“Free software” is software that respects the users’ freedoms by granting them access to the source code, and allowing them to modify and redistribute the software at will. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free software movement, has argued that creating and distributing non-Free software is always a moral injustice. In this essay, I try to identify the ethical foundations of Stallmanism. I identify three major trends in Stallman’s thinking—libertarian, utilitarian, and communitarian—and I argue that none is sufficient to justify the radical claim that distributing non-Free software is always wrong (unless we accept extremely demanding ethical standards that Stallman himself does not consistently endorse). I recommend thinking of Stallmanism as an attempt to optimize the satisfaction of a number of core values, including freedom, cooperation, and happiness, and I stress the importance of connecting the Free software movement to other political struggles against oppression.
Philosophy & Technology – Springer Journals
Published: Nov 28, 2017