“The Strange Return Of Gyges’ Ring”

The Strange Return of Gyges’ Ring” in Privacy, Identity, and Anonymity: Lessons from the Identity Trail, eds. Ian Kerr, Valerie Steeves and Carole Lucock (Oxford University Press, in press 2009)

Book II of Plato’s Republic tells the story of a Lydian shepherd who stumbles upon the ancient Ring of Gyges that has the power to make him invisible. In the story, the shepherd uses the ring to gain secret access to the castle where he kills the king and overthrows the kingdom. Plato uses this story to pose the classic philosophical question: why be moral if one can act with impunity? 

In a network society—where social structures and activities are organized around electronically processed information networks this classic philosophical question ceases to be the luxury of an ancient philosopher’s thought experiments.

This article, written as an introduction to the anthology Lessons from the Identity Trail, begins by discussing “the network society” and re-articulates the lesson from the tale of the Ring of Gyges in the context of anonymous online activity. The article goes on to describe the three themes discussed in the anthology: privacy, identity, and anonymity. 

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