Rafael Capurro

Published in AI & Society 2010, 35 (1), 35-42. A previous longer version is available here. See PowerPoint and PP in Portuguese.
See: Cristian Pralea: A Hermeneutical Ontology of Cyberspace. PhD, Bowling Green State University, May 2010.
See also: Chiel van den Akker et al.
: Digital Hermeneutics: Agora and the Online Understanding of Cultural Heritage. In: WebSci '11, June 14-17, 2011, Koblenz, Germany.



Hermeneutics and the Internet
Digital Ontology and Digital Metaphysics




The purpose of this paper is to give an outline of digital hermeneutics understood as the encounter between hermeneutics and digital technology, particularly the Internet. In the first part, I want to raise the attention of IT researchers and hermeneuticists to the theoretic and practical relevance of the encounter of their areas of research that are sometimes considered as incompatible to each other. There is still a lot of translation work to be done in order to get these two cultures come closer to and profit from each other. The second part of the paper deals with the foundation of digital hermeneutics on what I call – following Heidegger’s and Vattimo’s paths – digital ontology as opposed to digital metaphysics.


     We live in societies whose political, legal, military, cultural and economic systems are based on digital communication and information networks or in societies that are making major efforts to bridge the so-called digital divide (Capurro, et al., 2007). May be this is one reason why hermeneutics, the philosophic theory dealing with issues of interpretation and communication, has apparently lost the academic interest it had in the nineteenth century as methodology of the humanities as well as understanding human existence in the twentieth century. Santiago Zabala, editor of a recent book in honor of the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo, quotes Hans-Georg Gadamer, the founding father of philosophic hermeneutics, as follows:

    Vattimo has specifically called hermeneutics a koiné: the common language in which philosophical thought after Heidegger and Wittgenstein, after Quine, Derrida and Ricoeur, has spread everywhere; virtually a universal philosophical language. (Zabala 2007, p. 3)

      In his book The End of Modernity. Nihilism and Hermeneutics in Post-modern Culture Vattimo remarks that computer science makes the difference between modernity and post-modernity (Vattimo 1985, p. 22).

    Hermeneutics is facing today the challenge arising from digital technology becoming what I call digital hermeneutics. Every revolutionary transformation in philosophy that leads to the creation of a new type of rationality arises usually from an outstanding scientific or technological breakthrough (Bosteels 2006, p. 116). This is the case of today’s global and interactive digital network, the Internet. The Internet’s challenge for hermeneutics concerns primarily its social relevance for the creation, communication and interpretation of knowledge. This challenge implies a questioning of the pseudo-critical rejection of hermeneutics with regard to technology in general and to digital technology in particular (Capurro 1990). Facing the digital challenge hermeneutics must develop a “productive logic” (Heidegger 1976, p. 10) towards understanding the foundations of digital technology and its interplay with human existence. A productive logic “leaps ahead” (ibid.) the established self-understanding of a given science, in this case of hermeneutics, in order to undertake a revision of its main concepts and disclose a new area of research.

        There is a blindness in some studies of contemporary hermeneutics with regard to these challenges (Figal 2007), with a few exceptions (Irrgang 2005, 2007; Fellmann 1998; Kurthen 1992), as well as in seemingly comprehensive encyclopaedia articles (Gadamer 1974, Grondin 1996, Ramberg and Gjesdal 2005) also with a few exceptions (Introna 2005; Mallery, Hurwitz and Duffy 1990). In their article “Hermeneutics” in the Encyclopedia of Artificial Intelligence Mallery et al. speak about the “precomputational nature of contemporary hermeneutics” and suggest “the reformulation and refinement of ideas about both hermeneutics and AI.” (Mallery et al. 1990, p. 374).



        As the Internet and particularly the World Wide Web became a social interactive information and communication technology in the mid-1990s the relevance of its challenge to hermeneutics became even more obvious. In a recent study devoted to Vattimo’s “aesthetic pacifism” the Austrian philosopher Wolfgang Sützl remarks that Heidegger worked with a concept of modern technology opposed to modern communication technology that is characterized by small and networked artefacts (Heidegger 1967). He quotes Vattimo’s essay on Philosophy, Politics and Religion from 1996:

        The possibility to see the Gestell not only as the highest risk and negativity but also a first lightening of the event of Being is related to the discovery of modern technology as a communicative one. Neither Heidegger nor Adorno did this step. Both think modern technology based on the model of the engine, of mechanical technology: this model implies necessarily the idea of a passive dependency of the periphery with regard to the centre… (Sützl 2007, p. 148, my translation, RC)

