A Response to Some Philosophical Questions About Privacy

Dissertation, Stanford University (1989)

Privacy is a puzzling concept. It is often sought in the realm of law and everyday life. Yet certain philosophers and jurists contend that the concept should be abandoned. The philosophers argue that privacy is neither conceptually nor morally distinct from other interests; the jurists point to the apparently disparate interests involved in privacy law. In my dissertation, I present an intimacy and control-based account of privacy which escapes these criticisms. ;This dissertation contains both a critical and constructive section. In the critical section, I survey the chaos of privacy in the legal and philosophical literature. I draw out three questions from the literature: is privacy a conceptually and morally distinct concept? How should privacy be defined? What value should be accorded to privacy? The constructive chapters of my dissertation answer these questions. I start by arguing that skepticism about privacy fails: the meaning and value of privacy cannot be reduced to the meaning and value of non-privacy interests. I then argue that privacy provides the agent with control over intimate decisions, including an agent's decisions about intimate access to herself, the dissemination of intimate information, and her own intimate actions. This account of privacy gives rise to the need to explain intimacy. I argue that intimacy is a product of the agent's motivation. To claim that something is intimate is to claim that it draws its meaning and value for the agent from her love, liking and/or care. This account of intimacy is incorporated into my definition of privacy: privacy is the state of possessing control over decisions concerning matters which draw their meaning and value from one's love, liking and care. Finally, I discuss privacy's value. I argue that the source of privacy's positive value is neither its promotion of relationships, nor respect for persons as rational choosers. Rather, privacy embodies our respect for persons as emotional beings. To respect others in this fashion, we must acknowledge their autonomous capacity for love, liking and care. In short, we must accord them privacy.
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