Digital Abuses on our Digitally Extended Persons

The spread of increasingly accessible and sophisticated technology for creating deepfakes is raising several concerns, fueling the debate on the moral legitimacy of misrepresenting a person doing something they never did. A particularly worrisome (and widespread) application of these technologies pertains to the creation of Nonconsensual Pornographic Deepfakes (NPD). According to some moral philosophers [1,2], the ethical impermissibility of NPD also hinges on the violation of the Kantian imperative of treating persons as ends in themselves, rather than as means. Indeed, victims of NPD report feeling personally violated, although the violation does not affect their physical bodies but only their digital simulacra [3].

This raises the following questions: shall we treat NPD (and similar phenomena) as proper parts of persons in a metaphysically robust sense? In this talk, we will sketch, and argue for, an extended notion of person that includes its digital simulacra [4].

To do so, we will disentangle two related but non-coincident notions, namely “person” and “human being”. Given that to be a person is widely considered to have certain special mental properties [5, 6], the fact that there are humans that lack such abilities (e.g. fetuses, coma patients), brings to the conclusion that the two terms are not coextensive. Under the assumption of the acceptance of the theory of temporal parts [7, 8], we maintain that this distinction is well-motivated also from a metaphysical point of view: unlike human beings, persons can be mereological aggregates of biological temporal parts (i.e., their bodies) and non-biological temporal parts (e.g., their digital representations).

We argue that this notion of personhood has the advantage to explain the intuition that our digital counterparts play a role in defining us as persons, as well as to account for the feeling of personal violation resulting from NPD.


[1] De Ruiter, A. (2021). The distinct wrong of deepfakes. Philosophy & Technology, 34(4), 1311-1332.
[2] Young, G. (2021). Fictional immorality and immoral fiction. Lexington Books.
[3] Flynn, A., Powell, A., Scott, A. J., & Cama, E. (2022). Deepfakes and digitally altered imagery abuse: A cross-country exploration of an emerging form of image-based sexual abuse. The British Journal of Criminology, 62(6), 1341-1358.
[4] Heersmink, R. (2020). Varieties of the extended self. Consciousness and Cognition, 85, 103001 –
[5] Locke, J. (1690), An essay concerning human understainding.
[6] Parfit, D. (1984), Reasons and persons, Oxford University Press
[7] Sider, T. (2008), Temporal Parts, in Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics, edited by Hawthorne, Sider and Zimmerman, Oxford: Blackwell, 241–62.


Marco Viola 

Other authors:  

Fabio Patrone

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Digital Humanities Tilburg