        The leading modern pre-understanding of the engine as a metaphor for the process of social construction has been substituted by the one of the network understood as technology and as a medium of communication. Vilém Flusser was sceptical about dialogical forms of human interaction in view of the overwhelming power of mass media and their hierarchic structures (Flusser 1996). He did not foresee the impact of  the Internet that was in its infancy in 1991 when he died. According to Richard Rorty one of Vattimo’s

        most distinctive contributions to philosophical thinking is the suggestion that the Internet provides a model for things in general – that thinking about the World Wide Web helps us to get away from Platonic essentialism, the quest for underlying natures, by helping us see everything as a constantly changing network of relations. The result of adopting this model is what Vattimo calls “a weak ontology, or better, an ontology of the weakening of being.” Such an ontology, he argues, “supplies philosophical reasons for preferring a liberal, tolerant, and democratic society rather than an authoritarian and totalitarian one. (R. Rorty quoted by Zabala 2007, p. 25)

        Hermeneutics faces today the question of the impact of the Internet not only at all levels of society but also with regard to the self-understanding of human beings, i.e., with regard to the ontological or existential foundation of the digital construction of  reality. I do not use the term ‘foundation’ in a strong metaphysical sense. I follow Vattimo’s idea that hermeneutics can provide only weak foundations that make possible to question rational and irrational ambitions to dominate reality particularly on the basis of digital power (Capurro 2006a; Weizenbaum 1976) although some philosophers seem to be more optimistic in this regard (Floridi 2006, 1999).

        What is new with regard to digital hermeneutics? I believe that we are dealing with two sides of a single weakening process of modern technology (Capurro 1992). On the one side there is a weakening of the interpreter that finds herself within a network that she can only partially control (Capurro 1995, p. 75). In the case of the Internet its political and economic importance is also evident as can be seen, for instance, in the interest of governments, particularly of non-democratic ones, to regulate this medium through, say, data filtering or prosecution of non-obedient Internet users. The question of Internet governance is no less important than the question of freedom and regulation with regard to, for instance, traffic. On the other hand, information technology is a weak technology as far as it deals with “conversations of mankind” (Rorty 1989) now based on networked subjects, an oxymoron from the point of view of the autonomous subject constructed by European modernity. The Internet has no central point or final destination contrary to what some cyber-prophets proclaim. It is already part of the everyday life of millions of people. It is integrated in their bodily existence, as Don Ihde has shown (Ihde 2002). If it is true that we change technology then it is also true that technology transforms us. This transformation is at the heart of our bodily experience. Ihde writes:

    We are our bodies – but in that very basic notion one also discovers that our bodies have an amazing plasticity and polymorphism that is often brought out precisely in our relations with technologies. We are bodies in technologies. (Ihde 2002, p. 138) 

        This is particularly true in the case of the Internet. We are (not just) our brains and thoughts (our beliefs and desires). If we argue that the ways we perceive reality and the thoughts we develop are shaped hermeneutically by our digital technologies and vice versa, then it can be inferred that digital technologies have to adapt to the ways we perceive and interpret reality, otherwise they will be useless and, in the worst case, dangerous.

     The Internet has brought up changes in our spatio-temporal social experience that were difficult to imagine some decades ago. It would be naïve to speak about this technology just as a tool without taking seriously its impact at all levels of our being-in-the-world. From this perspective digital hermeneutics is in line with Ihde’s project of “expanding hermeneutics” (Ihde 1998) particularly with “material hermeneutics” in contrast to traditional text-focused hermeneutics (Ihde 2005) as far as the digital text is different from its mate, the printed one, one main difference being that it allows to perform actions in the world including the actions of interpreting material (and visual) phenomena. As Ihde rightly stresses, it would be a “designer fallacy” to believe that as in the case of the author’s intentions with regard to the meaning of his text, it is the designer, as an isolated individual who has the control over the meaning of the object without taking into account the inter-relations with the materials being worked with, the uses and users, including their complex and multi-stable cultural contexts (Ihde 2008; on Ihde see Selinger 2006).

        This dialogical view of technology implies an event of "un-concealment", as clearly analyzed by the Australian philosopher Michael Eldred (2006), questioning Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology and the Greek classical tradition behind him. This  event happens between us and not just between the artist or technites and matter (ibid.). It means also to enlarge the German concept of technology (“Technik”)  with regard all kind of techniques including the ones of making love, of cookery, leadership and  piano-playing. An “expanded hermeneutics” must twist materiality and digitality within the large context of such techniques and it should include not only texts of the past or of mass media, as Vattimo remarked (Vattimo 1985, p. 187), but visual media as well.

