Virtue, Privacy and Self-Determination: A Plotinian Approach to the Problem of Information Privacy

Virtue, Privacy and Self-Determination: A Plotinian Approach to the Problem of Information Privacy

Giannis Stamatellos (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/ijcee.2011100104
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Abstract

The ethical problem of privacy lies at the core of computer ethics and cyber ethics discussions. The extensive use of personal data in digital networks poses a serious threat to the user’s right of privacy not only at the level of a user’s data integrity and security but also at the level of a user’s identity and freedom. In normative ethical theory the need for an informational self-deterministic approach of privacy is stressed with greater emphasis on the control over personal data. However, scant attention has been paid on a virtue ethics approach of information privacy. Plotinus’ discussion of self-determination is related to ethical virtue, human freedom and intellectual autonomy. The Plotinian virtue ethics approach of self-determination is not primarily related to the sphere of moral action, but to the quality of the self prior to moral practice. In this paper, it is argued that the problem of information privacy should be reconsidered in the light of Plotinus’ virtue ethics and his notion of self-determination.
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Introduction

The emergence of advanced telecommunication technology, digital and social networking leads to a philosophical reconsideration of our social life and ethical values. The question of privacy as ethical and social value has at length received the attention of scientists, legislators and philosophers (DeCew, 2006). As Alan Westin (1967) observes in his influential book Privacy and Freedom: “few values so fundamental to society have been left so undefined in social theory or have been the subject of such vague and confused writing by social scientists” (p.7). In particular, the problem of information privacy has been closely related to informational self-determination and the claim or the ability of individuals and groups to determine for themselves when, how, and what kind of information about themselves is shared with or communicated to others (Westin, 1967). The normative approach of informational self-determination focuses on the action of moral agency and the evaluation of ethical decision. However, a self-directed virtue ethics approach of self-determination has not been acknowledged in modern discussions. Plotinus’ notion of self-determination is related to intellectual freedom and autonomy: to be self-determined means to take steps towards our inner-self and to discover our own principles of thought that govern our intellectual freedom and autonomy (Stamatellos, 2011). Plotinus’ notion of ethical virtue moves the emphasis of moral decision from the sphere of moral action to the intellectual quality of the self prior to moral activity (Stamatellos, in press). In this paper, I shall argue that Plotinus’ virtue ethics approach of self-determination could be enlightening in modern philosophical discussions of information privacy.

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