Rafael Capurro


Keynote at the Information Ethics Roundtable 2014: organized by the School of Library & Information Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton (Alberta), April 24-26, 2014. In: Toni Samek and Lynette Schultz (eds.): Information Ethics, Globalization and Citizenship. Essays on Ideas to Praxis.. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2017, 11-30. See the "Response to Rafael Capurro's "Citizenship in the Digital Age"" by Jared Bielby (pp. 31-33) as well as the review by Geoffrey Rockwell. See also the papers published in the Journal of Information Ethics (Spring 2016).


Who are we as citizens in the digital age? This question concerns what is being called netizens or digital citizens, i.e., persons involved in all kinds of activities utilizing the Internet, particularly social media, for private or public purposes.[1] But what does citizenship in this context mean? Who is addressed when we (who?) ask this question? Is it the citizen of democratic states? The concept of citizenship has changed throughout the ages but it seems to be intrinsically related to the physical world.

What is the difference between being a citizen in the physical world and in the cyberworld? Cyberworld means “an (electromagnetic) medium for the movement of digital beings (bit-strings) in which we human beings participate and through which we also steer, either directly, or indirectly through automatically executable digital code." (Eldred 2012) [2] It is not just a technical medium – and as such it belongs also to the physical world – but as far as we are related to it, it is a way of our being-in-the-world, i.e., it is an existential phenomenon concerning who and not only what we are as human beings.[3] This brave new cyberworld includes phenomena such as social media, hacktivism, cybersex, online gaming, Bitcoin finance, Ebay, Skyping etc. [4]  A new civilization emerges that needs a fresh intercultural dialogue that should not be steered, as the word cyber suggests, by old or new global players, but allowing more information and communication freedom and letting people to control themselves. Letting people think freely is at the core of a future intercultural information ethics that takes seriously the messages coming from others in a heteronomic digital environment. How far can we (who?) go beyond the institutional, legal and moral paradigms that steer our present physical world? It seems that we (who?) need a new kind of thinking for a future being-in-the-(digital)-world. [5]

    The question: "Who are we as citizens in the digital age?" addresses the following issues: firstly, ‘Who are we as citizens in the cyberworld? Secondly, is the concept of citizenship – which one? – translatable from the physical world to the cyberworld?  Are we as citizens of the cyberworld only concerned as far as we interact digitally within it with other human (and non-human?) agents? What is the relationship between citizenship in the physical world and in the cyberworld? Thirdly, what is the meaning of the concept of global citizenship or cosmopolitanism before and after the rise of the cyberworld?

    The aim of this essay is to answer these questions starting with a brief overview on Greek and Roman concepts of cosmopolitanism. The second part is devoted to the concept of world citizenship in Kant, as an example of a modern concept of citizenship that still pervades our thinking and political reality particularly in Western countries. The last part deals with the global citizenship in the digital age. [6]

On Greek and Roman Concepts of Cosmopolitanism

The cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (c. 404-323 BC), once asked where he came from, answered: "[I am] a citizen of the world (kosmopolites)" (Diogenes, 1853, Section 6 para. 33).[7] He was apparently the first Wetern philosopher to have understood himself using this neologism. Although nothing from his writing remained, Diogenes is well known for challenging established behavioral codes with his teaching and his lifestyle. He was the son of a money-changer and, as Diogenes Laertius reports, he was banished with his father for seemingly adulterating public money. He probably misunderstood the oracle of Delos who told him that he might change the political customs (politikón nómisma). The word nomisma also means coin. As custom since the time of Cleisthenes (ca. 570 BC), one's identity was based on the place in which one was born.[8] The Romans called jus soli this notion of citizenship, in contrast to jus sanguinis or right of blood, based on the family or tribeone one belonged to. Diogenes breaks with Cleisthenes' concept of citizenship and creates a new term whereby the concept of city (pólis is related to the universe (kósmos).[9] The kósmos is the true original pólis as the birthplace of everybody. The laws (nomos) and customs (ethos) of the pólis are secondary with regard to the laws of the kósmos. This  does not necessarily mean that he is advocating for some kind of world polis-state. It would be, at least, the opposite of his lifestyle. He understands himself as a cosmic being instead of being subject to a political order. He denies the primacy of Athens and Athenians as opposed to citizens coming from a provincial town like Sinope. His answer is also a challenge to the distinction between Greek and barbarians as all humans are citizens of the kósmos, i.e., of the shared world. Diogenes might have learned about the primacy of kósmos over polis from Antiphon the Athenian (c. 480-411 B.C.) who wrote:

We can examine those attributes of nature that are necessary in all humans and are provided to all to the same degree, and in these respects none of us is distinguished as barbarian or Greek. For we all breathe the air through our mouth and our nostrils, and we laugh when our minds are happy (A3) or weep when we are pained, and we receive sounds with our hearing, and we see by the light with our sight, and we work with our hands and walk with our feet. [Gagarin 2002, p. 183, see also Capurro 2007, 35ff]

This concept of cosmic citizenship was further developed by the Stoic school. Thinkers like Cleanthes (ca. 330-2030 BC) and Chrysippus (279-206 BC) grounded cosmopolitanism in the rational cosmology and ontology of Hellenic thought. As Brown (2006) remarks:

