Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

The Uses of Knowledge

It's the information age, as the popular magazines keep reminding us. Our ability to generate, classify, collect, and exploit data has grown exponentially with the advent of computers and other technologies.

But how is this information to be used? After the supermarkets have scanned our rewards cards to gather data on our buying habits, and the Web site purveyors have posted gigabytes of facts, and the database services have made available every article written in the last 10 years on every conceivable subject, what do we really know?

The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics has been grappling with these questions as part of larger preparations for the conference "Ethics and Technology: Access, Accountability, and Regulation," held at Santa Clara University June 5 and 6.

This Issues in Ethics reflects those discussions, exploring the uses and limits of knowledge from several perspectives. "LittleBrother is Watching You" describes the potential for employers to read employee e-mail and monitor Web site browsing, and it lays out the pros and cons of such electronic surveillance.

"When What We Know Outstrips What We Can Do" looks at the issue in a medical context. How can ethics guide us as science increases our ability to diagnose genetic illnesses for which no cure exists? To what end should the growing body of information about the human genome be put?

Our Thinking Ethically piece argues that it is not enough simply to fill students' heads with knowledge. "Like a Bear Robbed of Her Cubs" explores how educating students for compassion helps them put their knowledge to use.

Among our regular features, we have "The Case of the Million-Dollar Decision," which examines the ethical implications for companies expanding into foreign markets where payoffs are an accepted part of doing business. Our book review tackles The Divorce Culture, with particular attention to the obligations of parents toward their children.

Recently, our approach to ethical issues won national attention. In April, Issues in Ethics received a silver award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. Our thanks to readers whose support helps make the publication possible.