      Digital hermeneutics is concerned with how the digital code is being interpreted and implemented (or not) in the globalized societies of the twenty-first century. It deals with processes related with the digital network at the social level, autonomous systems of interpretation, communication and interaction (robotics) as well as all kinds of hybrid biological systems (bionics) and digital manipulation at the nano level. This broad spectrum of phenomena can be restricted to the study of social systems of interpretation and social construction of meaning based on the Internet.

        In a digitally globalized world with societies based on digital networks without a fixed meta-system, questions such as those of the search for truth criteria or ethical and political legitimization become a key aspect of technological innovation. These questions concern the polarization, misunderstandings, conflicts, oppositions, conjunctions, ambitions, interests and illusions with regard to the processes of understanding at a local and global level, particularly from the perspective of the accelerated technological innovation that started with the Internet at the end of the last century and is expanding now on the basis of mobile communication technologies.

        But the impact of digital communication goes far beyond such a global system as it implies a methodological perspective that transforms genetic biology into a technology aiming at the artificial transformation of living beings, atomic physics into a technology aiming at the manipulation of the material support of all beings at the most basic level. Psychic processes and their organic support are becoming object of manipulation based on digital technology for all kinds of enhancements. Digital hermeneutics answers, so to speak, to the call of the digital by making explicit its ontological presuppositions. As a philosophic discipline it does not place itself outside history but tries to understand the factual present situation in which human existence and human thinking is located. It looks for a radicalization of the process of self-understanding of human societies that interact with natural and technical networks and construct complex hybrid living systems. The ninetieth and the twentieth centuries were fascinated by history and nature. The twenty-first century is the century of communication and artificiality.

        These are strong reasons, I believe, in order to understand why digital technology in a similar but not identical way as in the case of other media, becomes today a key hermeneutic issue. It faces not just a challenge at the level of the processes of understanding and construction of meaning but finds itself within societies that see this transformation as something obvious, a vague slogan namely ‘information society’ to which the term ‘knowledge’ is sometimes added. This digital turn is not alien to hermeneutics as far as it understands itself from its very beginning as a questioning of what is apparently obvious as well as to what resists immediate understanding. Non-understanding often conceals itself behind what is apparently obvious particularly with regard to the question concerning the interpreter herself.



        Digital hermeneutics is based on digital ontology, a concept that Michael Eldred (2001) and the author developed some years ago (Capurro 2001). What is digital ontology? Eldred writes:

As long as we remain 'embedded' unquestioningly in the digital casting, everything is manifest as bits. But what does it mean that every appears as a bit? Precisely this view of beings as a whole, that we only admit everything that is in its being when we understand it against the horizon of the digitally functionalized logos represents the encasting central draft thesis of a digital ontology. (Eldred 2001)

        The main point  concerns the word “unquestioningly” that makes the whole difference between digital ontology as a possible and indeed today’s pervasive interpretation of Being and the metaphysical thesis that the digital is the real (Capurro 2006). An epistemological (weaker) version of this thesis is: things are (understood) as far as we are able to digitize them. Digital ontology is pervasive in the sense that it is not necessary that people adhere to it consciously. It has a tendency, as every ontology, to becoming apparently the only true perspective.

        Digital hermeneutics has a double-bind with regard to the linguistic and the mathematical code. It aims at translating and interpreting logos and arithmos within the human realm but it is not  restricted to this sphere. It also deals with the digital interpretation and construction of natural processes. And vice versa: the horizon of the digital is not the only possible one for the un-veiling reality – including human existence as well as nature – or the “truth” of Being in Heideggerian terms. I am questioning anti-technological humanism as well as digital metaphysics. I believe that we live in an age in which the sense of Being is widely interpreted from a digital perspective as the ‘Zeitgeist’ of post-industrial societies. From this perspective, I also question what one could call a digital humanism that would look for the limits of the digital within the realm of the human. The reason for this is that digital technology allows a de-subjectivation of human processes of interpretation without being necessarily opposed to them. This means a dehumanization of hermeneutics as far as, for instance, biological processes can be seen as processes of interaction and communication based on the genetic code that can be itself object of human manipulation.