According to the Stoics, the cosmos as a whole is put in order by right reason, and it is a place where human beings live. So the cosmos as a whole does satisfy the definition of 'polis'. This is the Stoic doctrine of the cosmopolis. Because it rests on normative ideals that far outstrip what ordinary practice manages to satisfy, one might well assume that the Stoic who strives to live as a citizen of the cosmopolis would have to turn away from ordinary politics. On this assumption, "living as a citizen of the cosmos" would be nothing more than a metaphor for living in agreement with the right reason that pervades nature—just a metaphor for living a good human life as Stoicism understands it. […] On my account, Chrysippus consistently believes that to live as a citizen of the cosmos, one should also engage in ordinary politics (where one can). Indeed, I suggest that by conceiving of how a citizen of the world can engage in ordinary politics, Chrysippus effectively invents the ideal of cosmopolitan politics. […] Politics offers the chance to lead by example (or advise those who do) and to shape laws that condition behaviour, and because it has these powers, it is generally preferable to engage in politics.”  [pp. 2-3, 10] [10]

The difference between this kind of cosmopolitanism and the one proclaimed by Diogenes consists, according to Brown, in the fact that

Diogenes fancied himself "citiless, homeless, deprived of a fatherland," and it is not easy to see where his commitment to world-citizenship goes beyond this rejection of more local citizenship. Diogenes does purport to help people wherever he goes, but his cosmopolitanism resembles nothing so much as the worldliness of a nomad. [pp. 17-18] [11]

Hierocles (2nd century) conceived citizenship as three concentric circles, one around the self and the family, then the city dwellers and finally humanity.  The sense of togetherness within such circles was called oikeiosis, oikos meaning house or home. [12] Oikeiosis means, for a Stoic philosopher, the process of coming to a life “according to nature” (“secundum naturam vivere”), [13] nature being our original house and therefore the measure of the customs of the polis. [14] Kleingeld and Brown (2013) write::

Nowhere was Stoic cosmopolitanism itself more influential than in early Christianity. Early Christians took the later Stoic recognition of two cities as independent sources of obligation and added a twist. For the Stoics, the citizens of the polis and the citizens of the cosmopolis do the same work: both aim to improve the lives of the citizens. The Christians respond to a different call: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's” (Matthew 22:21). On this view, the local city may have divine authority (John 19:11; cf. Romans 13:1,4,7), but the most important work for human goodness is removed from traditional politics, set aside in a sphere in which people of all nations can become “fellow-citizens with the saints” (Ephesians 2:20) [para. 12].

The messages of the Cynic and Stoic schools were transformed within  the Christian context, contradicting in some cases the original ideas. In a locus classicus St. Paul claims to be a Roman citizen (“civis romanus sum”), i.e. having the Roman citizenship by the very fact of being born within the Roman Empire (“ius soli”):

As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.” The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen (Romaios ei)?” “Yes, I am,” he answered. Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship (politeian).” “But I was born a citizen (gegénnemai),” Paul replied. Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.” [New Testament 22, 24-29, New International Version] [15]

The concept of citizen of the world is a core concept of the Enlighentenment. [16] The ancient concept of kosmopolites has a resonance particularly in Kant's concept of "world citizenship" ("Weltbürgertum").

On Kantian World Citizenship

Kant develops the ideas on this matter in the opusculum "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch" ("Zum ewigen Frieden: ein philosophischer Entwurf").[17] According to Kant (n.d.b), perpetual peace can only be achieved if the following "articles" are realized: firstly, if the civil constitution of all states is a republican one; secondly, if the "law of nations" (Section 2 para. 7) is founded on a federation of free states; and thirdly, if "the law of world citizenship" is "limited to conditions of universal hospitality" (Section 2 para. 15). Kant is aware that the situation in his time is far away from this goal. He writes:

But to this perfection compare the inhospitable actions of the civilized and especially of the commercial states of our part of the world. The injustice which they show to lands and peoples they visit (which is equivalent to conquering them) is carried by them to terrifying lengths.[Kant, n.d.b., Section 2, para. 17]

This does not, however, hinder him in looking for a practical legal solution, namely:

Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a law of world citizenship (“Weltbürgerrechts”) is no high-flown or exaggerated notion. It is a supplement to the unwritten code of the civil and international law, indispensable for the maintenance of the public human rights and hence also of perpetual peace. One cannot flatter oneself into believing one can approach this peace except under the condition outlined here. [Kant, n.d.b., Section 2 para 29]

Kant argues in favour of a federation of free nations (“Föderalism freier Staaten”) that acknowledges the differences between people and states, and therefore does not aim to homogenize their cultural differences in one people’s state (“Völkerstaat”) but in a federation of states and their people (“Völkerbund”) (Kant, 175c). In other words, he acknowledges their sovereignty and brings them at the same time together with the “idea of federalism” (“Idee der Föderalität”) that includes a “peace league” and a “peace treaty" (Kant, 1975c). Why should states be interested in creating or joining such a league? Kant’s answer is astonishingly pragmatic. He writes:

Just as nature wisely separates nations, which the will of every state, sanctioned by the principles of international law, would gladly unite by artifice or force, nations which could not have secured themselves against violence and war by means of the law of world citizenship unite because of mutual interest. The spirit of commerce, which is incompatible with war, sooner or later gains the upper hand in every state. As the power of money is perhaps the most dependable of all the powers (means) included under the state power, states see themselves forced, without any moral urge, to promote honorable peace and by mediation to prevent war wherever it threatens to break out. They do so exactly as if they stood in perpetual alliances, for great offensive alliances are in the nature of the case rare and even less often successful [Kant, n.d.a., para.12]

