Big Data, Digital Traces and the Metaphysics of the Self
The world seems to be constituted more and more by information. This paper investigates how Big Data has a profound effect on the metaphysics of the self. More precisely, it argues that the digital traces one leaves behind, which are only tiny parts of the Big Data, are integral parts of one’s own self. Thus they are worthy of protection. The argument rests upon an earlier argument on the extended mind put forward by Clark and Chalmers (Analysis 58: 10–23, 1998) and goes further in claiming that the self and identity of the individual is also constituted by her digital traces. Then I deliberate on some salient ethical concerns that arise from this metaphysical analysis, focusing on the emerging notion of group privacy.
KeywordsBig Data Extended mind Levels of abstraction Conception of the self Individual privacy Group privacy
This paper was presented at the joint meeting of the International Association of Computing and Philosophy (IACAP and the Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiry (CEPE) conference at the University of Delaware, June 22–25, 2015. I would like thank Tom Powers for his hospitality, and to Charles Ess, Clifton Guthrie, Tom Powers, Jim Moor, and others for their comments.
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