Hi! I was looking at images from Abu Ghraib today, and I was wondering -- is there any sense to thinking that the mere act of looking at the prisoners is wrong, or even in some way harms them? Many of the prisoners are not identifiable from the photos, so I'm not sure that my worry is about reputational damage. The same might apply to other sorts of images, and even text. For instance: "Fapgate", where nude images of celebrities were distributed without their consent. Or what about if I find a person's diary on a train and read it? Is there any sense to the feeling that I am violating someone, though that person and I will always be strangers to each other? To add one more twist: what if the author of the diary, or a prisoner depicted in one of the photos, is now dead? Can I still be said to harm them?

Im going to set aside the last part of your question, whether it matters to the morality of looking at the images in question that those depicted are (sometimes) dead. That raises a collection of issues that it would take some time to address (a number of responses on this site under the topic 'Death' may be helpful to you: http://askphilosophers.org/topic/economics?topic=239).

So is there anything morally objectionable at looking at the images of Abu Ghraib or of nude celebrities? My sense is that they raise rather different sets of moral issues. The Abu Ghraib images, for one, depict actions undertaken by government representatives (soldiers) in the course of a military conflict. Their release to the public seems to promote a good (knowing what our military is doing) that clearly doesn't apply to nude celebrities. To use a legal idiom, there is no compelling public interest at stake in disseminating nude celebrity photos. So if there is a moral case against looking at the Abu Ghraib images, it seems weaker than the moral case against looking at nude celebrities.

You pose your question in terms of 'harm': What seems to be at stake here with respect to nude celebrities (or in the case of reading a person's diary) is privacy. In my response to this question (http://askphilosophers.org/topic/economics?topic=239), I offered some reasons why we value privacy. Not all of the reasons we care about privacy are obviously related to the harmfulness of violating privacy. A person may be made better off by violating their privacy, but this does not seem to excuse our violating their privacy. This seems to imply that looking at such images wrongs a person but not because doing so harms a person. (I'd also add that in the case of the Abu Ghraib photos, whether the photo subjects have an expectation of privacy is also murkier. War is, after all, a very public undertaking.)

Hence, a case can be made for answering 'yes': looking at these images wrongs their subjects by violating privacy even when doing so is not harmful to them.

Note also that there be moral reasons against looking at such images independent of wrongs done to those depicted. Perhaps looking at such images corrodes one's moral character (we don't tend to think highly of 'peeping toms' - how are those who intentionally seek out celebrity photos taken non-consensually any more than 'peeping toms' with an intermediary?) or stimulates demand for such photos. These might be moral reasons against looking at these images that don't directly concern how those depicted are effected by our looking.

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