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Privacy and Philosophy

New Media and Affective Protocol


Andrew McStay

What can philosophy tell us about privacy? Quite a lot as it turns out. With Privacy and Philosophy: New Media and Affective Protocol Andrew McStay draws on an array of philosophers to offer a refreshingly novel approach to privacy matters. Against the backdrop and scrutiny of Arendt, Aristotle, Bentham, Brentano, Deleuze, Engels, Heidegger, Hume, Husserl, James, Kant, Latour, Locke, Marx, Mill, Plato, Rorty, Ryle, Sartre, Skinner, Spinoza, Whitehead and Wittgenstein, among others, McStay advances a wealth of new ideas and terminology, from affective breaches to zombie media. Theorizing privacy as an affective principle of interaction between human and non-human actors, McStay progresses to make unique arguments on transparency, the publicness of subjectivity, our contemporary techno-social condition and the nature of empathic media in an age of intentional machines.
Reconstructing our most basic assumptions about privacy, this book is a must-read for theoreticians, empirical analysts, students, those contributing to policy and anyone interested in the steering philosophical ideas that inform their own orientation and thinking about privacy.
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Chapter Five: Pragmatism: Jettisoning normativity

← 48 | 49 → CHAPTER FIVE


Chapters 2, 3 and 4 respectively assessed border-based, liberal and utilitarian approaches to privacy. This chapter considers privacy in relation to pragmatism, that creative area of philosophy that revels in indeterminism, prefers to look forward, and refuses to be restricted by dogma, strictures and the preeminence of mono-logical reason. Pragmatism is a refreshingly clear approach with simple premises, yet high levels of critical engagement with sibling philosophies. Indeed a common characteristic of much pragmatist writing is its accessibility. It shares sympathies with liberalism and Mill, non-reductionist strains of utilitarianism that reject fixed norms, and that general tendency to ask questions about what will bring about a better world.

In this chapter I pay particular attention to Rorty’s (1989) Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, while acknowledging the tradition of pragmatism through terms and writings provided by William James and Dewey. Rorty’s interest is the relationship between metaphysics, rights and morality, and the ways in which we engage with these today. The background to this concern involves contemporary emphasis on textualism and that mode of social criticism that requires we understand the root yet contingent discourses of our beliefs. This raises a number of questions: is an absence of metaphysics politically dangerous? Centrally, should we allow rights, norms and in our case privacy to be contingent upon context? Do we a need a deontic conception of privacy to prop it up, or can we open it up for contextual ← 49 | 50 → redescription? To generalize, pragmatism eschews normative approaches in favor of...

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