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Philosophy Forum - 'Transparency is Surveillance'

Lectures: Philosophy Forum workshop with Dr. C. Thi Nguyen, University of Utah, of his paper 'Transparency is Surveillance'

4:00 PM - 5:30 PM Apr. 1, 2021
Zoom Event
Open to the public
Registration Required
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Contact Dr. Neil Manson ( for a copy of the paper and the Zoom link for the workshop.  

In her BBC Reith Lectures on Trust, Onora O’Neill offers the following brief argument: People think that trust and transparency go together, but in reality, they are deeply opposed. Public transparency forces people to conceal their actual reasons for action and invent new ones for public consumption. Transparency forces deception. I work out the details of this argument and worsen its conclusion. The drive to accountability forces experts to explain their reasoning to non-experts. But expert reasons are, by their nature, often inaccessible to non-experts. So the demand for transparency can force experts to confine their actions to those for which they can offer public justification. This is particularly pernicious when the proper evaluation of successful action is itself a matter of expertise — such as is often the case with education, the arts, and ethical matters. This is also pernicious when the reasons involved are intimate to a community, and not easily explicable to those who lack a particular shared background. Transparency, it turns out, is a form of surveillance. By forcing reasoning into the explicit and public sphere, transparency roots out corruption — but it also inhibits the full application of expert skill, sensitivity, and subtle shared understandings. The difficulty here arises from the basic fact that human knowledge vastly outstrips any individual’s capacities. We all need to depend on experts, which makes us vulnerable to their biases and corruption. But if we try to wholly secure that trust - if we leash groups of experts to pursuing only the goals and taking only the actions that can be justified to the non-expert public - then we will undermine their expertise. We need both trust and transparency, but they are in essential tension. This is a deep practical dilemma, which admits of no neat resolution, but only painful compromises.

For assistance related to a disability, contact Neil Manson: | 6629156713

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Sponsored by: UM Philosophy Forum