There is, then, according to Kant, a close relationship between “the law of world citizenship” (“Weltbürgerrecht”), the “spirit of commerce” (“Handelsgeist”) and
“the power
of money” (“Geldmacht”). Kant’s cosmopolitan citizen is not subject to a world Leviathan with coercive military power and he is also not a subject free from any legal or customary conditions. This way of being in the world as citizen is a legal, non-philanthropic one. It is based on the right to “hospitality” (“Hospitalität”, “Wirtbarkeit”) that he defines as follows:

Hospitality means the right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another. One may refuse to receive him when this can be done without causing his destruction; but, so long as he peacefully occupies his place, one may not treat him with hostility. It is not the right to be a permanent visitor [“Gastrecht”] that one may demand. A special beneficent agreement would be needed in order to give an outsider a right to become a fellow inhabitant for a certain length of time. It is only a right of temporary sojourn [“Besuchsrecht”], a right to associate, which all men have. They have it by virtue of their common possession of the surface of the earth, where, as a globe [“Kugelfläche”], they cannot infinitely disperse and hence must finally tolerate the presence of each other. Originally, no one had more right than another to a particular part of the earth [Kant, n.d.b., Section 2 para 15]

Kant’s foundation of the concept of world citizenship is literally global in the sense that we, as humans, share the surface of the globe (“Kugelfläche”) which is limited, thus building the material condition for a cosmopolitanism that echoes Diogenes, Antiphon and the Stoics while keeping in mind simultaneously the modern developments of republicanism and sovereign states. Kant’s world citizen is neither an anarchist nor an idealist. Rather, they are subject to the “law of world citizenship,” without making “all men” in the same way a subject of a coercive power akin to the nation state to which they also belong. The “law of world citizenship” allow us, human beings, to go beyond national boundaries without becoming an expatriate or loosing any kind of international legal protection.

In short, Kant’s cosmopolitan subject is free to “visit” other nations and cultures and meet other people on the basis that we all share the same earth upon which we exist. Kant provides, in other words, an existential foundation of the modern concept of nation-based world citizenship that allows him to enlarge the concept, and the range of freedom, beyond the boundaries of nation-states without a kind of super-power that would not only become a danger for the sovereignty of other states, but would also undermine the common basis upon which equality and peaceful relations among people as well as among states rest, namely the common earth of which nobody can claim ownership. The earth as a globe is our common host and we are its guests. “The law of world citizenship”, writes Kant, “should be limited to conditions of universal hospitality” (Kant n.d.b., Section 2 para. 15) which means that it should be based on a mutual freedom of meeting each other as freely and legally acknowledged by a federation of states and not on the basis of the coercive law of a world Leviathan. [18]

A citizen of the world is one who is allowed to live according to this kind of freedom and peace.  This freedom and peace remains fragile as it is based on a free agreement under the pragmatic presupposition that nations as well as individuals have a practical interest in promoting the “spirit of commerce”. It is also a pragmatic solution, as it does not depend on the moral perfection of individuals. On the contrary, the moral perfectibility might profit from universal hospitality. As Kant remarks, human societies are neither societies of angels nor of devils:

But it is the most difficult to establish and even harder to preserve, so that many say a republic would have to be a nation of angels, because men with their selfish inclinations are not capable of a constitution of such sublime form. But precisely with these inclinations nature comes to the aid of the general will established on reason, which is revered even though impotent in practice. Thus it is only a question of a good organization of the state (which does lie in man's power), whereby the powers of each selfish inclination are so arranged in opposition that one moderates or destroys the ruinous effect of the other. The consequence for reason is the same as if none of them existed, and man is forced to be a good citizen even if not a morally good person.
The problem of organizing a state, however hard it may seem, can be solved even for a race of devils, if only they are intelligent. The problem is: 'Given a multitude of rational beings requiring universal laws for their preservation, but each of whom is secretly inclined to exempt himself from them, to establish a constitution
. [Kant, n.d.a. para.7-8].

Kleingeld and Brown (2013) comment:

Kant also introduced the concept of 'cosmopolitan law', suggesting a third sphere of public law – in addition to constitutional law and international law – in which both states and individuals have rights, and where individuals have these rights as 'citizens of the earth' rather than as citizens of particular states [Section 1.2 para. 13]

The idea of "cosmopolitan law" is based on the fact that we all share the same spherical earth. [19] Beyond the forms of political, economic and moral cosmopolitanism analysed by Kleingeld and Brown, I would like to add to this taxonomy two other forms, namely communicational and metaphysical cosmopolitanism. I follow also on this issue Kant’s paths of thinking.

