I have question about the ethics of life writing. What can I (or any other

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I have question about the ethics of life writing. What can I (or any other author for that matter) write in an autobiographical work? My life and my autobiography belong to me, so I should be able to decide what I reveal and how, but since they are so entwined with so many other lives, it seems as my autonomy is in conflict with the autonomies of the people in my life and my autobiography. For example: my girlfriend and I used to have a blog together (it’s closed now since we broke up some time ago) where we would write about very intimate things concerning our relationship and feelings and so on. We used nicknames to conceal our identity, so of all of the people who read the blog, only a handful of very close friends knew who were behind it. Although the blog is no longer available online, I have all the posts on my computer. It’s fairly obvious to me that I ought not to show any posts written by her to anyone, let alone reveal her identify to someone. But it’s not that obvious that I ought not to show posts written by me to someone. On one hand those posts have been written by me and I should be able to share them with whom I like. On the other hand many of those posts describe very intimate things about my girlfriend and sharing those would feel kind of like telling a secret that has been entrusted to you. What is the ethical way of dealing with situations like this, especially in this day and age where anyone can become a published author via the Web.

A fascinating set of questions. Let me start by distinguishing atleast two: 1. the issue of 'entwined' lives and their relation toindividual autonomy. 2. The implications of this for 'ownership' ofautobiographies.

The first of these is only a problem if we start with theassumption that everything that happens (in the human world) mustbelong to one and only one agent. As the saying goes, 'it takes twoto tango'. You wouldn't have been 'free' to write about arelationship if there hadn't been another person! You were, in asense, co-authors and co-owners of the events of the relationship.

The second question is more difficult. In fact, I think theexample of the joint blog is not really appropriate. A blog is in thepublic domain, and is thus not a 'secret'. Your blog has been takendown but then the real moral issue is about respecting the wishes ofsomeone who has changed their mind, and not about my 'ownership' ofmy own life. A better example would be intimate secrets that werenever made public, and where the question of making them public neverpreviously arose. Only then does the problem of my freedom to do whatI like with the events of my own life arise in a pure way. However,the answer to the first question suggests that there is no paradox insaying that the events of your life belong to you and to otherpeople.

So, I think you are right to feel moral qualms. Events of therelationship (such as writing a diary) are co-owned, even if you didthe writing, and thus you have a responsibility to your ex-partner.Of course, the purpose behind disclosure might matter (making publicthe diary as part of a legal proceedings of some gravity, forexample, might be morally compelling). Certainly, I would askpermission.

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