The Reality of the Virtual: Continental Philosophy and the Digital Age

Dissertation, Loyola University of Chicago (2003)

What is the 'virtual'? While the 'virtual' in its traditional, metaphysical determination has been construed as something illusory or 'less real' , if the virtual poses a contemporary question, it is because the new computer-mediated phenomena for which this term is currently invoked do not lack reality, but rather have a specific reality unto themselves. For this reason, instead of trying to understand virtual reality as a secondary or illusory world, it is rather, for us, a question of determining the specific reality of the virtual or the meaning of 'virtuality.' ;By employing the work of various Continental philosophers , I argue in my dissertation that the notion of the virtual calls for a metaphysics of pure immanence and that the question of the virtual involves the digitization of reality. The virtual, however, is neither the digital nor the analogical . Rather, the virtual involves the relationship between the two. ;More importantly, instead of viewing computer-mediated phenomena as less real or illusory, one must see understand them as exposing constitutive aspects of all phenomena. For instance, I argue that one's online chat partner is no less real than the other in any intersubjective relation. In this way, I am not merely interested in attempting to characterize the nature of computer-mediated phenomena, but also try to show how virtuality involves all phenomena through both time and meaning. In this way, virtuality does not truly name any specific set of phenomena , but rather characterizes any and all possible phenomena. The virtual is not anything which appears, but rather accounts for why all appearings are partial
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