Moral Reasoning and Technology
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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MOBLEY, A. D., & DEETS, C.D. (2004). Moral Reasoning and Technology. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Moral Reasoning and Technology

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
The ever-growing movement of the ownership of personal computers in our homes has created a new model for moral reasoning for property, tangible verses intellectual. The purpose of this study is to explore peoples’ moral views of taking intellectual property verses taking traditional, tangible property. A questionnaire was administered to 164 college students. The questionnaire contained six short multiple-choice scenarios. A one-way repeated measures ANOVA was calculated comparing six different scenarios and their average stage of moral reasoning. The results of this study indicated that people think differently about traditional, tangible property verses intellectual property.

The ever-growing trend of personal computers has created a new model for property in which traditional property morals fail the needs of our society. Computer based property such as software and digital music can be stolen through quick and effortless replication. This problem has overwhelmed the computer industry for decades and symbolizes revenue loses of $2.7 billion in the United States and $11.4 billion world wide in 1999. Piracy is now to blame for astounding losses to the music industry as well, which reported similar losses in 1999 (Teston, 2001).Nearly half of adults and teens condone the copying of intellectual property and yet ironically contest theft of traditional, tangible property (Teston, 2001). Intellectual property is copyrighted works including literature, music, drama, pictures, graphics, sculpture, choreography, and computer programs, for which the creator alone enjoys exclusive title to reproduce, perform, distribute, and publicly display, in other words ideas owned by others. Tangible property is anything that can be touched that belongs to a person. In the current study, the following concepts need to be defined. Computer ethics is a category of behavior that addressed the social correctness of various types of computer use, generally including implications of artificial intelligence, invasion of individual privacy and corporate security, conduct codes and liability of computer professionals, ownership of computer programs, equitable public access to technology, and computer crime. Ethics is a set of moral principles or values; suggests the involvement of more difficult or subtle questions of rightness, fairness, or equity than general morality. A moral is describing principles of right and wrong in behavior that are guided by one’s conscience and judgment; behavior that is right and good (Teston, 2001). Gibbs, Basinger, and Fuller (1992) identified four stages of moral maturity for property and law, which are located in Appendix A: Unilateral and physicalistic, exchanging and instrumental, mutual and prosocial, and systemic and standard. These stages are based on the work of Gibbs’ mentor Lawrence Kohlberg. Stage one, unilateral and physicalistic, can be summarized as: if you do not obey the law, you will go to jail. Stage two, exchanging and instrumental, can be summarized as: someone worked hard for what you want to take and by taking it the other person will get hurt. Stage three, mutual and prosocial, can be summarized as: you wouldn’t take things because you would not want someone else to do it to you. Stage four, systemic and standard, can be summarized as: you would not take someone’s things because it does not belong to you and that it just would not be right. The purpose of this study is to explore peoples’ moral views of taking intellectual property verses taking traditional, tangible property.

ParticipantsA questionnaire was administered to 164 college students. The questionnaire can be located in Appendix B. The participants are enrolled at Missouri Western State College. The data was gathered from participants that were either taking Psychology 101 or 200.MaterialsA paper and pencil questionnaire was administered. The questionnaire contains six short multiple-choice scenarios. Scenarios number one and five were revised from Teston (2001) and the remaining four were created for this study by the investigators. Three additional questions pertaining to downloading music off of the Internet was also added, the investigators also created these questions. Biographical information was also included pertaining to the participants gender and age.ProcedureThe questionnaire was administered to students and asked to answer all questions completely and accurately to the best of their ability.

A one-way repeated measures ANOVA was calculated comparing six different scenarios and their average stage of moral reasoning (Unilateral/Physical, Exchanging/Instrumental, Mutual/Prosocial, and Systemic/ Standard). A significant effect was found (F(5,820) = 13.077, p < .001). Follow-up protected t tests revealed that scenario one was significantly different from scenarios two, three, and four. Scenario two was significantly different from scenarios three, four, five, and six. Scenario three was significantly different from scenario six. Scenario four was significantly different from scenario six. Refer to figure one for direction of differences. An independent-samples t test comparing the mean scores of the level of moral reasoning for scenario three for participants who thought downloading music off of the Internet was stealing and participants who thought downloading music off of the Internet was not stealing found a significant difference between the means of the two groups (t(163) = 3.236, p = .001). The mean level of moral reasoning of the participants who thought downloading music off the Internet was stealing was significantly higher (m = 2.5128, sd = 1.23271) than the mean of the participants who thought downloading music off the Internet was not stealing (m = 1.8730, sd = 1.02750).An independent-samples t test comparing the mean scores of the level of moral reasoning for scenario six for participants who thought downloading music off of the Internet was stealing and for participants who thought downloading music off of the Internet was not stealing. No significant difference was found (t(163) = 1.738, p = .084). The mean of the participants who thought downloading music off of the Internet was stealing (m = 2.5128, sd = .96986) was not significantly different from the mean of the participants who thought downloading music off of the Internet was not stealing (m = 2.1746, sd = 1.08870).

