you stand up to a manager when they tell you to design something in a way that feels wrong? Where do ethics and morals collide and how do we navigate that?


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  • Brian Holda

    Very thought-provoking episode, though I have difference of opinions/convictions on some things thrown out there. One thing that seemed particularly odd to me was the assumption by all 4 of you that a “universal” ethic is to not harm or kill another life. However, there’s a sizeable segment of society that feels very convinced it is their “God-given duty” to kill others (that being Islamic terrorists). There’s an even larger number of people who feel OK about abortion (which, by definition would be harming another life). There are also a lot of people who are OK about euthanasia (which, by definition, brings harm to another life–right?). You also have people who feel like there is such thing as a “just war” (which would bring harm to other lives). And you have those who, in the name of scientific progress, would be quite alright with killing off weaker members of society, since this is one of the basic tenets of evolution (Hitler’s thinking was influenced along these lines). So, to me, it seems obvious that even the “basic” statement that harming/killing another is unethical is not, by definition, universally held–or am I missing something here?

    I think that, instead of looking for ethics that are shared by all segments of society (because there are none), we would be on better ground to appeal to a “moral law” that is over human feelings and experiences. For instance, if we all lived in the time when slavery was legal in America, what appeal could we have for why slavery is wrong? We can’t say that all segments of society feel or experience it as wrong, since a lot of people saw it as justifiable. Instead, we need a “moral law” that transcends the opinions and feelings of people. I’d vote for the Bible as the best basis for this moral law. It was the conviction that the Bible is our best moral law that led people to revolt against slavery (yes, slave owners also appealed to the Bible for justification of their slavery, but it was a disingenuous interpretation of the text that did not account for the entirety of the Bible’s teaching on the subject…in other words, they “picked” and “chose” what suited them from the Bible, ignoring the rest of it). And it was the conviction that the Bible is our best moral law that led to a lot of the genius behind architecting the laws and government in this land from the founding fathers.

    I’m open to other suggestions, if people think there are problems with the Bible or that there is a better source for a transcending “moral law”. But I do think there are some major issues with appealing to universal “ethics” shared by all segments of society (as pointed out above)–namely, that such “ethics” don’t exist in reality.