According to Kant we can understand ourselves as free individuals only if we are permitted to freely communicate our thoughts to others and vice versa. He develops this idea in “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?" [20] ("Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?") as well as in "What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?" ("Was heisst: Sich im Denken orientieren?"). [21] In the first of these opuscula Kant distinguishes the public  form from the private use of reason in an at first sight counterintuitive use of the word "private." He writes:

Everywhere there are restrictions on freedom. But what sort of restriction hinders enlightenment, and what sort does not hinder but instead promotes it? – I reply: The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among human beings; the private use of one’s reason may, however, often be very narrowly restricted without this particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. But by the public use of one’s own reason I understand that use which someone makes of it as a scholar before the entire public of the world of readers. [“vor dem ganzen Publikum der Leserwelt”]. What I call the private use of reason is that which one may make of it in a certain civil post or office with which he is entrusted [Kant 1996, para. 5]

Kant’s “private use of reason” (“Privatgebrauch”) concerns the restricted use of reason when people act as subjects to some “civil post or office”. The same persons can and should make a “public use” (“öffentlicher Gebrauch”) of their reason (“Vernunft”) when addressing their thoughts as a scholar (“Gelehrter”) to the “world of readers” (“Leserwelt”).[22] Kant establishes a duality between thinking and acting as a citizen (“Bürger”) vs. thinking and acting, i.e. communicating, as a scholar. Kant favours even a “lesser degree” of “civil freedom” (“bürgerliche Freiheit”) if a “people’s freedom of spirit” (“Freiheit des Geistes des Volkes”) is preserved. His argument is that “the propensity and calling to think freely” (“den Hang und Beruf zum freien Denken”) might empower people and, in the long run also the government, to act more freely. (Kant, 1966) In other words, Kant’s global citizenship goes beyond the laws and customs of the modern state, respecting but also questioning its boundaries. The instrument to strive for the utopian goal of an enlightened society is the society built by free thinkers, the so-called “Republic of Letters” (“Gelehrtenrepublik”), the intellectual community beyond and across national boundaries, communicating through censorship-free and critical writings (“Schriften”) addressed to the “world of readers.” He strongly opposes the idea of a “permanent religious constitution not to be doubted publicly by anyone and thereby, as it were, to nullify a period of time in the progress of humanity toward improvement and make it fruitless and hence detrimental to posterity.” (Kant, 1966, para 6) In other words, Kant’s citizenship is not a fact but a process, no less than the question regarding “whether we at present live in an enlightened age” whose answer is “No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment." (Kant, 1966, para. 7)

In the second opusculum, "What Does It mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?" (Kant, 1975b), Kant mentions (again) the basic condition for being a free citizen participating at the “Republic of Letters” namely the “freedom of thinking” which implies the “freedom to communicate” publicly one’s thoughts” (“die Freiheit, seine Gedanken öffentlich mitzuteilen”).  There is not freedom of thinking without freedom of the media through which thoughts are exchanged. According to Kant, such freedom is opposed, firstly, to the “civil compulsion” (“bürgerliche Zwang”) coming from a political authority, secondly, to the “moral compulsion” (“Gewissenszwang”) coming from a religious authority, and, thirdly to any kind of laws, excepting the ones reason gives itself. I call this second Kantian concept of citizenship, communicational citizenship. [23]

Finally I would like to briefly mention what I call metaphysical citizenship. According to Kant, humans are of dual nature, namely natural (homo phaenomenon) and "noumenal" beings (homo noumenon). The latter is for Kant the source of morality. As noumenal or “intellectual beings” (“vernünftige Wesen”) (Kant, 1977) we are members of the “kingdom of ends” (“Reich der Zwecke”). The members of such a “kingdom” have a “dignity” (“Würde”) and not, as all other beings, a “price” (“Preis”). “Dignity” means being an “end it itself” and obeying only one’s own laws, i.e. being autonomous.

The community consists of members who have a “duty” (“Pflicht”) with regard to such laws following the moral maxim of universalizability. The community has also a “head” (“Oberhaupt”) who is not subject to “duty” and remains completely independent (Kant, 1974). [24] I call this Kantian concept of intellectual beings belonging together to the “kingdom of ends” metaphysical citizenship. This dual view of human nature echoes, in the context of Kant’s critical philosophy, Augustine’s difference between the “city of God” (“civitas dei”) and the “earthly city” (“civitas terrena”).

Citizenship in the Digital Age

Habermas criticized Kant’s dual system of world citizenship vs. nation states from the perspective of two hundred years (Habermas, 1995). With regards to communicational citizenship, Kant, according to Habermas, could not foresee the “structural change” of a transparent public sphere of literary educated, rational, bourgeois citizens (“bürgerliche Öffentlichkeit”) into a public sphere “dominated by semantically degenerated, full of images and virtual realities of electronic mass media." [25] If Kant could not foresee mass media, Habermas was not able to see the impact of the Internet and the structural change of the public sphere that was already happening as he wrote this essay.[26] According to Habermas, Kant could also not foresee that the two other conditions that he discusses as necessary for perpetual freedom, namely the republican form of government and the “spirit of commerce,” would degenerate into nationalisms and war among democratic states and that free trade would lead to imperialisms of different kinds, global capitalist exploitation and civil wars. But Kant, however, was well aware of issues of his time that are not very dissimilar to the present situation, two hundred years later. The following text is worth quoting in full length::

But to this perfection compare the inhospitable actions of the civilized and especially of the commercial states of our part of the world. The injustice which they show to lands and peoples they visit (which is equivalent to conquering them) is carried by them to terrifying lengths. America, the lands inhabited by the Negro, the Spice Islands, the Cape, etc., were at the time of their discovery considered by these civilized intruders as lands without owners, for they counted the inhabitants as nothing. In East India (Hindustan), under the pretense of establishing economic undertakings, they brought in foreign soldiers and used them to oppress the natives, excited widespread wars among the various states, spread famine, rebellion, perfidy, and the whole litany of evils which afflict mankind.

