Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Getting Stallman's Ethical Argument Right

Probably pointless to even bother, but here's my response to this "Game consoles are evil" post mocking the free software perspective on game consoles (and their software):

Stallman's ethical argument is based on the principle that it is unethical to not help your neighbor if it is in your power to do so. His argument is that it is wrong for your child to enter into an agreement with the software company to not give his friend a copy, because the fundamental value of personal, human cooperation is made secondary to a corporate economic model. You don't have to agree with it, but that is the argument. If you want to make a food analogy, it is like shopping at a grocery store that forbids you to give the food you purchased to anyone else, no matter how hungry they are. Or buying sunflower seeds that you are forbidden to plant by their license.

5 comments:

Gnuosphere said...

"His argument is that it is wrong for your child to enter into an agreement with the software company to not give his friend a copy, because the fundamental value of personal, human cooperation is made secondary to a corporate economic model."

"corporate economic model" is vague though I'm sure I can guess what you mean by that. It's vague because you could still act as a corporation yet adopt an economic model that does not conflict with the value of cooperation. Stallman has correctly stated that with free software, "there's room for business to be done." - even corporate business.

The other thing Carroll is ignoring is the fact that source code can be valuable for society no matter its form. Just because code is driving a "game console" does not mean that there are ideas not worth harvesting for other endeavors. After all, source code is basically just a bunch of math. It's quite plausible that one may develop an innovative alogrithm to drive the console that could be augmented and used in, say, a medical device.

Probably the most telling portion of Carroll's post is -

"The economics of game consoles dictate that the machine is sold at a loss so that money can be made from game licensing."

The first 6 words (especially the sixth) are evidence that Carroll can't (or won't as a MS employee) think outside the box when it comes to the economics of free software. He's using (and thus arguing to keep) the status quo to back up his own argument.

Tom Hoffman said...

Hi Peter,

The thing about the "Just because code is driving a "game console" does not mean that there are ideas not worth harvesting for other endeavors" is that I don't think that rms would argue that it is ethically wrong to not share the source because there is some chance that someone else would find it useful. I think that is a much broader critique of intellectual property in general than rms usually makes.

Gnuosphere said...

Tom you are right. My point about harvesting useful source code is not of direct relevance to understanding Stallman's ethical argument. Thanks for pointing that out.

Unknown said...

"His argument is that it is wrong for your child to enter into an agreement with the software company to not give his friend a copy, because the fundamental value of personal, human cooperation is made secondary to a corporate economic model.

[From http://stallman.org/archives/2006-may-aug.html ]

"I am skeptical of the claim that voluntarily pedophilia harms children. The arguments that it causes harm seem to be based on cases which aren't voluntary, ..."

So Stallman wants to proscribe children from some agreements but states that some other agreements (such as voluntary paedophilia) are OK?

His view on what and what isn't OK is based solely on his own biases.

Tom Hoffman said...

Unknown: If you mean his views are not consistent internally, I disagree. That they reflect his own biases is certainly true.