The results of this study indicated that people think differently about traditional, tangible property verses intellectual property. People tend to think of stealing tangible property (i.e. Drug) at a mutual and prosocial level of moral reasoning. People tend to think of stealing intellectual property using high technology (for example, from the internet) at an exchanging and instrumental level of moral reasoning, while people tend to think of stealing low technology intellectual property (for example, selling a mixed cassette tape) at an mutual and prosocial level of moral reasoning. One of the most interesting findings of this study is that when it comes to plagiarism (intellectual property) our participants thought about it at a higher level than any other type of the scenario given. People who thought that downloading music off the Internet was stealing thought of copying music from the Internet at a stage of moral reasoning much higher than people who thought that downloading music off the Internet was not stealing. However, people who thought that downloading music off the Internet was stealing did not think of selling a mix tape at a different level of moral reasoning than people who thought downloading music off the Internet was not stealing.If the problem of theft of computer based property, that Teston (2001) claims it to be then this problem needs to be stopped. Therefore, the approach of attempting to limit music piracy through stage one moral reasoning appeals, (e.g. you will go to jail if you do not do it) does seem to be the correct approach as appeals using higher levels of moral reasoning (e.g. your are stealing from the artist) will not work. Some limitations of this study could have been that the reason people thought of plagiarism (e.g. stealing a paper) at a higher level of moral reasoning, could have been that all of the participants of this study were college students. In addition, another limitation of this study could have been that the different scenarios or multiple-choice answers given may have not been as distinctive as they should have been. For future research, it would be interesting to see if age plays a role in people’s moral reasoning levels. It would also be interesting to do further research in this area of software piracy and use different scenarios that may be more distinctive to participants, where they could relate.

Gibbs, J., Basinger, K., & Fuller, D. (1992). Moral maturity: Measuring the Development of sociomoral reflection. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 111-113.Teston, G. III. (2002). A developmental perspective of computer and information technology ethics: Piracy of software and digital music by young adolescents. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences & Engineering, 62, 5815.

Stage 1. Unilateral and Physicalistic The law is there for you to follow. You should always obey the law and should never take other people’s things, which could cost a lot of money. Stealing is a bad thing to do, and you’re not nice if you steal. You should obey the law to be good. If you steal, then those people will steal your things. You will be found out and put in jail.Stage 2. Exchanging and Instrumental The laws will help you if you help them. If you don’t steal, others shouldn’t either. If you do break the law, you have to pay for it. Besides, you don’t want people to steal your things. No one wants to go to jail, even if it’s someone you like. Stealing gets you nowhere, and if you are caught you will get in trouble or may even get hurt. The person you steal from might get mad at you, because that person worked for and may need what you took.Stage 3. Mutual and Prosocial Then the world would be happier. After all, how would you feel if someone took your things? You would expect others not to steal from you, and you lose the trust of others if you steal from them. You should realize that people often work so hard and feel sentimentally attached to their property, and it causes a hardship when you steal something that means a lot to them. You can understand how the person would feel. Furthermore, the laws protect people, and it’s a matter of common decency not to steal. If there were no laws and everyone stole, the world would be crazy, the country would fall apart, and there would be chaos. We should work for and deserve our things, and it is selfish, dishonest, and despicable to take advantage of others. Earning money instead of just stealing gives you a sense of pride, that people can trust you. Remember, it will be on your mind if you steal.Stage 4. Systemic and Standard Laws make possible order in society. Without the agreement and scared trust represented by laws, there could be no organization, smooth functioning, or predictability. The law is for the common good and protects people’s rights, including the right to property. If stealing is widespread, there is no incentive for people to be productive or invest in things that help the quality of life for humanity. Besides, you have a responsibility to respect others’ right to property. This is one of the obligations that go along with the privileges of living in society. If you do steal, you have to be prepared to accept responsibility for your actions, especially since stealing violates God’s law as well as human law and the right of others. That way you wont violate your conscience and lose your self-respect and integrity. After all, we must have some system; people cannot break the law whenever they feel justified, because any theft can be rationalized. Nonetheless, laws cannot always be fair or appropriate for every particular circumstance; you have to judge each case individually. Sometimes, one must follow one’s own internal laws.

Instructions: Do not put your name on this packet. Please read each scenario carefully before answering. Pick the answer that most applies to you. After you have completed the survey, please turn packet face down in front of you and remain quiet until others are finished.

1) A woman in Europe is near death from a rare form of cancer. The doctors think that there is one drug that could potentially save her. A local pharmacist just recently discovered radium. The drug was very expensive to make and the pharmacist is charging ten times what the drug costs to make. For a small dose of the drug he pays $200 and charges other individuals purchasing the radium $2,000. The sick woman’s daughter Amanda went to everyone that she knew to try to raise money for the drug but could only come up with $1,000, half of the money. Amanda asked the pharmacist if he would sell it to her at a cheaper price or if she could pay him the $1,000 and pay the remaining $1,000 at a later date due to her mother’s brutal condition. The pharmacist said no, “I discovered the drug through hard work and will make the money from it.” Amanda became desperate and thought about breaking into the pharmacist’s drug store and stealing the drug for her mother. Amanda should not steal the drug because:

a) She could potentially get in trouble and go to jail.b) The doctor worked hard to make it and deserves the money from it.c) If it were Amanda’s she would not want someone to steal it from her.d) It does not belong to her, it belongs to the doctor and it’s just not right to take something that is not hers.