China and Japan (Nippon), who have had experience with such guests, have wisely refused them entry, the former permitting their approach to their shores but not their entry, while the latter permit this approach to only one European people, the Dutch, but treat them like prisoners, not allowing them any communication with the inhabitants. The worst of this (or, to speak with the moralist, the best) is that all these outrages profit them nothing, since all these commercial ventures stand on the verge of collapse, and the Sugar Islands, that place of the most refined and cruel slavery, produces no real revenue except indirectly, only serving a not very praiseworthy purpose of furnishing sailors for war fleets and thus for the conduct of war in Europe. This service is rendered to powers which make a great show of their piety, and, while they drink injustice like water, they regard themselves as the elect in point of orthodoxy.
Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a law of world citizenship is no high-flown or exaggerated notion. It is a supplement to the unwritten code of the civil and international law, indispensable for the maintenance of the public human rights and hence also of perpetual peace. One cannot flatter oneself into believing one can approach this peace except under the condition outlined here [Kant, n.d.b., Section 2, para. 17-19]

Emmanuel Lévinas and Jacques Derrida have developed an ethics of hospitality thata echoes in some regard the Cynic, Stoic, Christian and Kantian traditions of cosmopoliticsm (Wikipedia, 2013b). [27] These traditions culminate in the 20th century with the creation of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law, and corresponding institutions. Governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations and initiatives look for different kinds of answers to global challenges such as the ecological crisis, the religious wars, the crisis of capitalism, world hunger, poverty and diseases together with the devastating experiences of two world wars and the crimes against humanity before, during and after these, and the following present wars.
What makes a difference to Kant’s cosmopolitanism is not only, as Habermas states, the rise of mass media but particularly the rise of the Internet. Peter Sloterdijk (1998) has pointed to three global or spherical projects in European history, starting with the globalization of reason in Greek philosophy that culminates in Hegel’s spherical metaphysics. According to Sloterdijk, next modernity brings about a second global project, bursting the metaphysical dreams. It is a physical project aiming at discovering and dominating the earth starting with its circumnavigation. The third globalization project is the present digital one with predecessors in the Middle Ages (Raimundus Lullus, Nicholas of Cusa) and Modernity (Pascal, Leibniz). [28]

In a recent article, Rod Beckstrom, Chief Security Adviser for Samsung Electronics USA and Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of the Internet write

The hard part of the connectivity explosion is not building capacity, but how it should be managed. We must answer profound questions about the way we live. Should everyone be permanently connected to everything? Who owns which data, and how should information be made public? Can and should data use be regulated, and, if so, how? And what role should government, business, and ordinary Internet users play in addressing these issues? At the same time, we must guard against over-regulation or government control. This might require us to phase out the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority to prevent it from falling under the control of an inter-governmental body, as some states have demanded. Governments certainly have an important part to play. But too much control would almost certainly stifle innovation, increase costs, and probably exclude important anti-establishment voices. A better approach, and one that would enhance public trust in the system, would be to establish diversified stewardship with multiple stakeholders.

Asking about “the rights of the digital man” means asking about the nature of digital cosmopolitanism. It concerns issues of international control and governance of the Internet by private corporations such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Above all, it is a question of freedom and responsibility on the basis of rules of fair play and solidarity. Backstrom writes:

At the heart of this debate is the need to ensure that in a world where many, if not all, of the important details of our lives – including our relationships – exist in cyber-perpetuity, people retain, or reclaim, some level of control over their online selves. While the world of forgetting may have vanished, we can reshape the new one in a way that benefits rather than overwhelms us. Our overriding task is to construct a digital way of life that reinforces our existing sense of ethics and values, with security, trust, and fairness at its heart [para. 13].

Social processes in the Internet go across the boundaries of nation-states and international groups of states that remain the basis of the modern political idea of citizenship. It is apparent that the cyberworld is not a kind of independent world as proclaimed by John Perry Barlow in 1996 .  The rights and duties in the cyberworld cannot be isolated from the rights and duties in the physical world. The cyberworld makes the processes of cultural hybridization and social interaction no less than that of mutual isolation (Turkle, 2011). The case of the National Security Agency provides the evidence surrounding global digital citizenship's transformation into global surveillance, under the paradoxical premise that at the moment where all digital citizens should be considered as equal with regards to rights and duties, they are separated between U.S. citizens, that according to U.S. law should not be object of digital surveillance, unlike the rest of the world, paying no regards to the laws in other countries. From this perspective, the concept of digital global citizenship turns into the opposite of the ideals of the Enlightenment. The danger of homogenizing the world population does not only consist in its control and manipulation but also in the exclusion of different groups and, more generally, on the disrespect of cultural differences, individual histories and contingencies that are the basis for the uniqueness and richness of human individuals and societies (Dabag, 2000).  The opposite dystopia to such a homogenization is the mutual political, economic or cultural isolation of individuals and societies, as well as their disregard of any kind of responsibility for the common welfare and sustainability of the physical and digital world.

This is the reason why we, in the digital age, need a transcultural ethos with democratic components that actively promotes intercultural experience, and an international treaty for the cyberworld on which, following Kant’s proposal, the different stakeholders freely agree. They, the ethos and the treaty, need to be flexible with regard to unforeseen developments and situations, and therefore require sustainable academic research on intercultural information ethics devoted particularly to the analysis of cultural differences that underlie implicitly or explicitly the customs and behavioural rules in the physical and in the digital world. [29]

Such an ethos and treaty (or declaration) aims at protecting the freedom of peoples' exchange of thoughts freely – a new version of Kant’s “Republic of Letters” as a communicational world citizenship in the digital age. Public policy might provide the opportunity for citizens to meet freely in digital public spaces without the constraints and misuses of the commercial social networks that, in theory and practice, become more and more dystopian examples of free digital citizenship. The same can be said with regard to the reality of political surveillance in the digital and physical world in Western democracies, contrary to what Kant suggested. If public policy and the civil society capitulate or leave the field of free communicational citizenship to be shaped alone by market economy, then the concept of citizenship in the digital age might become, and is becoming, dystopian with opportunities opened by the Internet being partly lost. Individuals and societies in the cyberworld should be legally protected but not paternalistically over-protected, or even subject to total control without any kind of legal agreement on the necessity and limits of such measures. The same can be said with regards to commercial global players in the cyberworld, as they take no notice of the rights of individuals as they conceal and reveal what they want to whom they want. A commercial social network turns into a (golden) cage or, in the case that users and shareholders become aware of it, it ends in bankruptcy.


Beng-in-the-cyberworld is no less fragile than being-in-the-world, sharing a common earth and being responsible for each other. What is at stake with regard to the issue of privacy in the digital age is no more and no less than the question of freedom at a local and global level (Capurro et al., 2013).  Following Aristotle’s dictum “being said in many ways," [30] the concept of citizenship in general and of global and digital citizenship in particular is no less ambiguous. Cosmopolitanism as world citizenship has been a “combat term” (“Kampfbegriff”) for different schools of thought (Zons, 2000), with ambivalent connotations until today. The reason for this ambivalence lies in the tension between the historical situation and physical embodiment of human existence on the one hand, and its openness to the common world sharing a common earth on the other hand. This ambivalence emerges in the cyberworld with new forms of polarization between new authentic forms of being-together across, and beyond, physical boundaries and their customary, legal fixations and inauthentic ones where human freedom almost disappears, being instrumentalized for political or economic interests. The result is not always some kind of fragile freedom in the cyberworld but different kinds of cyber warfare.

An analogical use of the concept of citizenship based on its modern use in the physical world translated into the cyberworld might lead to some new kind of digital Enlightenment, but it might also create a homogenized world society. A world Leviathan that can take the shape of a league of nations freely agreeing on rules of fair play and mutual support in order to overcome what has been called the digital divide, but it can also support the creation of all kinds of monopolies on the basis of norms and regulations in order to increase the profit of a company with disregard for the privacy of users as well as for the common good of society.

Individuals like Edward Snowden, being confronted with the blatant contradictions of Western democracies that are proud of their liberal and civic traditions no less than of their defence of human rights, feel themselves under the ethical imperative of unveiling such contradictions. Such individuals are an authentic example of digital citizenship. They do not necessarily proclaim a utopian world state on the basis of digital transparency of all citizens under its power but, quite the contrary, they are well aware that the basic democratic rule in the physical world and the cyberworld must be one that respects the difference between public and private, which is the freedom of individuals to decide what they want to conceal and reveal about who they are (Capurro et al., 2013). The disrespect of this civic freedom leads toward different kinds of totalitarian situations and forms of economic and cultural exploitation that are not dissimilar to the ones described by Kant in the 18th century.

The debate on global and local interests permeates not only European history and the history of ideas in the last three hundred years but also the present debate on the current and future shape of the cyberworld. What shall we (who?) want to consider as a common rule for everybody in the cyberworld, as well as in the relationship between the cyberworld and the physical world? Who is dealing or should deal with these issues at a theoretical and practical level? Which forms of mediations should we (who?) establish? Such questions are not originally technical but philosophical and particularly ethical. They address the transformation of the relationship between human beings and the world in the digital age. I call this transformation digital ontology.[31] Who are we when we look at ourselves (and our selves) as well as all things in the world as digitalizable? If this understanding of being turns to be perceived as the true one, digital ontology turns into digital metaphysics or, in political terms, into digital ideology (Capurro et al, 1999).

New forms of togetherness and commonness degenerate into technological dystopias of a global monoculture with digitalized citizens. The tension between the physical and the digital world is lost and with it also the interplay of human freedom concerning different forms of concealing and revealing who we are in both worlds. We (who?) come even to the idea of identifying ourselves (and our selves) with our data that are, as any other form of reification, a basis for economic exchange. In this case, digital economy, having lost its awareness of human freedom and the social interplay in a common physical and digital world, mutates into a world panopticon.

If this diagnosis is correct, we, as thinkers, should make a leap back into the history of the concept of citizenship and how we came to ask ourselves about it in the digital age. We should also think prospectively about who are the beneficiaries and who are excluded from it. Who is misusing or exploiting individuals and whole societies in the cyberworld is no less problematic than in the physical world. If a Leviathan misuses its power ad intra and/or ad extra, and some tough whistle-blowers unveil such contradictions, what kind of international mechanisms should be created in order to deal with these issues, in order to avoid the mechanisms of cynicism? Not only political diplomacy but all kinds of bottom-up initiatives of the civil society, like the Centre for Global Citizenship Education and Research at the University of Alberta, [32] have an opportunity to be effective and efficient, particularly in the field of education,[33] when based on a common ethos of civility in the cyberworld, as well as on international legal agreements.  Both must be aware of the fragility of human freedom and of the common earth as the ground for both, the physical and the cyberworld. This is the reason why the question of digital ecology is crucial in order to create a sustainable physical environment for the cyberworld, in order to become aware of all kinds of social exploitation on a local and global scale around the issue of electronic waste (Capurro, 2010).

