Michael's Reviews > Philosophical Dimensions of Privacy: An Anthology

Philosophical Dimensions of Privacy by Ferdinand Schoeman
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May 18, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: social-theory-comps

Ferdinand Schoeman, "Privacy: Philosophical Dimensions of the Literature."

Schoeman overviews the literature on privacy, noting that philosophical discussions of privacy really began in the 1960s (1). Privacy is generally understood as 1) a moral aspect of life, "a claim or entitlement"; 2) an understanding of the ability to control access to one's information; 3) "a state of limited access to a person," which makes privacy an issue about social distance and autonomy; or 4) a social commonplace or category with "both normative and descriptive functions" (3, 4). Schoeman categorizes discussions of privacy: 1) coherence claims, which see privacy as a coherent concept where all claims about privacy have something in common; 2) distinctiveness claims, which see privacy as a moral issue wherein claims about privacy are distinctive to the category of privacy; and 3) skeptical claims, which often see claims to privacy as actually claims to another moral aspect of life (5). Schoeman spends the rest of his chapter overviewing arguments about privacy, most of which are included in the book.

Robert F. Murphy, "Social Distance and the Veil" (1964)

Murphy, an anthropologist, discusses the use of the veil by Tuareg men, to claim that privacy is necessary for social relations because it creates distance, which allows for autonomy (35-36, 52). Because the use of the veil is adjusted to certain social relations, Murphy notes that privacy is also related to hierarchy and degrees of intimacy (45). Murphy also notes "that the single binding and unifying characteristic of all distance techniques is constancy of demeanor" (53).

Alan Westin, "The Origins of Modern Claims to Privacy" (1967)

Westin claims that privacy is seen in all cultures, but manifests itself differently. He overviews four aspects of privacy: 1) privacy is used to create "social distance" by restricting the flow and access of information (61-66); 2) privacy can be understood as a state of being alone (66-67); 3) there is a general tendency for people to invade privacy out of either curiosity or surveillance, which monitors anti-social behavior (67-69); and 4) as societies have modernized, there are increased opportunities for privacy (69).

Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis, "The Right to Privacy" (1890)

Warren and Brandeis argue for a right to privacy in tort law, which they see as "the right of determining, ordinarily, to what extent his thoughts, sentiments, and emotions shall be communicated to others" (78), lost when something becomes public, and based on the sense of "inviolate personality" (82).

William Prosser, "Privacy"

Prosser argues that there are four types of invasion:
1. Seclusion
2. Private facts
3. False light
4. Appropriation of image or self
He critiques Warren and Brandeis on their idea that there is something inherent in the person ("inviolate personality") and rather sees it as important to protect reputation and protect people from emotional stress.

Charles Fried, "Privacy"

Fried argues that privacy is necessary for the maintaining of intimate and interpersonal relationships, because it allows for discretion as to whom one shares information with.

Judith Jarvis Thomson, "The Right to Privacy"

Thomson is skeptical of privacy and argues that there is nothing coherent or distinctive about privacy as a legal or conceptual notion: there is not one central characteristic of privacy (coherence) nor is it distinctive from other rights: property as one example. Privacy, then, is derivative of other rights.
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