Ethics for Nerds Sarah Sterz, Kevin Baum, Holger Hermanns

Registration for this course is open until Friday, 30.04.2021 23:59.


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Ethics for Nerds

Time: whenever you want
Place: online
You can register here.

Many computer scientists will be confronted with morally difficult situations at some point in their career – be it in research, in business, or in industry. This module equips participants with the crucial assets enabling them to recognize such situations and to devise ways to arrive at a justified moral judgment regarding the question what one is permitted to do and what one should better not do. For that, participants will be made familiar with moral theories from philosophy, as well as different Codes of Ethics for computer scientists. Since one can quickly get lost when talking about ethics and morals, it is especially important to talk and argue clearly and precisely. In order to do prepare for that, the module offers substantial training regarding formal and informal argumentation skills enabling participants to argue beyond the level of everyday discussions at bars and parties. In the end, succesful participants are able to assess a morally controversial topic from computer science on their own and give a convincing argument for their respective assessments.

The module is intended to always be as clear, precise, and analytic as possible. What you won't find here is the meaningless bla-bla, needlessly poetic language, and vague and wordy profundity that some people tend to associate with philosophy.

This course is a Vertiefungsvorlesung and worth 6 CP.


This course covers:

  • an introduction to the methods of philosophy, argumentation theory, and the basics of normative as well as applied ethics;
  • relevant moral codices issued by professional associations like the ACM, the IEEE, and more;
  • starting points to evaluate practices and technologies already in use or not that far away, including for instance: filter bubbles and echo chambers, ML-algorithms as predictive tools, GPS-tracking, CCTV and other tools from surveillance, fitness trackers, big data analysis, autonomous vehicles, lethal autonomous weapons systems and so on;
  • an outlook on more futuristic topics like machine ethics, roboethics, and superintelligences;
  • and more.


We expect basic knowledge of propositional and first-order logic, an open mind, and interest to look at computer science in ways you probably are not used to.

The lecture and all its materials obviously are in English, but if you feel more comfortable to write assignments and exams in German, you are invited to do so. Nevertheless, for this course you should at least have a level of either German or English that is equivalent to a C1 level (see here for further details). We do not need any formal proof that you fulfil the requirements, but we strongly recommend taking them seriously. If you are in any doubt whether this course is suitable for you, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.


Naturally, Ethics for Nerds will be an online course in the summer term of 2021. You will be introduced to new content via lecture videos that you can go though in your own pace. Each section of videos is accompanied by training exercises with solutions. We will also have virtual office hours where you can get in touch with us. You will be part of a group, in which you will have to discuss weekly discussion questions (or any relevant topic that you are interested in). You can also help each other with the content of the lecture and you can work together in many assignments in order to get the exam admission.

In the end, you will have to write a term paper in which you lay down an own argument for a moral claim. Both the exam and the re-exam most likely will be take-home exams, such that you can do the whole course at home without risking an infection.

Literature (not mandatory)

Upon request, we added some literature that may be interesting to read before the course. Reading this, however, is not mandatory! We will cover everything that you will need to know during the course (except for the presuppositions above). You will not have a disadvantage if you do not read any of the literature that follows:

  1. Moor, J. H. (1985). What is computer ethics?. Metaphilosophy, 16(4), 266-275.
    A rather old paper that is nevertheless still very relevant today. Available here.
  2. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    This is the wikipedia of philosophy. Many (though not all) of the articles there are high-quality. Among others, the following articles are relevant for Ethics for Nerds and are relatively easy to understand without a philosophical background:
  3. Another resourse of material can be the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in particular the following articles:
  4. Rosenberg, J. F. (1984). The practice of philosophy: A handbook for beginners.
    If you are very much into philosophy, you can also dive a little deeper into the daily business of philosophers by having a look at this all-time-classic introduction to being a philosopher. Sadly, the English edition of this book is usually very expensive, but you will find the book in the SULB and in the philosophy library.

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