Some digital citizens might follow Diogenes, others will prefer Chrysippus; both provide fresh insights into the task of keeping alive the tension between the physical and the digital world.  A phenomenology of messages and messengers as awareness of the hidden positive and negative dimensions of being-in-the-(cyber)-world opens paths of thinking for present and coming message societies [34] where global and local citizenships are intertwined and the abyssal dimensions of freedom and liberty do not become invisible under the digital veil. [35] Eventually, we do not live in two sepaate worlds. this distinction could be misunderstood as a new kind of  platonism. We live in one common world shaped more and more by digital technology.


The author would like to thank John and Michael Holgate (Sydney) for their criticisms and fresh ideas. Some of them are quoted in this text.


1. See Wikipedia entries Netizen and Digital citizen

2.  The concept of cyberworld implies a homogenous, linear space-time axis (cyberspace and cybertime) that contrast with the spatiality and temporality of human existence in the physical world.

3. On the concept of whoness see Capurro et al. (2012a) and Capurro et al. (2013)
4. See Rolfe (2005) and Coenen et al. (2012)

"Through which we also steer... what, whom? Maybe the 'cyber' concept of control and steering we inherited from the Macy Conferences, cybernetics and the top-down mathematical dominance of Wiener, Shannon, von Neumann, von Foerster et al. needs to be thrown overboard at last. The new wave of digilectuals since the 1990’s and the Internet is more about devolution of control back to the individual netizen than conforming to the cyber agendas of Big Data whose ideological bastion is based on control, money, power and surveillance. Floridi’s infosphere is just a different flavour of this panoptic agenda. Our digital experience is emergent and phenomenologically beyond “copulating bit strings” [Michael Eldred] and ones and zeros – the digital/virtual way of being-in-the-world is and should be heteronomic rather than hegemonic. What we need to do now is map the spheres of this new world in all its variety of phenomena – social media, hacktivism, cybersex, online gaming, Bitcoin finance, electronic publishing, Ebay, Skyping etc – as if it were another, different civilisation – then approach it with a thorough phenomenologcal analysis. Kant (or Jesus or Aristotle) can’t walk a mile in our cybershoes. It seems we can’t 'go home again' to the land of traditional ethics as the paradigms and parameters (as per Thomas Kuhn) have changed and are constantly changing. i.e. netiquette is of a different informational order/category to real world etiquette. Snowden’s ‘theft' is of a different order to the felony of pilfering material property. Wikileaks activity is, from within the cyberworld, not stealing secrets but enabling access and devolving control – a positive social and communal and informational good." [M. Holgate, personal communication, January 15, 2014]

5 See first steps with the Hacker Ethics more than 12 years ago (Chaos Computer Club, 2002). The issue of freedom in the cyberworld remains as ambivalent as it is in the physical world. Different forms of cybergnosis and cybercult arise, including the quasi-religion visions of paninformationism, singularity (Ray Kurzweil) and different forms of human enhancement Capurro (2012).

6 For a concise and comprehensive analysis of the concept of cosmopolitanism see Kleingeld and Brow (2013), Bush and Horstmann (1976) and Horstmann (1976).

7. See also Capurro (1999).

8. According to, Cleisthenes "changed the political organization form the four traditional tribes, which were based on family relations, into ten tibes according to their area of residence (their deme)" (Wikipedia, 2013a, para. 4)

9.  “‘Breaks' how? By his perverse, diagonal life style Diogenes broke from the mores of the polis. He had to earn his cosmopolitan citizenship just like the decadent Diderot’s citoyen du monde earned his validity through blood and tears issuing into the declaration of les Droits de l’Homme of the French Revolution. Diogenes and Assange share similarities in their behaviour and like Snowden risked banishment and death. Who are the real barbarians of today? NSA, Google and Apple – or Anonymous, Avaaz and Wikileaks?” (J.  Holgate, personal communication, January 15, 2014).

10. I thank John Holgate for these references.

11."Our dear friend Vilém Flusser had his own version of 'nomadic cosmopolitanism' which he regarded as a positive virtue in an age of global media and transcultural communication. Flusser also saw himself, living in exile in Brazil during World War II, as 'homeless and deprived of a fatherland'" (J. Holgate, personal communication, January 20, 2014)

12. See Stobaeus (1856): Florilegium, 4,671. See Forschner (2008) and Bailly (2009).

13. See Seneca, Epist. I, 5. Personal communication by John Holgate (9.1.2014): "Inter alia the concept of 'nature' seems to run parallel to cosmopolitan thinking – particularly in the Stoics, Rousseau, Marx, etc. – and leads to contemporary environmentalism. Could one argue that being a citoyen du monde is in fact more natural to human beings that the natialist stance?"