    The consequences of digital metaphysics can be devastating as described for instance by Albert Borgmann in Holding on to Reality:

        Information Technology has deeply influenced the ways we cope today with the threat of the devastation and loss of meaning. The challenge to the festive resolution of the ambiguity that rises from the surrounding injustice and misery we are inclined to meet with a version of virtual ambiguity, a loosening of the ties that should connect our celebrations with their real and entire context. While virtuality is our reply to the devastation of common meanings hyperinformation is our response to the oblivion of individuals. Common hyperinformation is the huge amount of colorful information we accumulate through pictures and videos especially. But all the other records we keep and that are kept about us are part of hyperinformation. (Borgmann 2000, p. 230)

        Borgmann’s answer to the challenge of “utopian hyperinformation” – it would be better to call it ‘dystopian hyperinformation’ – is a no less utopian book culture.  Any dualistic  thinking is dangerous as far as it oversees the ambiguity on both sides and other possibilities in between. I do not think that it makes sense, as Borgman suggests, to emphasize one side – say, the materiality of printed books or of focal points of celebration – in detriment to the other. We are cyborgs. The cell phone is part of our bodily existence. It is our "focal thing" and the practices and celebrations take part in this digital world too. The "lightness" of digital technology  has become part of the gravity of everyday  life which is also the gravity of the market. Everything, including our body, can be object of digitization and become a matter of economic transactions based on the space-time fluidity of the digital sphere

        But digital technology can nonetheless be hermeneutically disclosed as a weak technology for human conversation. In other words, digital hermeneutics must address the changes brought up to our condition humaine in all its facets. It is not enough, I think, as Daniel Fallman does, to contrast the “usability tradition” represented by Ihde, with Borgmann’ “more romantic outlook” (Fallman 2007). A similar dualistic thinking can be found in Hubert Dreyfus book On the Internet: on the one side there is the Internet which includes virtuality, aesthetics, anonymity, knowledge, the infinite, invulnerability, detachment and the observer, while on the other there is reality, ethics (and religion), commitment, the body, finitude, vulnerability, responsibility and action. His concluding remarks are in line with this view of the Internet as an area of esthetics detached from the real ethical questions of human life:

    In sum, as long as we continue to affirm our bodies, the Net can be useful to us in spite of its tendency to offer the worst of a series of asymmetric trade-offs: economy over efficacy in education, the virtual over the real in our relation to things and people, and anonymity over commitment that our culture has already fallen twice for the Platonic/Christian temptation to try to get rid of our vulnerable bodies, and has ended in nihilism. This time around, we must resist this temptation and affirm our bodies, not in spite of their finitude and vulnerability, but because, without our bodies, as Nietzsche saw, we would be literally nothing. As Nietzsche has Zarathustra say: ‘I want to speak to the despisers of the body. I would not have them learn and teach differently, but merely say farewell to their own bodies – and thus become silent. (Dreyfus 2001, p. 106-107)

        The question whether digital technology takes us away from our bodies or whether it allows us a different interaction with them can be seen as another form of nihilism but of a different kind than the Platonic/Christian one Nietzsche was fighting against. It could be that there is a new kind of affirmation of the body because we are able to better understand what is going on with it even at the nano level on the basis of digital technology. This new kind of nihilism is related to the fact that our capacity to manipulate digitally our bodies does not provide us with the ethical thinking necessary to manage this capacity to transform ourselves, which also means the very Nietzschean idea of playing with nature not “going back to it” following Rousseau (Nietzsche 1999, 150). The experience of our groundless existence does not arise out of this or of any other technology but is something that characterizes human life as such. Being human is an experiment. According to the theologian Karl Rahner we are our own designers: “homo faber sui ipsius,” which includes now more and more the possibility of designing our body at very early stages and on fundamental (genetic) levels. Facing the moralist who says that humans should not do everything they can, and the sceptic who does not trust that we will freely give up what we can, Rahner points to the ethical limit of “what does not work” under the very factual worldly conditions (Rahner 1966, p. 59) that would  eventually mean our self-annihilation (Capurro 2002).

        If we want to understand our lives – including all kinds of artificial and natural processes in which we are embedded – in the present age we must address the key issues of communication and artificiality from the digital perspective. In Being and Timecirculus vitiosus but a hermeneutic or productive one. What is crucial is not to get out of the circle but to come into “in the right way” (Heidegger 1976, p. 153). Today this circle is characterized by the hybridization of the digital at all levels of human existence and self-appraisal. Societies in the twenty-first century are looking for the “right way” to get into the digital network. This means that the hermeneutic circle as a key metaphor of philosophic hermeneutics should be re-interpreted as a hermeneutic network Heidegger refers to human understanding as a circle that is not a .

