Subject: Re: Open letter to those who believe in a right to free software
From: Ian Lance Taylor <>
Date: 22 Oct 1999 20:14:25 -0400

   Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 16:51:36 -0400
   From: "Frank Ch. Eigler" <>

   On Fri, Oct 22, 1999 at 12:46:28PM -0400, Ian Lance Taylor wrote:

   > [...]
   > Your hypothesis is only of interest to somebody who has already
   > decided that there is no moral or ethical reason to choose free
   > software.  In other words, your hypothesis is of interest to the Open
   > Source movement, but not to the Free Software movement.
   > [...]

   But Stephen has been looking for people to justify their claim
   of a moral or ethical aspect to the software issue.  It's
   apparently not clear as a "rights" issue, so from what other
   source would a moral/ethical claim arise?

I already explained in a previous note how (I believe) RMS can justify
his insistence on free software on ethical grounds.

This doesn't mean that Stephen must judge free software on ethical
grounds.  There is no universal code of ethics.  (I believe I can
successfully defend that position without falling all the way back to
moral relativism, although I am in fact a moral relativist.)

If Stephen is asking why he should judge free software on ethical
grounds, there may not be any answer which he will find persuasive.
(I find that I am no longer clear on just what Stephen was asking, and
I didn't save the relevant messages.)

That does not mean that RMS is wrong in making his judgement.  It
merely means that RMS will find it difficult to persuade Stephen that
proprietary software is morally wrong.

Let me try to be very precise about what I am saying.  I am saying
that rational people can reject proprietary software on ethical
grounds.  I am also saying that rational people can fail to see any
moral or ethical issues in the use of propietary software.

There are many ethical issues on which rational people can disagree.
Abortion and assisted suicide are obvious current examples.

(I know from experience that the position which I am taking in this
note is easily misunderstood, and my discussion is no doubt
inadequate.  If you think that I am saying something obviously stupid,
I hope you will take the time to consider what I am saying more
carefully.  If you think I am saying something subtly stupid, by all
means explain my errors.)