The example of releasing a worm given in the text is the situation where Morris stated his goal was to see how many Internet computers he could infect with the worm.  He was not thinking about the...

The example of releasing a worm given in the text is the situation where Morris stated his goal was to see how many Internet computers he could infect with the worm.  He was not thinking about the computers he would crash and that data that would be lost. 

Consider the morality of the issue of releasing a worm.  Is Morris’s release of a worm morally justifiable according to Utilitarian ethics?

Asked on by kanhimack

1 Answer | Add Yours

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

In order to answer this question, we need to understand that utilitarianism is a consequentialist system of ethics.  That is, utilitarianism does not look at the motives behind a particular action.  All it looks at is the results of that action.  Put in its most basic form, utilitarianism says that an action is good if, on balance, it brings about more good effects than bad.  The question is, then, did Morris’s release of the Morris worm do more good than bad?

Because we are looking at this from a utilitarian point of view, Morris’s motivation makes no difference.  Your question says he was just trying to see how many computers he could infect.  One of the links below says he was trying to build a botnet.  Other sources say he wanted to see how big the internet was.  None of this matters because motives have no bearing on ethics in a utilitarian system.

While it is easiest to say that Morris’s actions were unethical, the opposite case can be made.  We can argue that, by releasing the worm, he made people realize that the internet could be used for harmful purposes.  This caused them to start paying attention to the idea of internet security.  That can be seen as a good thing.  On the other hand, by releasing the worm, Morris caused a great deal of damage.  The cost of cleaning up the damage the worm caused was at least in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  In order to decide whether this act was ethical, then, we have to weigh the damage that it did against the benefit caused by the fact that it alerted people to the dangers of the internet.  This shows us one way in which utilitarianism is difficult:  how do we measure the impact of these actions so that we can tell whether the action was, on balance, good?  In order to answer this question, you need to decide whether you think the good effects of Morris’s actions outweighed the bad.  Remember not to take into account his motives for releasing the worm.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,911 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question