Minor response to your criticism of Eric S. Raymond

Kirk Wylie Kirk@broadbase.com
Tue, 22 Dec 1998 13:12:29 -0800

Which I actually find binds just as much to Mr. Raymond's writing as it does
to your response. So without further ado,

In your section "An introductory confusion" (and note that since I am not
proficient in French, I refer only to the english version of your article),
you discuss the difference between an a priori dogmatic view of moral and
ethical correctness and an aposteriori observational view of moral and
ethical correctness. In doing so you seemingly lump together your views on
moral and ethical correctness. (Mr. Raymond refers specifically to morality,
you refer specifically to ethics, yet the implied result is that you both
agree that you're referring to the same thing). Unfortunately, the two
concepts shouldn't be so easily combined.

By indicating that you feel that we should view the issue as one based on
the a posteriori result of better software, you imply an exclusively ethical
view of the matter. Morality is intrinsically dogmatic in nature: there are
prescriptions about what is Right and what is Wrong, handed down from some
other source (Aristotle made this point very clearly in the Nicomanchean
Ethics). Whether or not you agree with someone else's view of morality is
irrelevant, as there is no ability to argue with morality itself.

However, ethics derives naturally from morality as an enforcable, arguable
view of what is Right and Wrong. As an example, I as a Buddhist have no
moral problem with not paying my taxes; I as a member of a Social Contract
have an ethical problem with not paying my taxes. Typically ethics follows
from commonly accepted views of morality (almost all moral systems include
the precept against killing, thus almost all ethical systems include the
same precept). However, ethics also include arguable descriptive statements
(such as a posteriori descriptions of fact).

But ethics do NOT involve statements of fact. Morality might (as in the
Galileo trials), but ethics do not.

If you can state that something is factually accurate and correct, then it
is not arguable nor debatable. Therefore it cannot be ethical in nature. It
might be dogmatic, in which case it is a priori morality, or it might be
scientific, in which case it is scientific in nature. When you begin to
argue that ethics can encompass factual statements (or even hypothesis...
while I might not know what the circumference of the world is, I can make a
hypothesis about it; even if my hypothesis is never proven, I have made a
statement of potential fact), you begin to remove arguments about scientific
reality from the realm of the scientists into the realm of the cultural

Ethics are arguments about what is Right and Wrong, not what is right or
wrong (note the capitols used for emphasis).

Thus, the real problem I have is with your assertion that morals may be a
posteriori and descriptive rather than dogmatically a priori and
proscriptive, and that even if we view this as an ethical situation,
asserting that because we are dealing with a statement of fact we may view
this as an a posteriori descriptive ethical issue is an incorrect comingling
of the scientific and ethical views.

And as an aside, which has nothing to do with my above statements, I turn to
your section "Freedom Against Software Ownership," in which you state
"Claimed ownership of ideas, which is what free software people call
"information hoarding", is but protectionism applied to information
processing services..."

The one thing that I'm not sure from this statement that you've considered,
is whether the service in question is the processing, or whether it is the
writing of code.

While it may be true that you are more than willing to write code for free
(or for donations, or food, or beer, or ego-boost, or whatever), others
might only be willing to write code for a nominal fee.

If a band of these people gets together into a software cooperative (I would
otherwise use the word guild, except for the exclusivity of the term "guild"
w.r.t. other groups of craftsmen), should they be permitted to charge a fee
for their writing of code? If so, and there is no ownership of code, then
the implied result is that the resultant code has no economic value. It may
be given away, it may be bartered, or traded, or sold, or scattered to the
winds, without any thought as to the craftsmen who wrought it.

An additional diversion that I might propose is the sale of compiled
executables. According to RMS, he was originally inspired to create the FSF
because he couldn't have access to the source code for a program he needed
to modify. What about that source code? If I distribute the binaries for
free, and I keep the source code a secret (not implying that I have any
ownership rights to it, but rather that I completely control access to it),
have I committed an ethical Wrong (assuming you believe that one exists in
any Information Property Right situation)?

Finally, your arguments about liberalism appear to fail in one key aspect:
They reject the ability of an individual to enter into an agreement in which
his rights are limited.

Assume that there are craftsmen who are willing to provide you with an
running program, supposing that you do not modify it and you do not share it
with others. If you do not agree to these terms, they will not release the
program to you, regardless of their lack of rights w.r.t. this matter. You
agree to these terms, and provide them with money.

In a world without IPR, you are prohibited from entering into this
agreement. The society which has banned these rights has also limited your
right to enter into consentual agreements with others. I reject any notion
that I may be prohibited from agreeing to voluntarily limit my rights under
circumstances which are desirable to me.

Ultimately you are faced with a truly ethical conundrum (and I deal only
with software...if you view ALL IPRs, there are far more serious

1) You may allow current IPRs to exist with developers free to eschew those
rights and issue code under a BSD or GPL style license,
2) You limit the rights of individuals to enter into consentual agreements
with others which do not harm parties who are not a part of this agreement.

Option (1) is the world in which we currently live, option (2) clearly fails
any reasonable standard for liberty (see John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty" or
Jean Jacques Rousseau's "The Social Contract" for considerable background
into this issue...I can provide specific quotations if needed).

I didn't mean for this to turn out to be so long, nor to go off on the
tangents which it has, but I think that they're important for your
consideration in this matter.

Sincerely Yours,

Kirk Wylie

Kirk Wylie | Software Engineer | Broadbase Information Systems |