'Does Surveillance Make Us Morally Better?'

This article is from the archive of our partner .

If we knew surveillance cameras were monitoring every street and every square foot of our homes, we would probably be on our best behavior. But would we really be "moral" for not committing crimes simply out of fear?

It's a huge question better tackled in this excellent 3,500-word essay by Emrys Westacott in Philosophy Now than in a short post light on references to Immanuel Kant. But we can give you a flavor of the issues he raises. Westacott weighs the utilitarian benefits of surveillance against the "diminution of our moral character" constant monitoring might cause. The less we are required to make moral choices for the sake of doing right, the less we may be capable of it. Such a fear is "reasonable," he says, because

The relation between surveillance and moral edification is complicated. In some contexts, surveillance helps keep us on track and thereby reinforces good habits that become second nature. In other contexts, it can hinder moral development by steering us away from or obscuring the saintly ideal of genuinely disinterested action. And that ideal is worth keeping alive."

Is it better, then, for parents to trust kids to wrestle with temptations themselves, rather than make use of the monitoring that cell phones, GPS devices, and Web browser histories allow?

[Via The Browser]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.