[ExI] short history of privacy and equal rights

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sat Jun 6 20:54:12 UTC 2015

Från:   William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com> 
 > For all esp. Anders:
>  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/25/to-have-and-to-hold

As usual for the New Yorker, a very readable article. I think it makes an interesting point about privacy being weaker than equality as a foundation for rights. 

Of course, a lot of this is constitutionalism: fun if you are into that, but not applicable outside the US legal framework. But philosophically equality has *way* firmer footing than privacy. Even those ethicists who think privacy is important regard it as a derived right from more core stuff like autonomy and freedom of thought. Meanwhile equality is based on fairly deep metaethical or formal ethical principles: ethical judgements should be universalizable (they make similar judgements about similar cases), they should be consistent, and people are by default morally the same (the last one is the tricky one, but most moral systems contain it as a kind of inherent assumption). Equality in regards to some property P just states that P does not imply any change in moral status: if it is OK for some people to do X and people are equal in regard to X-activities, then it is OK for me to do it too. Privacy on the other hand is directly tied to a particular sociocultural context. 

Which may be why the *legal* arguments based on equality are doing fine - we are learning a lot of equal properties and this leaves past equality argument *stronger* - while privacy becomes time-bound and the laws based on the then-current version can't stay synched with society. Universality for the win?

Transhumanist question: so, what forms of equality do we think about that are not currently recognized? I think species- and substrate-independence is one: it does not matter what you are made from, evolved from, or built by, as long as you are a thinking moral agent. Another one might be equality between cryonically suspended people and other inert-but-alive people. And among my consequentialist crowd, just as people remote in space have the same moral value as people close in space, people remote in time also have the same value as people close in time. 

(Incidentally, justice Blackmun's name popped up in a fun legal essay my husband read to me last week: "Justice Blackmun's blood oath" http://www.greenbag.org/v18n2/v18n2_articles_goelzhauser.pdf 
Yep. We read academic papers to each other during cozy evenings; I read back parts of the astrophysics paper https://iopscience.iop.org/0004-637X/669/2/1279 )

Anders Sandberg, Future of Humanity Institute Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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