published on February 8, 2014
Bodily Presence, Absence, and Their Ethical Challenges
Towards a Phenomenological Ethics of the Virtual
In this paper I deal with Hubert Dreyfus’s phenomenological ethics regarding information technologies and the use of the Internet. From the 1990s on, Dreyfus elaborates a multi-faceted model of ethical expertise which may find a paradigmatic field of application in the ways in which information technologies transform our sense of personal identity, as well as our view of ethical integrity and commitment. In his 2001 On the Internet, Dreyfus investigates further several of the ideas already present in his groundbreaking 1997 Disclosing New Worlds. A phenomenological ethics of the virtual aims at going beyond both the objectivist ideal of moral universalism, which departs from the dominant Cartesianism both in epistemology and in ethics, as well as from the postmodernist, Nietzsche-inspired moral relativism. By referring back to existentialism, especially to Kierkegaard, and to phenomenology, especially to Heidegger’s hermeneutic phenomenology, Dreyfus sketches a model of ethical expertise which can be particularly useful for internet users and researchers, as it combines a phenomenological anthropology of the virtual with a theory of cultural innovation and change. In my view, Dreyfus’s model may help overcome the strict either determinist or relativist accounts of the ethical challenges posed by information technologies. By endorsing a strongly anti-intellectualist view of information technologies, Dreyfus poses the necessity of identity and ethical integrity not only as abstract principles that require rational justification, but also as context-bound everyday practices that are in conformity with the “style” of a culture and several disclosive activities within it.