2) It’s six o’clock Thursday night and Michael has a paper due at eight o’clock Friday morning. He has been putting the paper off for two weeks and hasn’t even decided on a topic yet. He decides to go to the computer lab on campus to get started. He is worried that he will not get finished because this paper is 40% of his final grade. While sitting in the computer lab he notices Susie, she is also in his class. He overheard her talking about how she’s been done since last week and her paper, after making these last few adjustments, is perfect. She knows she will get an ‘A’. As Susie begins to put her things away before leaving, someone stops to talk to her. Michael notices that she sets her paper down and as she leaves forgets it on the table. Michael, upset because he still doesn’t have a topic, thinks about taking Susie’s paper and putting his name on it. He should not steal her paper because: a) It is Susie’s work, not his, and she might get upset when she realizes someone took it.b) Michael could get caught with Susie’s paper and get in trouble for plagiarism.c) It belongs to Susie and if Michael takes it, she won’t get credit for it.d) If Michael had written the paper, he would not want anyone to take his work.3) Derek’s mom recently bought him a new computer for his birthday. His computer has all of the perks even a CD/DVD burner. Yesterday Derek thought about downloading a program from the Internet called Shazam, with this program Derek could access the music that other people have on their computers, download it to his, and listen to it any time he wants to. Most of the songs that Derek has thought about downloading are songs that he does not have on the CD at his house. He doesn’t want to have to pay to buy a brand new CD that may only have one or two songs that he likes on it when he can make one himself that has 18 songs that he really likes. Derek should not download the program and then download songs from other people because:

a) It is illegal and he could go to jailb) The artists that wrote the songs will not get credit or the money from them because Derek got them for free.c) Derek would not want people stealing his music from him.d) It would not be right for Derek to take something that does not belong to him.

4) This is Billy’s third year of college. He knows from lots of experience how expensive books can be. This semester he is taking a 400 level Business course and the book costs $200. Billy has heard of others that have taken the course before say that it’s not worth paying the money for the book. He has also heard that that the book is needed for some of the readings and is needed for a big assignment that is worth a fourth of your grade. Billy’s friend Jane is also taking the course. Her books are cover by scholarships so she doesn’t have to pay for them. Jane suggests to Billy that he could just photocopy the pages from the book instead of buying them because it would be so much cheaper. Billy should not photocopy the pages because:

a) He would not want others to copy something the he could potentially make money from.b) It is against the law for Billy to photocopy the pages; he could get in serious trouble.c) The pages do not belong to Billy; Susie is the one that paid for the book.d) The author of the book would not get the credit for the use of the book.

5) Kyle is a student at Spring Garden Middle School. For several months Kyle has wanted a new game for his computer called “Race Quest”. Recently Kyle’s aunt purchased the game for him as a gift. He installed it on his computer and enjoys the game very much. Eli, one of Kyle’s friends, visited him over the weekend and while playing the game together decided that he really likes it too. Kyle has a CD burner on his computer that can copy the game so he can have his own copy and play it whenever he likes. Eli asks Kyle to make a copy of the game for him. Kyle should not copy the game for Eli because:

a) It’s illegal and Kyle could get in trouble and possibly go to jail.b) The creator will not get paid for Eli using the game.c) If Kyle wrote the game he would not want others to copy it and give it away for free.d) Eli did not pay for the game so he should be able to get it for free.

6) It is 1982; Roger has just purchased a brand new tape player/record player. A perk of the new stereo is that the tape player has a recorder to record other tape or records. Mike, Roger’s friend, asks him if he would make him a mixed tape of some of the other tapes and records that Roger has. Roger does so graciously. After Mike has listened to it, he makes the comment that the songs make a great mix and how his friend Greg said it was so good he would even pay to have one. This sparks a new idea. Mike should make more copies of the tape and sell them to make back the money that he paid for the stereo. Mike should not make and sell copies of the tapes because:

a) None of the songs really belong to him.b) If Roger sells them he will be cheating the artists that wrote the songs out of money that they rightfully deserve.c) If Roger does this and gets caught, he will go to jail.d) If it were the other way around, Roger would want the money from the tapes.

Please circle the answer that most applies to you for the following questions:

7. Have you ever downloaded music from the Internet? Yes No

8. How frequently do you download music? Never Sometimes Always

9. Do you feel that downloading music off of the Internet is stealing? Yes NoBiographical Information

10. Are you Male or Female? (Circle one)

11. How old are you? _________________

Figure 1

Submitted 5/4/2004 11:06:59 AM
Last Edited 5/4/2004 12:27:58 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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