Why Big Data Needs the Virtues

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Book Chapter

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In this paper I offer a critical reflection on Big Data through the lens of “the virtues” in an attempt to separate much of the “hype” from reality. Part 1 defines what is meant by Big Data and describes why it is valuable. I examine its ethical issues in the context of the characteristics of Big Data as exemplified by the 4V’s: volume, velocity, variety (traditional 3V’s) and a 4th, veracity. Part 2 considers whether Big Data Science is really a “theory free” science based only on statistical correlations. In Part 3, I explore the role of the “Big Data Scientist” and her responsibilities as virtuous epistemic agent. Part 4 applies both virtue ethics and virtue epistemology to Big Data, focusing on how it can be used in an ethically responsible way to benefit society. Finally, I will explain why thinking in terms of the virtues is helpful in the analysis of Big Data because when a Data Scientist habitually acts in accordance with the virtues, she will be better able to cope with the “messiness” and dynamic flux of Big Data with open-mindedness and intellectual courage.


Book chapter in Powers, T. M. (Ed.) Philosophy and Computing.