        And this leads to a change of another core idea of hermeneutics, namely the Gadamerian  “fusion of horizons” (Gadamer 1975, p. 284). It is not only a “fusion” but a “linking” that characterizes the relationship between the messengers of the digital network that need to call each other through what system theory calls the “meaning offer” (Luhmann 1987). In this regard, digital hermeneutics transcends the classical task of hermeneutics as a theory  of interpretation und discovers its own hidden dimension as a theory of messages or angeletics (from Greek ‘angelía’ = message) (Capurro 2003). There is no interpretation without a “meaning offer.” Hermes is not just the interpreter of heavenly messages but the gods’ messenger as well. Of course, digital angeletics does not address comprehensively the complex phenomenon of messages and messengers that pervades human history as well as natural processes.

    Digital hermeneutics and second-order cybernetics come together. While in the last century mass media could give the impression that they were a kind of meta-observer that would guarantee an objective view of all social systems, such vision becomes today problematic. This is the main lesson brought about by the Internet as an interactive technology that transforms all receivers of mass media messages into potential messengers beyond the one-to-one technology of the telephone. The rise of the Internet as an apparently autonomous sphere shows the historical dimension of this cultural invention that spread over the globe with the speed of light, which is in this case almost not a metaphor, becoming soon not something independent of the real life of the people but the very heart of our political, economic and cultural life. The cellular phone, as a mobile device linked to the  Internet, challenges, as Mathew Arnold recently stressed making aware of its “Janus-faces” (Arnold 2003), our conceptions of freedom and space mobility, of independence and vulnerability, of nearness and distance, of public and private, of being busy or being available, production and consumption, masculine and feminine. He writes:

    The perceived need for technology to enable communication at a distance perhaps indicates that one is distant from those one might like to communicate with, if not be with. However, communication is possible at a distance, through the phone, which is reassuring for those who are independent, but who also feel isolated or vulnerable. Even if the phone is never used, it can be carried at all times, and the very fact that it is possible to communicate, or itself creates a link that reinforces connectedness. The phone thus speaks of both a sense of isolation and a sense of reassurance. We are distant but we are connected. In the formal organizational context also, the faces of isolation, vulnerability and reassurance emerge in the presence of the mobile phone. … When I telephone I am part of a social network or familial or organizational network. I am related to others. I exist, they exist, and our relation to one another exists. I am confirmed. I have a position in the scheme of things. I am reassured. (Arnold 2003, p. 244-245).

    Conceived like this, the mobile phone is an eminently existential or ‘ontological’ device on today’s message society. This is a hermeneutic insight that becomes manifest today in all its global and local relevance (Brigham and Introna 2006, Introna 2007). Digital hermeneutics is at the crossroad of the producer and interpreter of digital programs no less than at the connection of such programs with natural processes. Hermeneutic questions arise thus not just out of the digital alone but from the interferences of media as well as from the messages that other media send to potential messengers. This was already the case of Plato hearing the voices of the spoken language in face of the invention of writing no less than Derrida’s answer to the call of logocentrism.

    Another key topic of hermeneutics, namely the relation between the whole and its parts is getting transformed by the digital network with regard to the possibility of  having an overall view of its object of study. Digital hermeneutics questions the obviousness of these totalitarian visions. It can  look at the whole (“totum”) from different perspectives but not at the same time (“non totaliter”). This formula “totum sed non totaliter”  makes its own totalitarian ambitions weaker as far as it becomes aware that the business of interpretation arises from something outside the interpreter and its hermeneutic power, namely from a message. This is the point in which hermeneutics and ethics meet as they allow the subject to reflect critically on what “common sense” says by allowing a situation of weak social stability in a process of permanent social change. Hegel’s "objective spirit", Heidegger’s historical "un-concealment" of truth as a (possible) “world” or Wittgenstein’s “forms of life” allow the hermeneutic subject to take a rest, so to speak, and give an answer to historical challenges. Today, information societies have a general tendency towards what Derrida, following Heidegger, calls the metaphysics of presence. Digital hermeneutics should make explicit this spectrality of the digital.


        The task of hermeneutics in the digital age is twofold, namely to think the digital and at the same time to be addressed by it. The first task leads to the question about in which way the digital code has an impact on all kinds of processes, particular the societal ones. In this regard, digital hermeneutics is at the core of information ethics understood as the ethical reflection on rules of behaviour underlying the global digital network including its interaction with other social systems as well as with natural processes. The second task refers to the challenge of the digital with regard to the self-interpretation of human beings in all their existential dimensions, particularly their bodies, their autonomy, their way of conceiving and living in time and space, their moods and understanding of the world, the building of social structures, their understanding of history, their imagination, their conception of science, their religious beliefs.

    According to Lawrence Lessig “code is law” (Lessig 1999), hermeneutics must reflect on the nature of this code and its interaction with economy, politics and morality. The balance between these spheres, including nature, is related to what was often called justice (“dike”) in Greek classic philosophy. This concept is broader than the one applied to social interactions, particularly with regard to the distribution of economic wealth. It implies the complex interplay between humans and nature using different programs or digital codes that interact with natural processes (Eldred 2006). It would be ‘unjust’ if cyberspace would pretend to dominate other spheres becoming a digital metaphysics. The task of weakening such a project is a major task of digital hermeneutics. One example of a strong version of the digital is the dominance of mass media with their hierarchic structures in the twentieth century. Vilém Flusser feared that this power would eventually become the dominant one over dialogical structures of communication (Flusser 2006). The Internet weakens media monopolies. The digital code makes possible the interaction of the human with the natural and the artificial. The digital network weakens the classic Western view of an autonomous subject and makes possible a dialogue with Taoist views of nature (Jullien 2003) as well as with Japanese Buddhism (Capurro 2006b).

        Ethics deals mainly with one question: who am I? This question is not to be understood as asked by an isolated individual but as a basic human question that is stated implicitly or explicitly in practical life by every human being no less than by groups, states and today in a global dimension: who are we as humankind? This question is anything but academic. It is a question of survival. Hermeneutics in the digital age must become aware of this situation in order to make explicit the different political, legal and cultural norms and identities, the way they are affected by the digital code and the consequences for the construction of human identities as well as for the interaction between nature and society. Following Foucault, ethics can be understood as the questioning of morality (Foucault 1983). It works as a catalyst of social processes weakening the dogmatism of morality and law without just striving towards their replacement through another moral code. It is a open or free space that allows a permanent critique of all kind of blocking processes within and beyond the digital sphere. Who are we as a society at the local and global level in the age of digital and globalized communication? This question does not address a problem of text interpretation but our own self-understanding and ‘verification’ in the sense that the media itself and the processes that are object of hermeneutical study are at the same time existential dimensions of the interpreters themselves The hermeneutic subject ‘verifies’ or makes herself a digital object.

    Human existence is a valuing activity but the human evaluator has no value but a “dignity” or “Würde” as Kant called it. This is not necessarily based on a metaphysic view of man and world but arises already from the very situation of being-in-the-world itself as far as this being itself is not something we could valuate but is the horizon within which every valuation takes place. Within this horizon, all beings, human or not, have a dignity but non-human beings, as far as they are not subjects of valuation processes, have a relative value when they become object of human transactions within a social process of valuation. From this perspective, the economy as a process of permanent valuation is a main trait of every human community as such. This hermeneutic reflection makes clear why the digital sphere as a product of human invention, cannot become the final horizon of valuation for all possible understanding of the world and human existence. Being relative, the digital becomes an opportunity for the subjects of the twenty-first century to transform themselves and their connections in and with the world overcoming for instance the strong metaphysical concepts that were leading for the self-understanding of Western societies for centuries. This does not  mean that such concepts could be let aside or just replaced by the new ones, but  they can be hybridized with different kind of reasons, imaginations, ambitions and utopias, hopes and disappointments arising from the digital code.

    If this is the case, in different ways and intensities, the digital code becomes a real contribution to humanity as well as to its interaction with non-human spheres. It could weaken the metaphysic ambitions of (Western) logos by making it more flexible with regard to the global cultural interplay in which we look for reasons for our preferences in dialogue with different beliefs and desires of other human beings. A future world must be open to an open horizon of understanding in which the "principle of charity" plays a major role avoiding that reasons become dogmatic beliefs to be eventually imposed others by force. The digital network could become the place where such translations between different languages take place in a global scale in this new century. This means to allow the other to articulate herself in the network, looking for nodes of relations, becoming as a hermeneutic subject of the digital age. This is the reason for the relevance of intercultural information ethics (Hongladarom and Ess 2007; Capurro et al. 2007).

