Virtue and the Surveillance Society

By David Matheson.

Published by The Technology Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper argues that the surveillance society risks undermining the ability of its citizens to develop virtue for the same sorts of reasons that overprotective parenting can impair the character development of children. Accordingly, to the extent that we think virtue development among citizens is important, we have reason to resist the transformation of the networked society into the surveillance society. I begin with a review of the psychological evidence linking overprotective parenting of a certain sort to impaired character development in children, before offering an explanation of this link: the overprotection carries with it an overt, disaffective excess of surveillance that tends to vitiate a plausible condition on the development of character virtue derived from Aristotle. I then point out that since the networked monitoring systems that pervade the surveillance society carry with them a similar kind of surveillance, we have reason to believe that citizens of the surveillance society will – like the overprotected children – face heightened difficulties in satisfying that condition.

Keywords: Virtue, Character, Surveillance Society, Networked Society, Overprotection, Aristotle

The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 3, Issue 5, pp.133-140. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 547.862KB).

Dr David Matheson

Department of Philosophy, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

David Matheson is a postdoctoral fellow with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada's research project, On the Identity Trail: Understanding the Importance and Impact of Anonymity and Authentication in a Networked Society. He also teaches in the philosophy department at Carleton University, and is an executive committee member of the Canadian Society for Epistemology. David's doctoral research at Brown University examined the place of everyday knowledge commitments in relation to contemporary theories of knowledge. His current research focuses on social epistemology -- especially, reliance on the word of others as a source of knowledge in a networked society, and the rationality of the layperson's response to conflicting expert testimony -- and various ethical and epistemological aspects of surveillance and the right to privacy.

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