Conscience in the Datasphere

29 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2015 Last revised: 30 Jun 2016

See all articles by Stephen Humphreys

Stephen Humphreys

London School of Economics - Law School

Date Written: June 2, 2015


Much of the anxiety concerning ‘privacy’ in contemporary conditions of data immersion — which I here characterise as ‘life in the datasphere’ — may be better understood by reference to the neglected notion of conscience. This article undertakes an historical inquiry into this rich concept to reframe the debate on privacy, law and technology. To simplify, ‘conscience’ has historically articulated an impulse either to hide from an omniscient moral authority (‘bad conscience’) or to act righteously according to informed reason (‘good conscience’). Originating as a powerful premodern governing principle combining personal with public morality — notably in the medieval notion of synderesis — the personal and political content of conscience were each effectively critiqued by, respectively (in the examples I investigate here), Freud and Hobbes. The concept itself became ultimately marginal to public life. In this article I suggest that conscience in both guises returns forcefully under conditions of data ubiquity, pointing to broader shift in political settlements.

Keywords: data; privacy; conscience; Freud; Hobbes

Suggested Citation

Humphreys, Stephen, Conscience in the Datasphere (June 2, 2015). LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 11/2015; 6(3) Humanity 361-386 (Winter 2015), Available at SSRN:

Stephen Humphreys (Contact Author)

London School of Economics - Law School ( email )

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