On the evolution of information

The Industrial Revolution overthrew an understanding of information ethics established in the time of Aristotle

Philip James de Loutherbourg’s Coalbrookdale by Night (1801) vividly depicts the dramatic changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution


According to Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), virtue should be the basis of ethics. Virtue ethics emphasises a citizen’s character and the virtues embodied in that character as a means of determining or evaluating ethical behaviour. Ingredients of virtue ethics includes arete (excellence or virtue), phronesis (practical or moral wisdom), and eudaimonia (flourishing).

However in Aristotle’s time citizenship was only a prerogative of Athenian-born adult white males. Foreigners (xenoi), resident foreigners (metoikoi), slaves (douloi), and women (whose citizenship was subject to their belonging to a male citizen – called kyrios – acting legally on their behalf) could not hope to become fully-fledged citizens; thus, full citizenship was a prerogative of a few elite males in Athens. Others were ranked as inferior, with few rights.

However, the system worked as long as Athenian citizenship was a matter of a limited territory with a limited number of people who worked by and large in agriculture, manufacturing and the military. The flow of information was basic, and knowledge was transferred in a simple way through institutions such as Plato’s Academia and Aristotle’s Lyceum or oral instruction in the professions.

This conception of citizenship based on sharing a place or geography is still dominant today. It forms the idea of citizenship all over the world and it reflects the way in which business rules were conceived until the present state of globalisation, which, in turn, would seem to undermine the way we think of citizenship and business rules.