Ethics of Photography and ChatGPT

mickyatesAI, Artificial Intelligence, Ethics, Ideas, Mick's Photo Blog, Philosophy, Photography, Technology Leave a Comment

I am still exploring ChatGPT’s capabilities, and this is an interesting thread. I asked several related questions, and what follows is a consolidated set of answers from ChatGPT model 4, unedited. It is easy to see that with some very quick edits, this makes an interesting summary fro further research.

First, the questions:

Q: Consider these ways of describing a ‘good photograph’.

  • This photograph has good compositional technique.
  • This photograph offers a good (accurate) narrative. 
  • This photograph deals in a good way with its subject. 
  • This photograph has a good (individual as its) subject. 
  • This photograph was created in a good (socially responsible) way. 
  • This photograph makes a good impact – the viewer stops and thinks. 

Each of the descriptions provided offers a different lens through which to consider the concept of ‘good’ in photography. They touch on various aspects of photography, including technique, content, ethics, and impact. By incorporating these perspectives, we can further explore the multidimensional nature of the concept of ‘good’ in the realm of photography.

  1. Compositional Technique: A photograph with good compositional technique adheres to aesthetic principles that guide the arrangement of visual elements within the frame. This could include concepts such as the rule of thirds, balance, and visual hierarchy. From Hume’s perspective, this may reflect the general standard of taste cultivated by experienced photographers and viewers, while Wittgenstein might argue that the concept of good compositional technique is defined by the specific photographic practices and language games in which it is used.
  2. Accurate Narrative: A photograph that offers a good, accurate narrative successfully captures and conveys the essence of a story or moment in time. This aspect of goodness aligns with Ross’s ethical framework, as it touches upon the photographer’s duty to truthfully document a scene.
  3. Dealing with the Subject: A photograph that deals with its subject in a good way demonstrates a thoughtful and sensitive approach to the portrayal of its subject matter. This may involve respecting the dignity and privacy of the individuals being photographed, or accurately representing a particular culture or community. Here, we see the influence of Ross’s prima facie duties, as photographers must balance their obligations to both their subjects and their artistic intentions.
  4. Individual as Subject: A photograph with a good subject showcases an individual or scene that is interesting, engaging, or emotionally resonant. From Hume’s perspective, the viewer’s emotional response to the subject may contribute to their perception of the photograph as good, while Moore’s non-natural property of goodness suggests that the inherent value of the subject is something that must be directly experienced.
  5. Socially Responsible Creation: A photograph created in a socially responsible way takes into account the ethical implications of the photographic process, from the treatment of subjects to the environmental impact of the production. This aspect of goodness reflects Ross’s focus on prima facie duties, as photographers must weigh the various ethical responsibilities tied to their work.
  6. Impact on Viewer: A photograph that makes a good impact prompts the viewer to stop, think, and engage with the image on a deeper level. This aspect of goodness aligns with both Hume’s emphasis on the emotional response elicited by a photograph and Moore’s notion of the intrinsic, non-natural property of goodness that must be experienced directly.

By incorporating these six perspectives on the concept of ‘good’ in photography, we can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the various factors that contribute to our assessments of photographic quality. 

These descriptions highlight the complex and multifaceted nature of goodness in photography, reinforcing the notion that the concept of ‘good’ is shaped by a diverse range of aesthetic, ethical, and contextual considerations.

…………………………….

Q: Write 2000 words on the concept of ‘good’ as applied to photography, making reference to philosophers such as David Hume, Ludwig Wittgenstein, G.E. Moore, William David Ross. Include the (previous answers) on the concepts of the Categorical Imperative, Utilitarianism, Golden Mean, Golden Rule, Hedonism, and the Veil of Ignorance.

The Concept of ‘Good’ in Photography: A Comprehensive Ethical and Philosophical Exploration

Introduction

The realm of photography is rich and complex, encompassing diverse genres, styles, and purposes. As an art form, photography invites a wide array of interpretations, leading to subjective judgments about what constitutes a ‘good’ photograph. To better understand the concept of ‘good’ in photography, it is essential to delve into the realm of philosophy and ethics, exploring the thoughts of prominent philosophers such as David Hume, Ludwig Wittgenstein, G.E. Moore, and William David Ross, as well as ethical theories like the Categorical Imperative, Utilitarianism, Golden Mean, Golden Rule, Hedonism, and the Veil of Ignorance.

Philosophical Perspectives on the Concept of ‘Good’ in Photography

  1. David Hume’s Subjective Goodness and the Standard of Taste

David Hume, an 18th-century Scottish philosopher, posited that the concept of ‘good’ is subjective and reliant on individual taste. In his work, “Of the Standard of Taste,” Hume argued that people’s perception of what is good or beautiful depends on their personal sentiments and emotions. Applying Hume’s perspective to photography, it becomes apparent that what one person considers good photography may not be perceived as such by another.

