Privacy and the Common Good: G. H. Mead and the Social Value of Privacy


This article explores the social value of privacy and the intricate relationship between personal autonomy and societal cohesion within the realm of privacy. It contrasts George Herbert Mead’s two models of social organization—hostility and integration—in terms of their impact on the interplay between individuals and society. The model of hostility envisions individuals and society engaged in a zero-sum game, resulting in diminished individuality and an atomistic view of autonomy. In contrast, the model of integration recognizes the interdependence of entities, fostering individuality and promoting a relational understanding of autonomy. Applying these models to privacy theory, the article argues that privacy has often been conceived in terms of hostility, pitting individuals against society. Instead, the article advocates for embracing the model of integration, in which privacy is seen as fundamental to a society where individuals maintain their uniqueness while pursuing a common good. The right to privacy, rooted in this integrative model, allows individuals to preserve their distinct social selves while participating in joint social organization. Furthermore, understanding privacy through the lens of integration highlights the importance of the common good as a necessary condition for both individuality and autonomy. This relational perspective positions privacy as an essential aspect of a democratic and moral society, where diverse individuals mutually constitute themselves and the broader social fabric. By presenting this view, the article offers a fresh understanding of privacy's social value and its implications for societal organization, democracy, and morality.

Author's Profile

Yuval Goldfus
Hebrew University of Jerusalem


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