Morals, Ethics, Meaning and Quality

A few talks I attended in recent weeks have  helped me in thinking about issues I had been struggling with. The first talk was by Anne Galloway, who gave an excellent key note speech at the Enter_Unknown territories conference in Cambridge (26 April 2007). She mentioned the difference between ethics and morals. She explained that it is okay, and even necessary, to have a set of ethics whereby to judge the world around us. The perspective of those ethics enables us to judge our own behaviour and that of others, and to communicate about this perspective. Allowing morals into this judgement and communication often leads to tricky situations where typically one person is telling another that his/her ethics are inferior. As a social researcher it is crucial to avoid these situations. And also in generally as an individual it is important to be open-minded rather than moral. This does not mean we can not have strong ethics. It helps to keep these to entities separate in discussions about the world around us.

The second talk was a contribution to a panel session by Dick Rijken during the Culture 2.0 conference in Amsterdam (30 May 2007). Dick mentioned the distinction between quality and meaning. In a discussion on web 2.0 related phenomena, he objected to comments that focused on judgements of the quality of contributions people make on social community websites. Dick explained that he rather judges the meaning these contributions have for those people, than the quality other people tend to find in them. I find this a very helpful distinction, because often in public debates about popular culture, such as web 2.0 phenomena, one can get caught in a rather elitist perspective on the quality. According to Dick that is not quite the point, as long as it is meaningful for the people who are engaged in it.