Hume also suggested that although individual tastes might differ, there is a general standard of taste that can be cultivated and refined through experience and practice. This implies that the goodness of photography can be evaluated, to some extent, through a collective agreement of those with a deep understanding of the medium.

  1. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Language Games and Context-Dependent Goodness

Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian-British philosopher, argued in his later work, “Philosophical Investigations,” that the meaning of words is derived from their use in specific social practices or language games. In the context of photography, this suggests that the concept of ‘good’ is not universal but instead depends on the particular photographic practices in which it is used.

Wittgenstein’s approach highlights the importance of considering the various ways in which the concept of ‘good’ can be applied within the photographic domain. A good photograph might be one that accurately captures a moment, evokes a particular emotion, or adheres to the aesthetic principles of its respective genre. It is essential to recognize that the concept of ‘good’ in photography is multifaceted and context-dependent.

  1. G.E. Moore’s Non-Natural Property of Goodness

G.E. Moore, an English philosopher, contributed to the debate on the nature of ‘good’ with his work “Principia Ethica.” Moore’s argument against the naturalistic fallacy, which equates ethical properties with natural properties, led him to develop the concept of the “non-natural” property of goodness. In the case of photography, this suggests that the quality of a photograph cannot be reduced to a set of objective features or measurable criteria.

Instead, Moore posited that goodness is an intrinsic property that cannot be analyzed further. This implies that the goodness of a photograph is something that must be directly experienced, rather than evaluated through a set of predefined criteria. As such, the concept of ‘good’ in photography becomes more elusive, as it cannot be precisely defined or universally agreed upon.

  1. William David Ross’s Prima Facie Duties and Ethical Decision-Making

William David Ross, a Scottish philosopher, proposed an alternative perspective on the concept of ‘good’ through his concept of prima facie duties. These duties, which Ross believed to be fundamental moral obligations, can be in conflict with one another, and the ‘rightness’ of an action depends on the balance of these duties in any given situation.

Applying Ross’s ethical framework to photography, we can see that photographers often need to navigate a complex web of ethical considerations when capturing and sharing their images. The goodness of a photograph may be determined by the photographer’s ability to balance their prima facie duties, such as respecting the privacy of their subjects, accurately representing a particular culture or community, and maintaining artistic integrity.

To further deepen our understanding of the concept of ‘good’ in photography, we can explore six different descriptions of a ‘good’ photograph and how various ethical theories can be applied to them:

  1. Compositional Technique
  2. Accurate Narrative
  3. Dealing with the Subject
  4. Individual as Subject
  5. Socially Responsible Creation
  6. Impact on Viewer

Each of these descriptions offers a different lens through which to consider the concept of ‘good’ in photography, touching on aspects such as technique, content, ethics, and impact. By incorporating these perspectives, we can better understand the multidimensional nature of the concept of ‘good’ in the realm of photography.

Ethical theories like the Categorical Imperative, Utilitarianism, Golden Mean, Golden Rule, Hedonism, and the Veil of Ignorance provide unique insights into how ethical considerations can shape our understanding of ‘good’ photography. These theories emphasize the importance of adhering to universally applicable rules, generating the most significant positive impact on society, finding a balance between aesthetic and ethical demands, treating subjects with empathy and respect, pursuing personal satisfaction and pleasure, and promoting equality and fairness.

  1. Categorical Imperative (Immanuel Kant)

Kant’s Categorical Imperative is a principle that holds that an action is morally right if it is based on a universalizable maxim or rule. This concept can be applied to photography, as it suggests that photographers should adhere to role-based, organizational, or cultural rules to create ethically sound images.

For example, a photographer following the Categorical Imperative might strive to adhere to a professional code of ethics, such as respecting the privacy of their subjects or obtaining informed consent before publishing sensitive images. By adhering to these universally applicable rules, photographers can ensure that their work aligns with a broader ethical framework.

  1. Utilitarianism (Bentham/Mill)

Utilitarianism posits that an action is morally right if it produces the most good for the greatest number of people. In the context of photography, this approach suggests that a ‘good’ photograph is one that contributes to the overall happiness or well-being of the largest possible audience.

A utilitarian approach to photography might prioritize images that have the potential to raise awareness about pressing social issues, inspire positive change, or provide educational value. In this way, the goodness of a photograph can be evaluated based on its capacity to generate the most significant positive impact on society.

  1. Golden Mean (Aristotle)

Aristotle’s concept of the Golden Mean holds that moral virtue lies in finding a balance between extremes, reflecting what the majority might think is right. This principle can be applied to photography, as it encourages photographers to strike a balance between artistic expression and ethical considerations.

