Julia Netter

I am a political philosopher interested in liberal theory, moral pluralism, and the ethics of digital technology.

I am a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at Brown University. I also coordinate the Computer Science Department's Socially Responsible Computing Program.

Previously, I spent two years as a Postdoctoral Research Associate with the Political Theory Project at Brown. Prior to that, I completed my DPhil1 in political philosophy at the University of Oxford.

My main interests are in normative political philosophy, and, in particular, liberal approaches to digital technology and public debate. My current research project focuses on challenges to autonomous agency created by the data economy.

I also work on questions of moral pluralism and respect in political liberalism. Specifically, my DPhil thesis looks at the challenge that deep moral disagreement poses to public reason.

  1. Also known as a PhD elsewhere.

Research

Current project

Liberal theory and the digital body: rethinking autonomous agency in data protection

The shift of everyday activities to online platforms and services, and the plethora of digital data that a modern person generates – both implicitly or explicitly – as they go about their life poses new challenges to individuals' capacity to reflect on, and make meaningful decisions with regard to, the information they provide about themselves. I claim that for liberal theory to determine what it means for a person to be autonomous in the data-saturated online world, we must expand our conceptual devices, and, in particular, develop a more nuanced view on what constitutes the individual person in the digital sphere.

In this project, I develop the notion of a digital body, the collection of data that an individual creates deliberately and implicitly, and which—akin to a physical body—is a medium for others to act on the individual. The digital body provides a useful lens for assessing the failures of autonomy-protecting liberal paradigms like explicit consent and targeted regulation when applied to digital technology.

DPhil thesis

Why Be Reasonable? Political Liberalism, Moral Pluralism, and Deep Disagreement

Political liberalism contains a commitment to public justification. The exercise of coercion on the basis of political principles is only thought to be proper if these principles are acceptable to each and every reasonable person. The fact that political liberalism restricts the constituency of public justification, i.e., the constituency of those who are owed justifications, to reasonable people is significant. I argue that, as it stands, this restriction is problematic. Specifically, political liberalism's core commitment to respect for persons as ends in themselves is in conflict with its refusal to justify their exclusion to some individuals who will be coerced. Furthermore, attempts to dispense with the need to provide justifications to the unreasonable seem to resolve that tension, but only at the cost of introducing a second defect: an impoverished and ultimately illiberal conception of the person which refuses to regard individual persons as morally autonomous.

My work resolves that tension, arguing that justifications can indeed be offered to those who are not seen as reasonable by the standards of political liberalism. Two different kinds of unreasonableness warrant different kinds of justifications: those who are fundamentally unreasonable because they reject the core liberal commitment to persons as free and equal, are unable to escape that very moral commitment, as it can be shown to be implicit in their attitude and conduct towards their fellow citizens. Others who, when they encounter deep moral disagreement in political debates, fall short of the requirement to engage with others in public reason on the basis of shared values, can be offered justifications for restraint which are rooted in the character of the very moral convictions they are tempted to draw on in public reason.

My research statement has more details on my research.

Teaching

My teaching interests center on the area of contemporary normative political philosophy and the ethics and political theory of computer science and digital technology.

During my DPhil studies, I taught the undergraduate Theory of Politics course within the Oxford Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) program. This second-year course forms the advanced introduction to modern analytical political philosophy for Oxford PPE students.

My teaching statement has more information about my teaching philosophy.

Misc

I use LaTeX for my type-setting (you should, too!), and have collected some resources for using LaTeX for work in the Humanities.

Contact

Email me at julia_netter@brown.edu. If you would like the content to stay between us, you can find my public PGP-key here.

I also occasionally tweet pictures of cats.