        Who are we in the digital age? What does it mean for humanity to become transformed through the digital code? What are the epistemological, ontological and ethical consequences? How do human cultures become hybridized and in which way does this hybridization affect the interplay with natural processes and their interplay with the production and use of all kind of artificial products in a digital economy? These questions go far beyond the horizon of classic hermeneutics as a theory of text interpretation as well as beyond classic philosophic hermeneutics as dealing with the question about human existence independently of the pervading impact of digital technology. We live in a world that is less and less a familiar “life-world.” We have become a troublesome field that requires hard labor and heavy sweat (“factus sum mihi terra difficultatis et sudoris nimii”; Augustinus 1998, X, p. 16). Hermeneutics misunderstands itself if it does not take care ontic and ontologically of digital technology with its overwhelming impact on our lives.


I thank Arun Kumar Tripathi (Dresden University of Technology, Germany) for his commitment to an e-mail dialogue on the subject of this paper and for his invaluable hints to relevant literature.


Aristotle (1973). In: Jaeger W (ed) Metaphysica. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Arnold, Michael (2003). On the phenomenology of technology: the “Janus-faces” of mobile phones. In Information and Organization 13 (2003), p. 231-256.

Augustinus (1998). Confessionum libri tredecim.

Borgmann, Albert (2000). Holding On To Reality. The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millenium. The University of Chicago Press.

Bosteels, Bruno (2006). Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject: The Recommencement of Dialectical Materialism. In: Slavoj Žižek (Ed.): Lacan. The Silent Partners. London: Verso, p. 115-168.

Brigham, Martin and Introna, Lucas D. (2006). Hospitality, improvisation and Gestell: a phenomenology of mobile information. In: Journal of Information Technology, 21, p. 140-153.

Capurro, Rafael (2006a). Towards an Ontological Foundation of Information Ethics. Ethics and Information Technology, 8 (4), p. 157-186.

Capurro, Rafael (2006b). Ethik der Informationsgesellschaft. Ein interkultureller Versuch.

Capurro, Rafael (2003). Angeletics – A Message Theory. In Hans H. Diebner & Lehan Ramsay (Eds.): Hierarchies of Communication. Karlsruhe: ZKM, p. 58-71.

Capurro, Rafael (2002). Menschenbilder. Eine Einführung in die philosophische Anthropologie. In: Petra Grimm and Rafael Capurro (Eds.): Menschenbilder in den Medien – ethische Vorbilder? Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, p. 83-109

Capurro, Rafael (2001). Beiträge zu einer digitalen Ontologie.

Capurro, Rafael (1995). Leben im Informationszeitalter. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Capurro, Rafael (1992). Hermeneutics and Informatics. In Christiane Floyd, Heinz Züllighoven, Reinhard Budde and Reinhard Keil-Slavik (Eds.): Software Development and Reality Construction. Berlin: Springer, p. 363-375. 

Capurro, Rafael (1990). Ethik und Informatik. Die Herausforderung der Informatik für die praktische Philosophie. Informatik-Spektrum 13, p. 311-320.

Capurro, Rafael, Frühbauer, Johannes, Hausmanninger, Thomas (Eds.) (2007). Localizing the Internet: Ethical aspects in intercultural perspective. ICIE Vol. 4, München: Fink.

Dreyfus, Hubert L. (2001). On the Internet. New York: Routledge.

Eldred, Michael (2006). Technology, Technique, Interplay: Questioning Die Frage nach der Technik.

Eldred, Michael (2001). Draft Casting of a Digital Ontology

Fallman, Daniel (2007). Persuade Into What? Why Human-Computer Interaction Needs a Philosophy of Technology. In Yvonne de Kort et al. (Eds.): Persuasive 2007. Heidelberg: Springer, p. 295-306.

Fellmann, Ferdinand (1998). Hermeneutik, Semiotik, Informatik. In Evely Dölling (Ed.): Repräsentation und Interpretation. Technische Universität Berlin.

Figal, Günter (2007). Gegenständlichkeit. Das Hermeneutische und die Philosophie. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Floridi, Luciano (2006). Information technologies and the tragedy of the Good Will. Ethics and Information Technology, 8 (4), p. 253-262.

Floridi, Luciano (Ed.) (2004). The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Computing and Information. Oxford: Blackwell.

Floridi, Luciano (1999). Information Ethics: On the Philosophical Foundations of Computer Ethics. Ethics and Information Technology 1 (1), p. 37-56,

Flusser, Vilém (1996). Kommunikologie. Mannheim: Bollmann.

