Professional code of ethics - what purposes should they serve?

I argue against the notion that professional codes of ethics are nothing more than just window-dressing, and explore some of the possible functions that professional code of ethics might serve. I will also examine The Age Code of Ethics and Tim O’Reilly’s proposed Blogger's Code of Conduct in the light of my findings.

Peter Singer, shallow ponds, and our responsibilities to the distant needy


We would usually help ourselves, and those close to us, in exorbitant ways for often-petty ends. Yet we frequently fail in giving small amounts of aid to strangers, especially foreigners, for whom such aid means the difference between life and death. The arguably arbitrary distinction we make between these two groups, then, is not a simple privileging of one over the other: rather, we place magnitudes greater value in those that we care for.


If we are trying to reduce net harm, it’s harder to justify
… “moving a person to, or into, and object than it is to move the object to, or into, the person.”
… “changing the speed of a moving object, or changing its rate of motion, then changing the object’s direction of motion.”
… “speeding up an object than slowing down an object.”
… “Taking an object at rest and setting it in motion than to justify taking an object in motion and increasing its speed.”
… “imposing a substantial force on an object than it is to justify allowing a force already present (just about) everywhere, like gravity, to work on the object.”

-- Peter K. Unger. Living high and letting die: our illusion of innocence. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. pp.101-102

What is the airspeed velocity of an African swallow?

Input interpretation: estimated average cruising airspeed of an unladen African swallow. Result: there is unfortunately insufficient data to estimate the velocity of an African swallow (even if you specified which of the 47 species of swallow found in Africa you meant)