Social and Political Philosophy (PHIL*4230) | College of Arts

Social and Political Philosophy (PHIL*4230)

Term: Fall 2013


The category of “privacy” has attracted significant attention in the twenty-first century. Telecommunications and social media have made it possible for private information to potentially fall into the wrong hands, creating opportunities for theft, fraud, and other threats to personal security. Simultaneously, there is increased “privatization” of public services and government use of private-public partnerships in delivery of government services. This seminar on the “private” and “public” will examine the history of thinking on these concepts since the nineteenth century. Hegel first developed the “private” and the “public” in the nineteenth century in the Philosophy of Right (1821), with the idea of “civil society”. Civil society was a social institution that emerged with capitalism and the industrial revolution; it depended on the seclusion of the family from it. Critical theorist Juergen Habermas wrote a history of the emergence of the idea of “the public sphere” as a space for the communicative interaction of “private” agents. Habermas’s “public sphere” is not quite the same as Hegel’s “civil society”, and we will closely examine the difference. We will look at the twentieth century theories on the “public” in Arendt, Rawls, Fraser, Benhabib, and others. In the twenty-first century, privacy has been defended by ethicists who claim that a right to privacy is necessary to protect weak and unpopular people, who have the right to hold minority views that do not hold wide public currency. In this sense,” privacy” is opposed to the “tyranny of the majority”. For this reason, privacy serves as the principle that supports the secret ballot in public elections. Most recently, ethicists have confronted the category of “conscience,” a correlate of privacy, and its uses primarily in the field of medicine. Through history, political theory, and recent applied ethics, this seminar in political philosophy will examine history and recent theory concerning the category of “privacy”, its relation to the “public”, and to democracy itself. This seminar is also interdisciplinary and draws on material from philosophy, history, political


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