Most writing, says Stephen Downes in "How To Be Heard," is reactive. We think by responding. Our ideas depend quite a bit on who we talk to and what we read -- we react and think in the context of what we hear. If so, then a scale of ethical behavior emerges -- take political blogging, for example:
Does a political blogger talk interestingly, thoughtfully, openly about the ideas of the opposition? Does the blogger merely cherry-pick the weakest moments of enemy arguments in order to blast them? Does the blogger even read and think about what the other side says to justify its vision?
A related scale might be assembled for the writing of academics and other experts:
Does the expert read and think with a variety of people, not just fellow experts? Does the expert read and think only with insiders? Does the expert sometimes write differently for audiences with different levels of expertise? Does the expert write only for insiders?
The reading belongs there because it is the seedbed of reactive thinking and writing, of course. We judge a writer by the company she keeps, knowing how much that influences the quality of the writing, the depth of the vision, the degree to which the writer challenges herself beyond first impressions and common sense. We can tell much about the basic ethical stance: openness to others who might seem different than ourselves.
Here's a small model or theory:
If a person associates only with those who seem the same, his thinking will probably never stray far from the common sense of the home group. Once the circle of acquaintance widens, one person's common sense disrupts another person's common sense, and either fresh thought or tyranny will follow. Jones will imprison Smith, or Smith will cast Jones into exile, or they will establish the beginning of a new sense that is common to them both.