For instance, a photographer adhering to the Golden Mean might seek to create images that are visually appealing and thought-provoking while still respecting the privacy and dignity of their subjects. By finding a middle ground between competing aesthetic and ethical demands, photographers can create ‘good’ photographs that resonate with the majority’s sense of right and wrong.

  1. Golden Rule (Egyptian Middle Kingdom)

The Golden Rule, which states that one should “do to others only what you would have done to yourself,” is an ethical principle that can be applied to photography by encouraging photographers to treat their subjects with empathy and respect.

A photographer guided by the Golden Rule might prioritize obtaining informed consent, avoiding the exploitation of vulnerable individuals, and presenting their subjects in a manner that reflects their inherent dignity. By treating their subjects in the same way they would wish to be treated, photographers can create ethically responsible images that align with the concept of ‘good’ photography.

  1. Hedonism (Epic of Gilgamesh)

Hedonism is an ethical perspective that emphasizes the pursuit of pleasure and personal satisfaction. In photography, a hedonistic approach might prioritize the creation of images that are aesthetically pleasing or evoke strong emotional responses in the photographer and viewers.

A photographer following hedonistic principles might create images that they personally find beautiful or engaging, without necessarily considering the broader ethical implications of their work. While this approach can result in visually striking images, it may conflict with other ethical theories that emphasize the importance of respecting the rights and well-being of subjects.

  1. Veil of Ignorance (John Rawls)

John Rawls’ concept of the Veil of Ignorance proposes that just principles should be determined from a hypothetical position of ignorance, where individuals do not know their place in society or their personal characteristics. Applied to photography, this principle encourages photographers to consider the ethical implications of their work from an impartial standpoint.

A photographer guided by the Veil of Ignorance might strive to create images that treat all subjects fairly and equally, regardless of their background or social status. By adopting an unbiased perspective, photographers can work towards creating ‘good’ photographs that reflect the principles of blind justice and promote equality.

The various ethical theories of the Categorical Imperative, Utilitarianism, Golden Mean, Golden Rule, Hedonism, and the Veil of Ignorance each offer a unique perspective on the concept of ‘good’ in photography. When applied to the aspects of photography mentioned earlier, such as compositional technique, accurate narrative, dealing with the subject, the individual as the subject, socially responsible creation, and impact on the viewer, these ethical approaches can provide valuable insight into the complex relationship between art and ethics.

Conclusion

The concept of ‘good’ in photography is a dynamic and evolving notion, shaped by the ever-changing landscape of photographic practice, our individual tastes and experiences, and the philosophical and ethical ideas that underpin our understanding of art and ethics. By engaging with the works of philosophers such as David Hume, Ludwig Wittgenstein, G.E. Moore, and William David Ross, and considering ethical theories like the Categorical Imperative, Utilitarianism, Golden Mean, Golden Rule, Hedonism, and the Veil of Ignorance, we gain a deeper understanding of the diverse factors that contribute to our assessments of photographic quality.

This exploration highlights the importance of balancing aesthetic, ethical, and contextual considerations when creating and evaluating photographs, encouraging a more nuanced and informed approach to the concept of ‘good’ in photography. Ultimately, the concept of ‘good’ in photography is a complex interplay of various factors, and understanding these factors allows for a more inclusive and ethically responsible photographic practice.

…………………………….

Q: Please list all academic references appropriate to this text in Harvard format

Below are some academic references in Harvard format related to the text:

Barrett, T. (2000) ‘Criticizing photographs: an introduction to understanding images’, 3rd edn., Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, CA.

Berger, J. (1972) ‘Ways of seeing’, British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books, London.

Hume, D. (1757) ‘Of the Standard of Taste’, in ‘Essays Moral, Political, and Literary’, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis.

Kant, I. (1998) ‘Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals’, (trans. Mary Gregor), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Moore, G.E. (1903) ‘Principia Ethica’, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Rawls, J. (1971) ‘A Theory of Justice’, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Ross, W.D. (1930) ‘The Right and the Good’, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Sontag, S. (1977) ‘On Photography’, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

Wittgenstein, L. (1953) ‘Philosophical Investigations’, (trans. G.E.M. Anscombe), Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Additionally, some more contemporary works that discuss photography and ethics include:

Newton, J. (2013) ‘The burden of visual truth: the role of photojournalism in mediating reality’, Routledge, New York.

Paul, M. (2016) ‘Close up at a distance: mapping, technology, and politics’, Zone Books, New York.

Ritchin, F. (2013) ‘Bending the frame: photojournalism, documentary, and the citizen’, Aperture Foundation, New York.

Wells, L. (ed.) (2010) ‘Photography: a critical introduction’, 4th edn., Routledge, New York.

Zylinska, J. (2017) ‘Nonhuman Photography’, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *