Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ tag

How is gender equality represented on the web? What defines an gender equal web in terms of philosophy?   no comments

Posted at 10:42 pm in Uncategorized

Going back to my second post ( looking at the different types of equality and the arguments against them, this post will be addressing how a gender equal web would be defined in philosophical terms, from the different viewpoints.

Moral/Ontological Equality (equality of all persons): In this sense a ‘gender equal’ web would be one where both genders should be valued the same on the web.

Legal Equality (equality of result and outcome): In this sense a ‘gender equal’ web would be one where both genders have the same legal rights and responsibilities (and would be treated in the same way if they committed a web based crime) in relation to the web.

Political Equality (equal votes for all): less relevant for the web but arguably could still be relevant. In any sites where a decision needed to be made with a vote, these votes would have to be equal for both genders. In addition. any online material in respect to politics or voting would have to be without gender bias.

Social Equality (equal access vs equal opportunities): The argument for this is that both genders should have equal access to the webs resources and subsequent benefits.

Argument 1: Society is not by design equal. This looks at the equal access vs equal opportunities, directly in conflict with the social equality argument. Gender’s can’t be truly equal based on this argument as their positions within the online society will be different. For example, in academic websites men and women won’t necessarily be treated the same because how they are treated will depend on their academic prowess or integrity. Sites specific to certain universities for example our own university library site which only allows access to Southampton University students, that’s based on membership of an institution rather than gender. The validity of the social equality argument is that there should not be discrimination against a group (in this case gender, but be it racial or ethnical either) that disallows their access to services. However I fundamentally disagree that EVERYONE should have the same access. Everyone should have the OPPORTUNITY to gain that access but after that it should be based on ability.

Argument 2: Impossible to adhere to full social equality. Unless we live in a totalitarian system full equality can’t be enforced. The web gives the ability for everyone to air their personal opinions in a relatively impersonal sense. Unless the web became locked down such that all data was checked for potential gender imbalance, we can arguably never achieve full gender equality on the web, or indeed any equality. However equality like all other things is relative. If both sides have their opnions and there is a relatively equal distribution on both sides, then perhaps that’s equality after all.

Argument 3: Is full equality necessarily desirable? Following on from the second argument, would we necessarily want such a locked down system where everything was regimented to enforce equality? I know I wouldn’t!

Using these philosophical perspectives and arguments against them, the view of a ‘gender equal’ web that I have deduced from the following is:

  • a web where nobody is restricted based on gender (unless it’s for a very justifiable reason, e.g a group dedicated to a specific disease that only affects one gender)
  • a web where neither gender is severely discriminated against
  • a web where academic integrity reaches higher than your gender
  • and yet, a web where both genders are still free to speak their mind.

Those points in themselves are contradictions of one another, and i’m not sure that it’s possible to reach any ‘fully equal’ platform, whether it be the web or otherwise. Therefore I suppose that arguments 2 and 3 come into play. Full equality isn’t ever going to be possible in a free society, nor would we want it to. The best aspiration is to reach a stable situation where both genders can live in harmony with each other, enjoying the same privaledges that aren’t dealt out based on gender

Written by Samantha Kanza on November 19th, 2013

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How is gender equality represented on the web? Philosophical Methodology   no comments

Posted at 11:02 pm in Uncategorized

This post will look at the basic questions in philosophy, the different types of philosophy, how different philosophical approaches view the world, and the different philosophical research paradigms.

What is Philosophy?
The common perception of a philosopher is generally an incorrect one. Theories have emerged that understand a philosopher to be someone with ‘airy fairy’ qualities or someone who has a glass half full approach to life. This is however quite far away from the actual definition of a philosopher. A philosopher is someone who is searching for a definite answer to his or her questions. A true philosopher aims to solve the problems of the universe and therefore philosophy can be defined as ‘seeing to explain the universe and nature’; in other words, it is a general study of a range of problems from the trivial to the extreme.

Philosophical Views of the World
There exists a wide range of types of philosophy and philosophical views, but the simplest way the two different ways of representing the world from a philosophical way is:

  1. The world explained via scientific method
  2. The world explained via unscientific method

Philosophical Explanations of the World – Matter & Spirit
When attempting to solve problems of the universe, philosophers defined two different ways of explaining ‘things’.

  1. Matter – material things which we can touch
  2. Spirit – things we cannot touch, i.e thoughts/ideas

The Fundamental Problem/Question of Philosophy
The relation between matter and spirit is one that has puzzled many philosophers and depending on their philosophical beliefs, the answer must be presented either as:

  1. The scientific answer
  2. The unscientific answer

Broad Types of Philosophy:
Materialist Philosophy: This is not as the word materialist might suggest, a philosophy that is only concerned with the material problems in life, but rather a philosophy which strives to explain the problems of the universe through science.
Idealist Philosophy: This is the opposite and contradicting philosophical approach to materialism. This is the unscientific approach to conceptualising the world, where all of the answers are given in relation to the spirit as opposed to matter.
Agnosticism: We are incapable of knowing whether the ‘answer’ or ‘explanation’ of the worlds problems is scientific of unscientific, we are in fact ‘incapable of knowing’.

Sub Types of Philosophy
Epistemology: this is the study of knowledge. It is concerned with both the scope and nature of knowledge; asking ‘what is knowledge?’ ‘How can we acquire it?’.
Positivism: traditional scientific approach to gaining knowledge, through repeated observation.
Realism: reality exists independently to the human brain, in other words what our senses show us to be true, is true.
Interpretivism: Research should be based upon different people rather than different objects, and those people’s role as social actors must be taken into account.
Ontological: the study of ‘being’ broken down into objectivism and subjectivism. Interestingly Ontology in the philosophical sense deals with categorising beings and an ontology in computer science in relation to the semantic web deals with categorising data to form a shared vocabulary reminiscent of a dictionary/thesaurus construct.
Objectivism: Social entities exist outside social actors concerned with their existence.
Subjectivism: Social actors perceptions and actors, create social phenomena.
Pragmatism: The question determines the strategy. Depending on the research question asked, different philosophical approaches may be more suitable than others.
Axiology: The ethical part of philosophy, where your values impact your research.

Philosophical Research Paradigms:
Functionalist: Rational explanation of why something is occurring, with recommendations of how to fix it.
Interpretive: Seeking to understand the underlying meanings behind what is occurring.
Radical: Studying the effect of the current structure.
Humanist: Looking at the social phenomena that has been created by the social actors.

In relation to using this information to look at philosophical approaches to gender representation on the web I will be using both general types of philosophy, although probably erring more on the side of the idealist. Theoretically it would be possible to set up scientific studies that could partially look at gender equality on the web, but with such a tenuous issue it’s hard to give it a solely scientific answer; after all even if it were possible to fully survey web usage between the two genders or look at gender representation on blog sites, journal sites etc, that still wouldn’t give a decent picture. In order to properly look at this issue we need to look at the more spiritual side, taking into account the actual ideas represented on the web. For instance a blog might hold equal postings from men and women, but that’s not to say it means that they are being equally represented, one gender might be slating the other or making sexist comments. Or there might be more posts from one gender than another on an academic site, but that might not be because one gender is being misrepresented, merely that more of one gender is currently qualified in the subject of the site.

Narrowing down my approach, I feel a pragmatic approach is the most sensible one to choose; therefore depending on the sub question posed within my essay, I will look to answer it with the appropriate philosophical approach that lends itself to the question. I.e in relation to gender equality representation purely in terms of numbers,  I will probably use a positivistic approach to analyse this question; whereas looking to categorise areas of gender representation, an ontological approach would seem more sensible.

These philosophical musings will begin the philosophical part of my essay, which can then nicely lead onto the equality questions posed in my previous philosophy based post.

[1] Georges Politzer and Barbara L Morris. Elementary principles of philosophy, volume 469. International Publishers, 1976.

Written by Samantha Kanza on November 4th, 2013

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Philosophy and Identity – Here I go . . .   no comments

Posted at 5:09 pm in Uncategorized

To start with I am going to look at what Philosophy thinks identity means. This was a slightly naive aspiration as this is a fairly large area of philosophy. Below I have put some notes of the progress I have made so far.

Identity is not a simple question in philosophy. There are several theories surrounding the issue of “who am I?”.

Dualism (Maslin, 2001)

  • Humans are composed of 2 entities: non-physical soul/mind and the physical body
  • The “person” is the consciousness or the entity that experiences and it is identical to the soul but does not include the body

Identity Theories (Reductionism)

Part of philosophy investigates the concept of mind and body, mind-body problem. What is the body? Who does it belong to? What is the mind? Is it the brain or is it something more? (Mullen, 1977).

Mind/Brain Identity Theory (MBIT)

  • MBIT denies Dualism
  • Mind is not separate from the brain
    • everything is physical, including consciousness and thoughts => exemplifies Materialism

MBIT defines a “brain event” as the living brain and the mental events. Identity theorists explain that mental states are brain states. However, this isn’t a bi-directional relationship. I understand it in terms of

Mind = Brain Events BUT NOT Mind  ≡ Brain Events

So to explain this in terms of maths:

x + 3 = 5

In my example:

x = 2

However 2 will NOT always equal to x.

So when identity theorists refer to Mind and Brain events, it is not correct to interchange the terms whilst describing one side of the relationship. These theorists are not proposing an Analytical Reduction relationship like the following statement “All trilateral are identical with three-sided figures”As trilateral means three-sided figure, this statement is always analytically true – it can never be false. (Maslin, 2001)

Identity Theory can be further broken down into the following theories:


Example  – “love and love and love”

Token = 5 “Token” Words

Type = 2 Types

  1. love
  2. and

Types are a broad class which categorises a number of tokens.

Token-token Identity Theory  (Maslin, 2001)

  • mental tokens are just physical events (e.g. occurring in the brain)
  • Every token of mental state  could be identical with token type of physical state but that mental state will not always generate the same brain state, at a different point in time.

Type-type Identity Theory  (Maslin, 2001)

Water = H2O

Lightning = Pattern of Electrical Discharge

The contents on the right explain the hidden nature of the left-hand items. All lightning flashes will always be patterns of electrical charge but not all electrical charges will be lightning.

Mental State  => Brain State

The Brain State for a particular Mental State will have to be observed, can’t just be predicted.


Identity through labels (Mullen, 1977) – haven’t quite figured out the term for this

Someone can be labelled as:

  • a father
  • son of . . .
  • brother of . . .
  • owner of a golden retriever
  • CEO of Google

Is our identity defined by the labels placed on us by those around us? If this is the case, does our identity depend upon those around us?

Do these different labels/roles result in different behaviours and acceptable personas. What does this mean for our identity on the web? Some argue each label/role has an accepted scope of behaviours linked to it. When we accept the label we accept these conditions of behaviour for the period of time that we are still defined by that label.

Semantic Web  – How will all these personas appear in a semantic web where you are represented by one URI? Sometimes different areas of your life shouldn’t interact e.g. photographs of a young working professional out drinking on a Friday night and a primary school head teacher as these are different segments of this persons life.


Maslin, K.T., 2001. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind. Polity ; Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge, UK : Malden, MA.

Mullen, P., 1977. Beginning Philosophy. Edward Arnold, London.

Written by Anna Weston on October 27th, 2013

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How is gender equality represented on the web? Philosophy: back to basics.   no comments

Posted at 1:10 pm in Uncategorized

This post will cover defining equality and looking at some of the arguments against equality.

In order to look at gender equality at all, let alone on the web in relation to philosophy, the first logical step is to go back to the very basic philosophical question of ‘what is equality?’. The idea of treating all human beings as equals originated thousands of years ago, and with that age old ideology comes differing views and definitions of equality itself. Philosophy commonly defines four different types of equality: moral/ontological, legal, political and social.

Moral/Ontological Equality: This type of equality has been defined in several ways, but all to the same end. One definition is “the fundamental equality of persons” which takes the religious view that all are equal under God. Others have a less theological take but still denote that all human beings should be valued the same, without preferential treatment irrespective of the situation. For example, the ‘all women and children out first (or debatably all wealthy women and children out first) principle’ used on the titanic, would not hold true.

Legal Equality: Otherwise known as ‘equality of result and outcome’; this advocates that all people should be treated the same with respect to the laws they have to follow, and subsequent retribution if they fail to do so. Historically in America, black Americans had a substantially higher chance of receiving a conviction or a harsher punishment than a white American; in a truly legally equal society, all citizens would be tried against the same standards, without taking race, gender, religion or any other factor into consideration.

Political Equality: This equalitarian stance otherwise known as is based on all members of a political community should have an equal say when it comes to making laws or voting in public elections. Therefore no country where anyone who is considered a ‘lesser citizen’ and therefore not allowed to vote (e.g women up until the 20th Century, or the working class until the 19th Century) could claim to be ‘politically equal’.

Social Equality: This is the idea that all members of a society should have equal access to it’s resources and equally benefit from it. The fact that realistically (certainly for Britain) more money can buy you better health care, debatably better education with access to private schools, and the fact that our country still arguably holds class divisions means that we do not enjoy social equality. Unfortunately even countries/governments that have attempted to use communism (a socialist movement to create a classless society) still suffered from corruption and attempts to un-equalise the balance.

After defining these different types of equality, would it then logically hold that ‘gender equality’ would be where both genders can enjoy all four types of equality with no differentiation between them; which would also mean that in terms of how both genders are represented on the web, the way they are viewed, their legal and political rights in relation to the web, and the resources they are allowed access to on the web, should be exactly the same for both?

There are many arguments against these definitions of equality, that therefore would potentially invalidate the question above, as those characteristics of equality would no longer hold true.

The first argument against equality is that different elements of equality aren’t compatible; society is not by design equal. Even if it were possible to conceive a true ‘classless’ society, jobs/salaries/positions within society would still be different, and therefore ‘unequal’; and why shouldn’t they be? If one position requires a higher skill level than another, why shouldn’t the most skilled person for the job secure it? This then poses the question ‘should everyone be afforded equal opportunities, or just the ability to gain the skills to gain access to those opportunities in the first place?’. In relation to gender equality therefore, shouldn’t women and men be given the same starting blocks, with the capacity to make of it what they will. One gender shouldn’t be automatically considered over the other for any position, it should be based on skill, but both genders should have the abilities to gain those skills. To look at this matter in relation to gender representation on the web, it would logically follow that both genders should have the ability to hold any position socially on the web (e.g both should be able to contribute to academic resources) and they should be judged on merit and knowledge not gender.

The second argument is that it is impossible to adhere to full social equality. To enforce such strict rules would be tantamount to introducing a totalitarian rule over society. It has also been argued that a totalitarian esque rule doesn’t work as human nature means that society will always eventually rebel against such a strict rule; rendering utter equality infeasible. It would therefore be almost as impossible to ensure utter gender equality on the web. It would still be marginally easier than ensuring it completely within society (as unless we drift into the fictional realms of totalitarian novels such as 1984; the government has yet to work out how to read or control our thoughts) as all web traffic and content can be monitored, but it would still be a monumental task.

The third argument is that radical steps towards equality aren’t necessarily desirable. At what point would we be compromising our personal liberty in favour of forced equality? This resonates with the popularly quoted concern ‘political correctness gone mad’. Has the desire to treat everyone equally, and not cause offence irrespective of gender, race, religion etc gone too far? At what point would say a gender inequality based joke or phrase e.g ‘get back in the kitchen’ be considered a point of humour between friends, and at what point would it be regarded as blatant sexism and an example of gender equality?

My essay will address equality in it’s origins looking at all of these different types, in addition to the arguments against them to study how one would go about ascertaining the representation of gender equality on the web from a philosophical standpoint.

[1] D. Johnston “Plato, ‘Democracy and Equality'” in Equality, Indianapolis, USA: Hacket Publishing Company Inc, 2000, ch. 1, pp. 1-9.
[2] B. S. Turner “Types of Equality” in Equality, student ed. New York, USA: Tavistock Publications Limited, 1986, ch. 2, pp. 34-56.

Written by Samantha Kanza on October 21st, 2013

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How is gender equality represented on the web? A Philosophical and Psychological Study.   no comments

Posted at 7:20 pm in Psychology

This isn’t as some might think just an excuse to attack the male gender and point out the sites used to discriminate against females; rather looking at how the web has (in places) facilitated gender divides. There are websites, Facebook groups, forums, etc, set up in the name of promoting one gender over the other. The web (as in many areas such as cyber bullying) given people a safe impersonal place to display their prejudices and explore them with like minded people. Unfortunately it’s much easier to sit there and argue that your gender is superior than fight with both factions to say that everyone is the same. I support this topic and the arguments for it are essentially the same as cyber bullying, racism, ageism or any such discrimination on the web, although I would say that this was more of a grey area, and since it is one of personal interest I have chosen this specific section for my review.

The disciplines I have chosen are psychology and philosophy as I know absolutely nothing about them, and they have some relevance to this issue.

The areas that will be studied here are the basic principles of psychology particularly emphasising on behavioural psychology and why people behave the way they do in relation to gender inequality. Reading will focus on both feminist psychology values (and whether they are actually a set of values geared towards equality or if they are more geared towards female bias), in addition to finding out more about the male psyche. Both of these areas are relevant to the topic as they explore both sides of the coin, and on top of this I will be studying why people find the web an easier medium for their prejudices than face to face; and whether the web has brought out a ‘freer’ element for people to express their opinions, or actually negatively enhanced people’s ability to impersonalise discrimination.

Philosophy wise, the areas that seem most relevant and interesting to this topic are: firstly, the ultimate question of ‘what is equality’ gender or otherwise, from a philosophical standpoint; secondly an ethical investigation of how equality should be promoted, and what actually counts as discrimination. Philosophy leaves a lot of room for personal interpretation, and so does a lot of the material on the web, where should the line be drawn between a joke and something that is actually a discriminatory comment?

Philosophical Psychological View:
Finally these two disciplines will be looked at together in relation to this issue; hopefully to combine the ethical definitions of equality from a philosophical point of view, with the behavioural psychology points of view to better understand how the web has actually affected gender equality.

Blog Post Plan:
Week 1 (14th Oct) – Intro
Week 2 (21st Oct) – Philosophy 1 – Defining Equality & Arguments against Equality
Week 3 (28th Oct) – Psychology 1 – Methodology of Psychology
Week 4 (4th Nov) – Philosophy 2 – Methodology of Philosophy
Week 5 (11 Nov) – Psychology 2 – Defining Gender & A Gender View of the Web
Week 6 (18 Nov) – Philosophy 3 – Key Question: What defines an gender equal web in terms of philosophy?
Week 7 (25 Nov) – Psychology 3 –  Key Question: What defines an gender equal web in terms of psychology?
Week 8 (2nd Dec) – Philosophy 4 – Philosophical Conclusions
Week 9 (9th Dec) – Psychology 4 – Psychological Conclusions
Week 10 (16th Dec) – Philosophy of Psychology

Written by Samantha Kanza on October 13th, 2013

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Twitter – a tool for social good or another chance for online abuse?   no comments

Posted at 11:13 am in Politics

Twitter states that it is a tool for social good, helping charities to promote their cause, helping businesses to work more effectively and giving the public fast, up to date access about whatever they find interesting [1]. While twitter has undoubtedly been used for good, for instance in education [2], and for fundraising activities [3], it has also been seriously abused [4], leading to implications for society on whether the site can be controlled effectively in the future, or whether things will only get worse.

The two disciplines I have chosen to look at are Philosophy and Politics.


In this area I have been looking at the three main distinctions of philosophy; metaphysics, epistemology and moral/political philosophy. Whilst the first two areas are perhaps more abstract, containing huge fundamental questions beyond the scope of this project,  it is the third area that I am particularly interested in and that I believe ties in well with the question. For instance the area can be well applied to how people, including the general public and those with power, use twitter on a daily basis. Should companies be allowed to use celebrities to casually endorse their products? Why do hundreds of people take to ‘bullying’ one another on a daily basis? Does a lack of norms allow for this? Can we justify this behaviour? Is it the duty of the government to do something about this?


This is an area which I have not yet looked into as fully, but from my first readings it appears that politics studies anything and everything to do with those who have been allocated a position of power, and what policies they decide to uphold. In the area of political philosophy, I am particularly interested in what makes governmental decisions legitimate and does the government have power over online space?







Craig, E. ‘Philosophy: A very short introduction’

Honderich, T. ‘The Oxford companion to Philosophy’

Nutall, J. ‘An introduction to Philosophy’

Warburton, N. ‘Philosophy the basics’

Sellers, R. ‘The principles, perspectives and problems of Philosophy’


Lanne, J. and Ersson, S. ‘Comparative Politics’

Kelly, P. ‘The Politics book’

Political Philosophy

Wolff, J. ‘An introduction to Political Philosophy’

Swift, A. ‘Political Philosophy’

Written by Laura Hyrjak on October 13th, 2013

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Initial Thoughts – Problem and Disciplines   1 comment

Posted at 11:36 am in Sociology

I am very interested in the issues of identity within the Semantic Web and Linked Data. Moving from a web of documents to a web of data with URIs (unique resource identifiers) for every referenced object/thing/person, aims to create new links between related content. However what happens when you want to refer to a person or thing which isn’t already referenced? This new object will be assigned a URI and others will then be able to link to it. However, who will manage this data and ensure it is correct? This issue is especially significant when referring to an individual. If someone has no intention of creating an online presence or doesn’t have access to the World Wide Web, what impact will this URI about them have on their life? They might not even be aware that a whole series of connected data about them is being collated on the web for everyone else to access. I am going to look at this area from the point of view of philosophy and either sociology or anthropology.

I have started my research by looking into the recognised strands of each of these disciplines.

Philosophy contains a number of interesting areas which could be applied to this problem. Philosophy of language could look at how the use of language could affect the formation of an online network and linked data, ( The political angle of philosophy would be interested in government, law and social justice, ( But possibly the most interesting angle would be to look at the philosophy of the mind, specifically the mind body problem ( This train of thought would look at the idea of mind and body being separate and a philosopher could argue that each should have their own URI?

Secondly I want to look at the idea of URIs and identity in relation to cultures and at the societal impact that online identity could have. Sociology could include the social organisation or social change (

Similarly to Philosophy, Anthropology could include the study of language, and how this could impact the online community. Linguistic Anthropology looks at the cultural impact on nonverbal communication ( Cultural Anthropology:

“All of the completely isolated societies of the past have long since been drawn into the global economy and heavily influenced by the dominant cultures of the large nations.  As a consequence, it is likely that 3/4 of the languages in the world today will become extinct as spoken languages by the end of the 21st century.  Many other cultural traditions will be lost as well.  Cultural and linguistic anthropologists have worked diligently to study and understand this diversity that is being lost.” (

This field might look more negatively upon the web, as a tool which is potentially destroying the traditions and cultural diversity, which makes the world so varied.

This is a very brief introduction to the problem and fields which I wish to investigate.

Written by Anna Weston on October 11th, 2013

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Computer Hacking and the Moral Standpoint: For Saints or Sinners?   no comments

Posted at 4:38 pm in Uncategorized

Initial thoughts on philosophy constitute the subject as a means to question, analyse and assemble thoughts and conceptions of the universe (Nagel, 1987). Furthermore, it has been mentioned that these analyses technically cannot be answered within the current available technology of that particular time. And so, early constructions of the ‘heavens’ and earth, from various religious eras, seemed contradictory to the later findings from scientific studies. Although, from this, further questions can be built upon this to create new philosophies of the universe. This insinuates that the foundations of philosophy stem from an innate human motivation to learn about the world around us and question our very purpose within it. Whether in hindsight that an act of communications hacking is indeed relevant or even significant to the purposes of human beings on planet earth and within the universe.

Not only does philosophy stem from an ideology of ‘nothing is certain’, it also strives to suggest that there are implications and ramifications for such actions associated with what is humanly and technologically possible. Brian Harvey (1985) analyses the ethical consequences of such hacking actions and that the human associated with the action will indeed, over time, become desensitised to the ethical implications as a consequence of their actions. This seems as though it is dependant upon whether they are hacking for the greater good or whether it a simple act of breaking down security systems in order to alter the intended message to its audience.

Furthermore, Harvey (1985) notes that the ethical understanding of a human being is something that is learned, something that is driven from our interaction with the environment and with society, that ethical understanding and awareness are social phenomena that are altered according to variables such as gender, race, religious belief, culture and status. In reference to communications hacking, the ethical implications are based on the judgement from the end-user or the audience of the message and not of the hackers themselves. Although, this begs the question of whether empathy is an emotion on the flipside to perceived ethical discrepancies.

In a news article, the Vatican stated that hackers are subjects associated with a greater good, that they are driving us away from the restrictions and securities of western society and that freedom of speech and the right to know such information is a part of society (Discover Magazine, 2011). In reference to one of my previous posts, this article continues down the route that hacktism is the ideology associated with the freedom of information.

It is clear to see that there is a crossover point between political action and philosophical theory. In my next entry I shall be researching how philosophical theories are represented as political ideologies and how this may affect societies perceptions on communications hacking. Does political reasoning give the hacker the excuse to perform such actions?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Gareth Beeston on November 6th, 2012

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Moral Philosophy and Politics: An Oblique Perspective of E-Mail Hacking   no comments

Posted at 7:18 pm in Uncategorized

With an initial plan to scour the world for an insight into email hacking from the viewpoint of  economists and psychologists, it suddenly came to me that I would be playing too safe a game. With Marketing being a subject so diverse and multi-disciplined, that encompassed areas of psychology in buyer behaviour and economics in statistics analysis, it seemed I had bound myself to a study area that appears difficult to steer away from wholly.

As our world is overrun by hackers and a growing abundance of readily made hacking software and programmers keen to get their hands on whatever they seek it seems bizarre that we still are ready to advertise ourselves on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and many other ‘self-branded’ web sources. The web is such an intrinsic part of our everyday life that we become so wound up in its beauty that we are unaware of any imminent attacks on our personal data.

From e-mail to database systems, from banking to business data, we are inundated with those who wish to hack into our lives for every penny and every piece of information that we hold dear. From recent personal experience, I had been faced with the dilemma of attempting to redeem my own personal e-mail account from those who ‘hacked’ it. I believed this to be an arduous task that is morally, socially and, potentially, financially unacceptable. After this event, I felt that I would like to pursue an understanding of it from a different perspective and realised that this would be the perfect opportunity to do so.

I have now chosen two very different subjects: moral philosophy and politics. From my initial understanding of moral philosophy is an ethical analysis of the self, and the awareness of ethical (mis)representations of action or communication. From further reading, it is believed that moral philosophy is dependant on a number of different issues including cultural values, heritage, environment and obligation (Schneewind, 1992). The cultural values specifically interest me as it is not without doubt that the varying cultures will determine various perceptions of what is morally acceptable.

My second subject is in politics, which a subject that can both be the cause and consequence of societal change in any nation. This subject helps to define our understanding of culture, psychology, finance and communications and reveals itself as a tug-of-war between power and peace (Morgenthau, 1993), greed and ethics. Furthermore, it can help to define a nation and its outlook on the rest the world through the ideologies of various political leaders whether in a dictated land or otherwise.

It appears that subjects would have, although different, solid perspectives on communications hacking and extenuate the need for this issue to subside.  I will follow up my research by looking into how moral philosophy develops according to nation, race and culture. I will also seek further knowledge of political advances on e-mail hacking, whether they use it for unfair advantage or whether it is heavily moderated.

Guyer, P. (1992). The Cambridge Companion to Kant. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Morgenthau, H.J. (1993). Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. Boston:McGraw-Hill



Written by Gareth Beeston on October 21st, 2012

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The Pit and the Pendulum of extended and over-elaborate metaphor   no comments

Posted at 2:03 pm in Economics,Psychology,Sociology

Mors ubi dira fuit vita salusque patent.

So, to expand the first blog post a little: what I think is nagging at me is this sense of a range of ‘objects,’ of pieces of ‘knowledge-meat’, or ‘currency’, that are consumed or traded within their own disciplines. Sometimes these objects of knowledge have the same names in other subjects, but they mean different things. And across disciplines the means of making them edible, civilized, tradable can be hugely different. Traditionally these bits of ontologies, of data (they are sometimes data) are going to somehow be examined, discussed, prodded, perhaps measured: quantified or qualified in some sense. In the past this might have been described on paper. These days, some of us (perhaps not that many, globally) have the web as a means of mediating discovery and knowledge acquisition. There are many things that can be done with knowledge on the web: it can be hidden, it can be spread, it can be created, it can be pushed around. If tiny bits of data somehow fit with the tiny little pieces of the structure of the web, then one might suppose that a sort of true picture emerges. However, again, something that has nagged at me is how so much of our thinking is analogical, or metaphorical. So that true pictures are actually very hard to locate using reductionist mapping – see Wicked Problems, for example.

What I think might be part of one of the questions I want to pursue, is to do with how the web might change the analogies that are implicit or embedded within disciplines. Sometimes the process of collaboration can bring out these assumptions. Sometimes, collaboration is hugely impeded by them.

For example, one of our widely used assumptions or analogies that fascinates me, is that which describes electricity. Electricity has long been portrayed as a commodity. Walter Patterson (a physicist by trade) has written at length on this subject, in a book called, ‘Keeping the Lights On.’ The traditional picture of electricity is of something that ‘flows’ like water, and can be cut off, traded, conserved, or wasted. Entire forests have been destroyed in the pursuit of the subject of electricity and our consumption of it. Generations of schoolchildren have suffered sleepless nights, worrying (somewhat misguidedly) about global warming’s fatal pendulum hanging over the Polar Bear every time they put their heating on (along with the location of the calorie  – another rather elusive and misleading concept.)

Patterson says, “How many times have you heard or read some energy specialist refer to ‘energy production’ or ‘energy consumption’? These people are supposed to be experts. Surely they ought to know one unbreakable law, the First Law of Thermodynamics, the law of conservation of energy. No one produces energy. No one consumes energy. The amount of energy in the whole universe remains the same.”

He then goes on to describes a host of assumptions that arise incorrectly out of our making electricity a commodity to be traded, the most simple being that arising from the regulators who are allegedly looking for the best deal for the household market – a low unit price does not equal a low bill – the holy grail for the ‘consumers.’ To me, having worked with the UK’s largest energy company and, in particular, with their hard and soft data, it’s clear on a fairly elementary level that describing our relationship with electricity like this is going to cause anxiety for the ‘consumer’. It describes a selfish market. It’s all about measuring how much we use, and not the quality of our relationship with it. Too much = red, not very much = green. It’s almost a little bit childish. Imagine designing an app to somehow map our relationship with energy. It would have reds and greens, wouldn’t it?  It would be about ‘a lot’ (scolding) or ‘a little’ (caressing tone of voice- well done.) It would be great to break from this model and look at different ways of being technical about how we are with energy.

Even as I’m doing my preliminary, slightly distracted, coffee-table pre-reading, this strikes a chord with me. A book I picked up a couple  of weeks ago, written by Stephen Landsburg is called, ‘The Armchair Economist.’ (In the manner of many inhabitants of armchairs he keeps disappearing just when I want him. I’m also wondering if The Spy in the Coffee Machine can see him from the kitchen, and if so, whether they should talk. Never mind.)

The first chapter of this book starts boldly with, “Most of economics can be measured in four words: ‘People respond to incentives.’ The rest is commentary.” He then goes on to describe, or perhaps, hypothesise, how making cars more safe kills more people, as people drive more safely in more dangerous cars. Landsburg continues by saying that economics begins with the assumption that all human behaviour is rational. I’m presuming that part of the rest of the book is to decry this notion triumphantly. It is very fashionable nowadays (and seems to cause great joy for the evolutionary psychologists) to show how entirely irrational we are; however I can’t help feeling that there is sometimes a confusion in the literature between say a system of perception, or of governance that overcorrects, and the net result that that has for the movement and/or survival of its owner. (I know, feeling something isn’t really academic: it’s another question to explore.)

So, now I have economics and markets intruding a little into my original speculation about how the concepts or metaphors embedded in disciplines might be creating pictures that aren’t entirely correct. It’s certainly the case that while markets have their own language, they also trade in the languages used by the disciplines that come together to create the products or objects on sale. And now, for some of us, the sorts of things that can be traded, over the net for example, are elusive objects, which it might be worth while trying to pin down a little further. I’m worrying that some of this sounds as though I’m just talking semantics. I do intend to explore this further and show how it’s not just trivial misunderstandings, but deep ones that maybe re-cast our notion of the world to some extent.

As far as a methodology goes, my approach to research is often about contingency. Particularly interdisciplinary research. I don’t believe that using a wholly empirical, top-down filtering method is always going to work, as this assumes that there is an explicit pool of knowledge out there to be refined. My very subject matter says that this might not be the case. So, although I intend to use the traditional method, and my next step is to get my text books on economics and psychology/ sociology, and to read and annotate findings from them, I will  also read a lot of not-quite academic, coffee-table stuff that gives me a feel for whether I would be happy to say, sit and have lunch with the people who are writing. And, more immediately, I’m suffering from a nagging sense of not having figured out what the correct referencing procedure for blogging is. I’m used to using hyperlinks and checking they’re still live every now and then. Suspect I might need proper references.

I also haven’t yet drawn out my reasons for an interest in psychology, but, quickly, this is because I think that in the pursuit of truth (which should arise somewhere when looking at how subjects are affected by the web), it is is probably going to be interesting to look at what drives people to co-operate and trust each other when working together within specific subject areas that use specific ontologies that might or might not be affected by the emergence of the WWW.

I am now releasing these thoughts into the wild, where they can roam about in a  sort of purgatory of waiting for approval.

Written by me1g11 on October 25th, 2011

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