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30min: The Anthropological Dimension of Free Software: a philosophical argument

The Anthropological Dimension of Free Software: a philosophical argument


Sharing is an important aspect of the Internet economy. However, multinational companies ask for their users’ data and contributions to advance their own business interests, to improve their products or to enhance their services. However, they regard their users’ contribution as their property without any obligation to share these contributions under an open license.

Android, the world’s leading mobile operating system, is Free Software; however, Google integrates its own non-free features so deeply into Android that ordinary users cannot use Android as Free Software and they are tied up with Google, using Google services and thus contributing with their data to enhance Google’s business interest. There are different world views and anthropological and socio-economic concepts behind the idea of sharing. Augustine of Hippo makes sharing a virtue: „Omnis enim res, quae dando non deficit, dum habetur et non datur, nondum habetur, quomodo habenda est”, („For if a thing is not diminished by being shared with others, it is not rightly owned if it is only owned and not shared”) which is also the FSFE’s motto. According to Augustine, man – by the grace of God - is capable of doing good and contribute to the well-being of society. A similar anthropology is also found within Pietism and Puritanism, according to the American Sociologist Robert Merton, „communalism” - a concept favoring communal ownership and the common good – being a basis for the scientific progress as scientific discoveries are shared and not kept exclusively to oneself. In the history of ideas, this mindset resembles the principles of Open Access and Open Data. Open Source Software or Free Software can also be based on the same principles, following the underlying anthropological concepts. In contrast, Thomas Hobbes’s assumption – as laid out in the claim „homo homini lupus” („man is wolf to man.”) - assumes that egotism is a driving force, „bellum omnium contra omnes” („the war of all against all”) is a constant in human society. Adam Smith – in „The Wealth of Nations” makes man’s self-interest the basis for his socio-economic concept: „By pursuing his own interest he [=man] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.” While everybody is pursuing their own interest, an „invisible hand” - so Smith’s assumption - leads all self-driven interests to ultimately promoting the common good, thus making Liberalism (and Capitalism) the best economic models for society. If egotism is the driving anthropological force and Capitalism is the socio-economic model for society, then hiding code from others, accumulating data and keeping databases locked up, producing software whose data cannot be exported, is the logical consequence. Google, Facebook, Microsoft are symbols of this concept, advancing the company’s profits with their users’ contributions. On the other hand, if sharing is understood in the way of communalism, Free Software – and Open Access, and Open Data, can be the foundation of a socio-economic model for the Information Society that correlates with Augustine’s anthropology.


Day: 2016-09-04
Start time: 10:00
Duration: 00:30
Track: Beyond Code



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