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Conscience in the datasphere

Humphreys, Stephen (2015) Conscience in the datasphere. Humanity: an International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development, 6 (3). pp. 361-386. ISSN 2151-4364

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Identification Number: 10.1353/hum.2015.0029


Much of the anxiety concerning “privacy” in contemporary conditions of data immersion—which I here characterize as “life in the datasphere” —may be better understood by reference to the neglected notion of conscience. This article undertakes an historical inquiry into this rich concept to reframe the debate on privacy, law and technology. To simplify, “conscience” has historically articulated an impulse either to hide from an omniscient moral authority (“bad conscience”) or to act righteously according to informed reason (“good conscience”). Originating as a powerful premodern governing principle combining personal with public morality—notably in the medieval notion of synderesis—the personal and political content of conscience were each effectively critiqued by, respectively (in the examples I investigate here), Freud and Hobbes. The concept itself became ultimately marginal to public life. In this article I suggest that conscience in both guises returns forcefully under conditions of data ubiquity, pointing to broader shift in political settlements.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2015 University of Pennsylvania Press
Divisions: Law
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Sets: Departments > Law
Date Deposited: 24 Sep 2015 15:10
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2020 00:14

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