Foucault, Michel (1983). Discourse and Truth: the Problematization of Parrhesia. University of California at Berkeley, October-November 1983. 

Gadamer, Hans-Georg (1975). Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik. Tübingen: Mohr.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg (1974). Hermeneutik. In: Joachim Ritter (Ed.) Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft,  Vol. 3, p. 1061-1073

Grondin, Jean (1996): Hermeneutik. In: Gert Ueding (Ed.): Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, Vol.  3,  p. 1350-1374.

Heidegger, Martin (1967). Die Frage nach der Technik (Original from 1953). In ibid.: Vorträge und Aufsätze. Neske: Pfullingen, vol. 1, p. 5-36 (English: The Question Concerning Technology and other Essays. New York: Harper and Row 1977).

Heidegger, Martin (1976). Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Niemeyer (“Being and Time” translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1987).

Hongladarom, Soraj and Ess, Charles (2007). Information Technology Ethics: Cultural Perspectives. Hersey, Pennsylvania: Idea Reference.

Ihde, Don (2008).  The Designer Fallacy and Technological Imagination. In Pieter E. Vermaas, Peter Kroes, Andrew Light and Steven A. Moore (Eds.): Philosophy and Design. From Engineering to Architecture. Berlin: Springer, p. 51-59.

Ihde, Don (2005). More Material Hermeneutics. In: Yearbook of the Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society. Munich/Vienna: Profil Verlag, p. 341-350.

Ihde, Don (2002). Bodies in Technology. University of Minnesota Press.

Ihde, Don (1998). Expanding Hermeneutics: Visualism in Science. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press.

Introna, Lucas (2007). Virtual Strangers – On the Social and Ethical Conditions of Virtual Communities. In: Rafael Capurro, Johannes Frühbauer, and Thomas Hausmanninger (Eds.) Localizing the Internet: Ethical aspects in intercultural perspective. ICIE Vol. 4, München: Fink (2007), p. 95-108.

Introna, Lucas (2005). Phenomenological Approaches to Ethics and Information Technology. In: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Irrgang, Bernhard (2005). Posthumanes  Menschsein? Künstliche Intelligenz, Cyberspace, Roboter, Cyborgs und Designer-Menschen. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

Irrgang, Bernhard (2007). Gehirn und leiblicher Geist. Phänomenologisch-hermeneutische Philosophie des Geistes. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

Kurthen, Martin (1992). Hermeneutische Kognitionswissenschaft. Die Krise der Orthodoxie. Bonn: Dyre Verlag.

Lessig, Lawrence (1999). Code and other laws of cyberspace. New York: Perseus Books.

Luhmann, Niklas (1987). Soziale Systeme. Grundriß einer allgemeinen Theorie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Mallery, J.C., Hurwitz, R., Duffy, G. (1990). Art. Hermeneutics. In Stuart C. Shapiro (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Artificial Intelligence.  New York: Wiley, p. 362-376.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1999). Götzen-Dämmerung. In ibid.: Sämtliche Werke. Kritische Studienausgabe, Vol. 6, 55-161.

Rahner, Karl (1966). Experiment Mensch. Theologisches über die Selbstmanipulation des Menschen. In: Heinrich Rombach (Ed.): Die Frage nach dem Menschen. Freiburg/Munich: Alber, 45-69. 

Ramberg, Bjørn and Gjesdal, Kristin (2005): Hermeneutics. In: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Rorty, Richard (1989). Contingency, irony, and solidarity. Cambridge University Press.

Selinger, Evan (Ed.) (2006). Postphenomenology: A Critical Companion to Ihde. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Sützl, Wolfgang (2007). Emancipación o violencia. Pacifismo estético en Gianni Vattimo. Barcelona: Icaria Editorial.

Vattimo, Gianni (1985). La fine della modernità. Nichilismo ed ermeneutica nella cultura post-moderna. Milano: Garzanti.

Weizenbaum, Joseph (1976). Computer Power and Human Reason. From Judgement to Calculation. San Francisco: Freeman.

Zabala, Santiago (2007). Introduction: Gianni Vattimo and Weak Philosophy. In ibid. (Ed.): Weakening Philosophy. Essays in Honour of Gianni Vattimo. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, p. 3-34.

Last update: November  9, 2017


Copyright © 2010 by Rafael Capurro, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.

Back to Digital Library
Homepage Research Activities
Publications Teaching Interviews