Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

We may find sources of phenomenological meaning between the boundaries of words and in the gaps between words.

It can be important to detect the difference between the phenomenon we are studying and other phenomena that are related by different. We ask: where do the boundaries of meaning lie between these notions? Where do they touch? Where do they overlap? Where are the borders ambiguous?

By way of illustration we can inquire as to the boundary meanings that separate the phenomenon of secrecy from the related phenomenon of privacy. We may distinguish several facets: First, secrecy is in essence a relational affair while privacy is a refusal of relations (except with respect to intimate insiders). Second, while privacy is usually motivated by a concern for intimacy or personal space, secrecy often deals with non-intimate information about ourselves or others. Third, in the case of secrecy we are always concerned with specific secrets or particular acts of secrecy, while privacy often lacks a specific focus. Privacy has no content as such. Fourth, secrecy is like a language, a mode of communication that requires certain codes and (re)interpretations. It gives shape and significance to what we say and do. In contrast, the practice of privacy towards outsiders is a kind of non-communication. Fifth, privacy seems inherently to be a moral concept. We can claim a “right to privacy” but we would not speak of a fundamental right to secrecy-although laws do exist that protect corporate interests, patents, military and government secrets. But this domain of secrecy is protected, not because of some fundamental human right, but because certain secrets are deemed advantageous to some individuals or groups for economic, political, or strategic reasons. Indeed, some forms of secrecy may be considered morally reprehensible.