You are an expert
security software programmer who works in top secret for the national
government of the country of Zulu. Late one afternoon, you come across
an ominous email in which you learn that a small group of sinister
government officials from Zulu plan – in exactly one hour – to unleash a
nuclear attack on the neighboring country of Delta. It happens that
this very same group of officials is at odds with the neighboring
country because of vastly different political and economic views. The
bottom line? You are aware that if this missile is launched, the event
will spawn World War III.
Because you are the only person in the country of Zulu who has
knowledge of the specific program code that will be used to trigger this
devastating missile launch, you alone are the one individual who has
the capacity to de-program the event — i.e., you could choose to cancel
the launch altogether, or you could otherwise divert the nuclear
missile to a neutral zone. In short, millions of innocent lives are now
in your hands.
However, you adhere strictly to duty ethics (referred to as a
“deontologist”). On the day that you assumed your role as a top-secret
national security programmer, you took a solemn oath swearing that you
would never intervene in any government action, no matter its
consequences. In short, your duty is limited to software programming —
and to programming alone. Indeed, your oath entails that you have an
explicit duty never to make a decision that extends beyond your software
programming role. Moreover, you are sworn never to discuss your
programs with any other human being – except for communication that may
be required with a limited number of superiors. On any given day, these
few superiors of yours are easily found somewhere in the building. But
alas! On this day, you are unable to find even one superior for advice
(are they perhaps bound and gagged somewhere in this massive
What would a strict deontologist do? Why?
To whom or to what is your duty? This is not an easy question…but it is also what makes duty ethics so much fun!
What would Immanuel Kant’s “Categorical Imperative” suggest you do here?
In this situation, would duty ethics be at odds with the thinking of Immanuel Kant? Explain.