Joshua Cohen (Apple, University of California-Berkeley): "Democracy and the Digital Public Sphere"

Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm
Location: 

ABSTRACT: A healthy mass democracy requires an informal public sphere that provides citizens with ample opportunities for expression, an arena for communicative action, easy access to diverse views and perspectives, and high quality, low cost information on issues of common concern. Critics of the digitally-mediated public sphere argue that these standards are being undermined by current the deployment of current information and communication technologies, dominated by oligopolies with a toxic mix of swashbuckling ambition and moral preening. To be sure, opportunities for expression have greatly expanded. But the communicative environment is suffused with distortion, and lacks shared standards of evidence, argument, error-correction, or topical salience. To explore these criticisms, the lecture will present some standards for a well-functioning, democratic public sphere. critically engage some of the romanticism about the mid- and late-20th century public sphere—with its limited diversity of content and cramped opportunities for communicative action—and explore some norms and practices that might provide alternatives to (private) censorship as a way to strengthen the democratic characteristics of the digital public sphere.

BIO: Joshua Cohen is a political philosopher, who has written on issues of democracy and global justice. Cohen joined the faculty at Apple University in 2011, and is also currently a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Berkeley, in the School of Law, the Department of Philosophy, and the Department of Political Science. From 1977-2006, he was professor of political science and philosophy at MIT. From 2006-2104, he was Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society at Stanford, with appointments in political science, philosophy, and law. He also taught Designing Liberation Technologies (with computer scientist Terry Winograd) at Stanford’s d.school.

Cohen is co-author of "On Democracy" (1983) and "Associations and Democracy" (1995), and author of "Philosophy, Politics, Democracy" (2009); "The Arc of the Moral Universe" (2010); and "Rousseau: A Free Community of Equals" (2011). He is also co-editor of the "Norton Introduction to Philosophy" (second edition, 2018). He gave the Tanner Lectures at Berkeley in 2007 and has edited Boston Review since 1991 (http://bostonreview.net).