Using Kantian Perspective to Review the Harvard Case and Analyze the Action taken by the Students


Traditionally, a hacker was an innovator, a risk-taker, or an explorer. Today, hacking is considered as act of gaining unauthorized access to other people’s computer systems and networks. Legally, hacking is a criminal activity, which includes gaining access to any computer system without permission. From the Kantian perspective, hacking is a violation of other people’s privacy rights (Quinn, n.d). Falk (2017) conveys that external hackers can choose hack a firm’s computer systems with an intention of causing it to improve its security but in such situations hackers fail to make use of well-informed decisions to justify their activities. Different ethical theories used to determine if hacking is moral or not all interpret the act as a morally bad one.

Focusing on Kant’s ethical theory, morals are assessed on the motives of an action rather than on its outcomes. Thus, Kant’s theory would claim an act is morally right even when the outcomes are wrong. From the Kantian perspective, there are certain principles that a person employs to guide his/her behavior. One is universalizability whereby before acting, a person needs to determine if everyone would act the same way when in a similar circumstance. Here, morals are assessed according to how one follows the universalizability principle. That is, an act is morally right if everyone would behave the same way when in similar situations. Another principle is acting according to one’s duty. Hence, an act that is done according to one’s duty is considered morally right. The other principle is that of respecting humanity of everyone where it is morally wrong to use another person as a means to make selfish gains. An act is morally right when people use each other as an end to achieve something (Falk, 2017).

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Application of Kant’s ethical theory to analyze Harvard’s case

Hackers intending to motivate organizations to improve their security would be morally right but considering the universalizability principle, the same hackers would not like to have their systems hacked for the same reason. Thus, hacking regardless of the intensions behind it is morally wrong from the Kant’s perspective. In the Harvard’s case, the students’ actions were morally wrong as they chose to use the weak points of the institution’s system administrators as a means to make their personal gains (Falk, 2017).


Falk, C. (2017). Gray hat hacking: Morally black and white. Retrieved< https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315643296_Gray_hat_hacking_Morally_black_and_white>.

Quinn, M. J. (n.d). Ethics in the information age 6th ed.: Chapter 7: Computer and network security. Retrieved< http://people.oregonstate.edu/~vanlondp/cs391/ppt/quinn-ed6-ch7.pdf>.

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