What's so important about the ethics of free software?

Geza Giedke ggiedke at fsfe.org
Mon Dec 19 15:26:22 UTC 2016

Charles Cossé wrote on 19.12.2016 08:20:
> On Sun, Dec 18, 2016 at 10:48 PM, J.B. Nicholson <jbn at forestfield.org
> <mailto:jbn at forestfield.org>> wrote:
>     Perhaps not (I can't say for sure without looking into the licenses
>     of the program dependencies), but your intentions shouldn't limit
>     what people can do with the software on their own computers. 
> Once again, I take issue with your use of the word "shouldn't".  My
> intentions can be whatever I decide my intentions are.  Keyword: "my". 
> "My intentions", as in "freedom of intent".  You actually believe that
> the user's "rights" exceed mine as the author?  I'm willing to bet that
> there is at least one other person out there in the FSF(E) community
> that is willing to stand-up and publicly challenge that assertion. 
> Anyone? 

not me; I think the ethical issue is the main point about the free
software movement: of course you have every /right/ to do what you like,
but not all choices are ethically equal; I see the choice to publish
non-free software as a choice that deliberately excludes friends,
neighbors, fellow humans from taking full advantage of the software by
exploiting the (rather recently created) so-called intellectual property
laws, and, all else being equal, I see such  restrictions to the free
flow of information as morally wrong.

However, "all else being equal" rarely holds and I do not think that
programming freedom and the free flow of information is the one and only
guideline for our decisions. I think one has to balance this with other
moral requirements (maybe in an utilitarian way) in any given situation.

I agree with you that these ethical stances are ultimately unprovable
and to which you choose to adhere is a value decision that is not
amenable to mathematical proof. However, one can try to derive such
principles from (in turn unprovable) "ethical axioms" such as the Golden
Rule, the categorical imperative, or utilitarian
("greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number") principles. What one, in my
opinion, cannot do is to deny that it is a decision with ethical

I do not think that FSF(E) should change their stance in tis regard: all
of us are making a lot of moral compromises every day and one purpose of
organizations like FSF(E) (or EFF, ai, Greenpeace) etc is to emphasize
the moral implications of our choices, to hold up clearly the ethical
principles and to make it (over time) easier to adhere to them.

best regards
 Geza (FSF(E) Fellow, not speaking on behalf of either organization)

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