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About us Practical matters How to find us U.T.R. (Titus) Stahl, Dr

U.T.R. (Titus) Stahl, Dr

Associate Professor
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Responsibility for Ideology

Unjust social practices, such as racism and sexism, persist because people tolerate and support them. They often do so because they genuinely believe that these practices protect valuable goods, for example, their community and traditions. In short: they falsely believe that their support for them is morally acceptable.
This is not always the result of an intellectual failure on their part. People can be misled in their attempts to make sense of the world by concepts and cultural schemes that distort their thinking—that is, by ideologies. There is no systematic philosophical theory that tells us whether those misled by ideology are respon -
sible for what they do. I am interestin in developing a theory of responsibility for ideologically motivated action that does justice to the complexity of our social world.

Ideologies can shape what we think because we have to draw on concepts and understandings that are embedded in the practices of our communities. If these concepts and understandings are distorted, so will be our thoughts—or so it seems. But are we responsible for acting on beliefs that seem reasonable to us be -
cause our thinking is distorted? Or do our ideological beliefs excuse our support of unjust practices? My approach takes the social nature of ideology seriously by drawing on insights from moral philosophy, theories of ideology, accounts of shared responsibility, social theory, and the philosophy of language. I am interested in examining four questions: How are ideologies rooted in social practices? When
are people responsible for their participation in social practices that shape their thinking? Are we excused for wrongdoing when our moral perspective is distorted by ideology? How should we distribute blame between those who promote ideological schemes and those who accept them? With a systematic theory that
answers these questions, we can find out whether people should be blamed for their ideological support for unjust practices

Privacy and Political Freedom

Whether democratic governments are allowed to engage in so-called “dragnet surveillance” of the communications of their citizens is one of the most contested political issues of our times. Edward Snowden's revelation of the existence of previously unknown forms of communications surveillance, anxiety about privacy violations and the perception that surveillance is necessary to combat terrorism have led to a lively debate in society and academia. In response, the legal frameworks surrounding communications surveillance are currently being changed in many countries. It is of crucial importance that legislation rests on a plausible understanding of the moral and political values that are at play. In particular, the values of security and criminal justice must be weighed against the value of privacy. The proposed research project wants to give a new account of the value of communications privacy.

Most traditional accounts of privacy assume that privacy protects the freedom and status of individual citizens for example, their dignity or negative liberty. Many people therefore think that surveillance is unproblematic as long as individual, law-abiding citizens do not have any negative consequences to fear. This argument neglects the possibility that surveillance not only harms individual interests but also harms collective practices. To examine this possibility, privacy theory needs to go beyond the individualist perspective that dominates much of contemporary theory and focus on the social relationships between citizens, in particular on their relationships in the political sphere. We can only arrive at a comprehensive account of the value of privacy if we also consider how surveillance affects political relationships in the public sphere.

Even though a recent White House report notes that “if people are fearful that their conversations are being monitored […] the democratic process itself may be compromised”  and even though public discussions of privacy increasingly centre on this topic, such a political approach has not been systematically explored in the literature. The hypothesis of this project is that privacy is essential for democratic self-government because it ensures that citizens can freely and collectively determine the nature of their relationships with each other and the government in the public sphere.

The strategy that I propose to examine this hypothesis has three features:

  • It will start from a consideration of the distinctive forms of power which are enabled by contemporary forms of surveillance.

  • It will go beyond the importance of privacy for individuals to find out what role privacy rights have for the public sphere.

  • It will develop a new argument for the political value of privacy by showing which features of the public sphere are essential for democratic freedom and how privacy rights can serve to protect them.

Last modified:24 June 2022 11.29 p.m.