Subject: Re: Open letter to those who believe in a right to free software
From: Ian Lance Taylor <>
Date: 27 Oct 1999 10:16:25 -0400

   From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
   Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1999 13:56:44 +0900 (JST)

   >>>>> "Ian" == Ian Lance Taylor <> writes:

       Ian> OK.  This was a relatively trivial (in fact, parenthetical)
       Ian> side point to what I was trying to say.  Do you accept my
       Ian> main point that the very definition of the community is
       Ian> itself an ethically driven choice?

   No and yes.  No, because I think that although somewhat subjective,
   the bonds between individuals can be quantified crudely, and thus the
   definition of community is scientific.  Yes, in the sense that basing
   ethical argument on communities so defined is an ethical choice, in
   fact an ethical assumption.

I'll just note that I personally disagree with that ethical assumption
as stated.

       Ian> Perhaps I made a poor choice of words.  By ``economic
       Ian> arguments'' I meant to include the assumptions which underlie
       Ian> the model which supports the logic.

   This is extremely unfair to people like myself....

I don't see why it is unfair.  I only entered this conversation
because you appeared to be arguing that it is possible to build an
economic model which is ethically neutral.

I don't believe that that is possible.

An economic model can be helpful when deciding what to do in a complex
situation (in practice, of course, models must be simplified, often
drastically, but we need not pursue that problem in this case).  For
example, a model can help show what must be done to drive some
particular output to a desired value.  However, that is only helpful
when the inputs may be more or less freely chosen.  Since the reasons
I work on free software have nothing to do with economics, an economic
model will not tell me whether or not to work on free software.  I've
already decided to do so in any case.

I think I can understand why my position would be frustrating to you.
I am basically saying that your considerable effort will have no
effect on my personal decisions, and, as such, will be of only mild
interest.  But that's no reason to stop; most people don't think like
I do.

(I suppose I should qualify that: if you can convince me that writing
free software will contribute to the global population boom, or
something else which I consider more important than software, then I
would reconsider.  But I don't think that is in the cards.)

   You could argue that "people can account for that ex post", but that
   is equivalent to separating the assumptions from the methods a priori,
   and more error-prone in my experience.  Furthermore, in actual
   practice many people don't bother.  They evalute the policy
   recommendations as unethical, and simply throw the whole analysis into
   a trashbin labeled "Bad Science."

I have certainly seen the dynamic you describe.  I hope that it's
clear that I personally am saying something different.