14. See Raal (2011).

15. Greek words in italics by Capurro.

16. See Busch and Horstmann (1976) and Horstmann (1976). See also Diderot's article Citoyen in the Encycloédie, a "citoyen" being the one who partakes rights and duties in a given free society ("C'est celui qui est membre d'une société libre de plusieurs familles, qui partage les droits de cette société et qui jouit de ses fanchises" [Diderot, 2002, p. 3]).

17. See Kant (n.d.a.; n.d.b.) for the English translation I use here and Kant (1975c) for the German text of "Zum ewigen Frieden".

18. "The Internet as a Hobbesian state of nature I believe is not incompatible with some definitions of federalism in the digital world. I believe this is because national/international law no longer can hold to any agents who are able to use cryptography (i.e. everybody). This is already the case. The more interesting question is the applicability of any system of ethics where legal accountability cannot exist. There are calls in Silicon Valley to seize a physical state for tech entrepreneurs with very scary ends, mostly to do with commerce" (M. Holgate, personal communication, January 15, 2014).This scary agenda of Silicon Valley progeny is documented in Adam Curtis’s doco 'All Watched over by Machines of Love and Grace'(3) – the MIT dynasty of the 1950’s is perpetuated by the nerdy supremos of Google Apple and Facebook. The 'cyber' ideology is translated by them into 'networking and connectivity' – a mantra equally as sinister now for digital cosmopolitanism as 'control and feedback' was for grass roots democracy in the 1960’s.” (J. Holgate, personal communication, January 15, 2014).

19.“Yes 'earth' has become the focus rather than 'cosmos' or 'galaxy' or 'universe' – linking cosmopolitanism with nature (as the Stoics did) and world allows an environmental activism grounded in shared bios, psyche, nous and being. We have access to social, cultural and spiritual affinities as well as to the resources of ‘the planet’. Today the dummification of our mental world is as much of a threat to civilisation as the pollution of our physical earth.” (J. Holgate, personal communication, January 15, 2014).

20. I have used the English translation by Mary J. Gregor (Kant, 1996),. For the German text see Kant 1975a, 9.

21. For the German Gext see Kant 1975b, 5.

“This opens up the role of reading (as individuation) and the psyche, privacy and individualism which is the Renaissance legacy. Digital epistemology adopts scanning and browsing and non-linear apprehension as its modus operandi rather than the traditional communion with print books and texts – once the mark of the cosmopolitan scholar. Is computer and information literacy now a prerequisite for digital cosmopolitanism? Are desktop dexterity, multitasking and parallel processing required skills of the Digital Renaissance Man? The World of Readers has become what? A list of subscribers to Amazon or Google Books? And the digital divide is not just between people but is located within our own brain hemispheres as we switch between print and online forms of 'reading' experience.” I would like to add that the role of writing and the writing experience change no less dramatically in the cyberworld. (J. Holgate, personal communication, January 15, 2014). I would like to add that the role of writing and the writing experience change no less dramatically in the cyberworld.

23. "Your descriptin of universal hospitality and cosmopolitan law/citizenship is very similar to he sole impetus of the TOR project: The ability to write without fear of repression, the invention of a space uncensorable to any state" (J. Holgate, personal communication, January 15, 2014). See

24. For the relation among "intellectual beings" Kant uses different words such as "systematische Verbindung,", "Verknüpfung," "Beziehung" as well as "Glied" (member, link). the word "kingdom of ends" ("Reich der Zwecke") is built in parallel to the "kingdom of nature" ("Reich der Natur").

25. Habermas, 1995, p. 11 (my translation).

26. See Capurro (2003).

The Good Samaritan parable summarises Christian cosmopolitanism. The opposing forces of national sovereignty, nimbyism, racism and greed (particularly in Australia towards foreigners arriving by boat) tend to control the agenda. Is the digital world of cyberspace and social media intrinsically any more 'sharing caring' or hospitable than the 'real world' in its emphasis on networking connectivity and sharing of resources (Open Source, EFF, Linux etc.)? Or are its denizens lost in solipsistic code-cutting, online gaming, Ipod music, cybersex and Facebook selfies like the Eloi, the childlike narcissistic hippies of Wells' Time Machine who prove powerless and unable to be hospitable to or protect the Internet Traveller? Meanwhile the Morlocks control the global economy (J. Holgate, personal communication, January 15, 2014).

28. See also Capurro (2007).

29. See Capurro (2007, 2008a), Capurro et al. (2012a and 2013) and Hongladarom & Ess (2007).

30. Aristotle, Met. VII, 1028a ("to on legetai pollachos").

31. See Capuro (2006, 2008b) and Capurro et al. (2012a and 2013).

32. See See also Gasser and zittrain (2013).

33. For Shultz (2013) the concept ofglobal citizenship is a code for thinking decolonizing educational relationships. See UNESCO 2013 and Grossmann (2013) and the Centre for Governance and Citizenship. The Hong Kong Institute for Education. See also the concepts of smart cities and smart citizens (Rack 2013).

34. Capurro & Holgate (2011): "Yes but third-order phenomenology emphasising experiencing and communicating angeletically beyong hermeneutic interpretation. We must throw ourselves into the 'Abrund der Digitalität' [abyss of digitality] and experience its forms of 'be-ing' in that world. WE have to walk (and sometimes run) along the paths of thinking to discover the open spaces" (J. Holgate, personal communication, January  15, 2014).

35. See Capurro 2012b, p. 104.


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