Accessibility statement

Property, Privacy and Consent - PHI00076M

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Hannah Carnegy-Arbuthnott
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

This module will cover approaches to thinking about the form and scope of rights to property and privacy, and the role of consent in relation to these. What grounds rights to property and privacy – are these natural rights, or are they created by convention? Are property and privacy distinct kinds of rights, or is the right to privacy reducible to more general boundary-type rights to your own person and property? When it comes to protecting certain interests of ours, such as having control over our personal data, is that best provided through property or privacy rights?


Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aim of the module is to explore and assess philosophical theories about the basis of privacy and property rights. We will do this by reading, discussing, and writing about:

  • Natural rights theories and conventional approaches to property and privacy,
  • The concept of privacy and its role in moral and political philosophy, legal theory, and public policy,
  • Cases where the distinction between privacy and property rights is contested, e.g. personal information and data protection.


Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students should be able to:

  • Understand and assess the strengths and weaknesses of a range of views about the grounding of property and privacy rights, the scope of such rights, and their applications.

  • Read, critically evaluate, and deliver a succinct presentation of research on privacy and property rights.

  • Apply the skills and knowledge acquired throughout the module to produce an independent piece of writing which draws on the student’s own independent research beyond the content covered in seminars.

Module content

It’s common to talk about the importance of respecting one another’s boundaries. If you enter someone’s home uninvited, read their diary, or touch them without their consent, you may be criticized for having “crossed a line”. Boundary metaphors are equally prevalent in philosophical theorizing about the rights of individuals, in particular in debates about property, privacy and consent. But how useful is that boundary metaphor in conceiving of the form of such rights, or for capturing the ways we can wrong people by trespassing on their property, interfering with their person, or infringing their privacy? 

In this module, we will cover some of the main approaches to thinking about the form, scope, and grounding of such rights, and consider the extent to which they can be adequately conceptualized as boundary rights. Part of this will involve investigating whether property and privacy are distinct kinds of rights, or whether the right to privacy is derived from or reducible to more general boundary-type rights to your own person and property.

The module will also address debates where the question of whether privacy or property rights are appropriate to protecting the interests in question is contested, such as the domain of data protection, or the way rights to access birth control have been protected under a constitutional right to privacy.



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative Assessments

  • One 10-minute presentation and 1-2 sides of A4 handout during a seminar between Weeks 3-10 of the Spring Term.
  • One 750-word essay plan to be submitted on Monday, Week 8 of the Spring Term.

Summative Assessment

  • One 4,000-word essay to be submitted on Monday, Week 1 of the Summer Term.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • Verbal feedback on the seminar presentation will be given within 1 week of the presentation.
  • Verbal feedback on the essay plan will be given within 2 weeks of submission.
  • Students will receive written feedback on their summative work 4 weeks after submission.

Indicative reading

Allen, A., 2011, Unpopular Privacy: What Must We Hide?, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Honore, A.M. (1961), ‘Ownership’ in A.G. Guest (ed.) Oxford Essays in Jurisprudence, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lever, Annabelle (2012), ‘Privacy, Private Property, and Collective Property,’ The Good Society, 21: 47–60.

Marmor, A. (2015). What is the right to privacy?, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 43(1), 3-26.

Nagel, T., 2002, Concealment and Exposure: And Other Essays, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Nissenbaum, H., 2010, Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life, Stanford: Stanford University Press

Paul, J., Miller, F., and Paul, E. (eds.), 2000, The Right of Privacy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Penner, J. E. (2000), The Idea of Property in Law, New York: Oxford University Press.


The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.