The importance of the volume Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions can be found in its aim: providing a study of the Cartesian Meditations (henceforth CM) in its entirety. Against the tendency to reduce the CM to some of its parts – mostly intersubjectivity or transcendental idealism –, this Commentary attempts to offer a unified view of the text. As the editor De Santis in the Introduction recognizes, CM are not only »Husserl’s second attempt at systematizing his philosophy after the so-called »turn« to a transcendental form of thought« (p. 9) but are also the key to understanding Husserl’s late phenomenology. The editor states that the motivation of this book can be found in the necessity to seriously deal with the text in which Husserl highlights the importance of the »concrete ego«, which provides also a teleological-practical ontology. Regarding the goal of this book, it is important to notice that the three parts Commentary, Interpretation, and Discussion are bounded by each other’s, and it is possible to find some frameworks strictly related to the Commentary and also to the other sections. The development of the Commentary is completed and expanded in the following sections, Interpretation and Discussion, but these parts are not secondary to the others.
The volume is divided into three sections, as the title states. The first part, Commentary (§1-6) provides detailed analyses that stick to Husserl’s publication of the text. The latter two, Interpretation (§7-14) and Discussion (§15-20), intertwine both the commentary and the interpretation. The editor De Santis claims (p.16) that the first part can be regarded as a commentary only if we accept »commentary« in a broad sense. Starting from the CM, the authors develop reflections that go deeper than a simple reconstruction of Husserl’s passages. As is well known, one of the main problems of CM’s reception is the tendency to overlook most of the content of the text (p.12). While in Interpretation the authors emphasize how some philosophers have been dealing with CM, in Discussion the authors spotlight some core problems of Husserl’s CM and reflect on them with other frameworks of phenomenology. For this reason, Interpretation and Discussion both aim to compare CM with Husserl’s phenomenology and with Scholars’ reception of this text, as well as to investigate some of the themes of CM that are central to all Husserl’s phenomenology.
The goal of understanding CM as a whole can be found also in the internal links that can be found. Regarding this, it’s important to notice Daniele De Santis’ §4 on Fourth Meditation with Witold Płotka’s §8, Aurélien Djian’s commentary on Second Meditation with §9 written by Ignacio Quepons and §15 by Emanuela Carta and §5-6 on Fifth Meditation made by Sara Heinämaa (§5) and Alice Pugliese (§6) with Stefano Bancalari’s work on Levinas (§10) and Saulius Geniusas’ contribute on Paul Ricoeur. This allows both a mutual confrontation and a thematic deepening – although internal references are not always present in the text. But it is also possible to further interweave internal references and compare e.g. Landgrebe and Husserl on the account of the idea of Erste Philosophie – these topics are respectively discussed in §9 concerning Landgrebe’s remarks on CM and in §19 §20, specially here on Husserl’s »first« and » universal« and »second« and »last« philosophy. Thanks to the in-depth sections, it is therefore possible to compare the theoretical outcomes of the MC’s with Husserl’s latest phenomenology – e.g Andreea Smaranda Aldea in §17 claims that »Husserl’s emphatic call for a higher-order critique in the Cartesian Meditations as anticipating his Crisis call for radical self-reflection« (p. 453) and Alice Pugliese who compares the Fifth Meditation also with Husserl’s Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie.
It is important to note that Interpretation and Discussion are not appendixes of the Commentary. Alongside a reading accompaniment, the authors shed light on issues that are often overlooked. For this reason, it seems to me that rather than exhausting the research, the importance of this volume is to be a forerunner for even more in-depth studies of MC. For example, Witold Płotka in §8 goes far beyond just a simple reconstruction of Roman Ingarden’s remarks on CM. Namely, even if these remarks »are an historical document of phenomenological movement« (p. 216), the author stresses the importance of Ingarden’s work also in respect to the Fourth Meditation and to some unjustified presuppositions. In this respect, also Danilo Manca researches in §7 the Hegelian motifs of MC which Fink highlights. Specifically, Manca focuses on the »transition from the natural to the transcendental attitude« (p.193), on the Gespaltung of the Ego after performing epochē and the thematization of unconscious dimension of constituting life which that phenomenological method makes possible. Based on Fink’s reflections and stressing Hegel’s use of »Aufheben« (p. 197), the author shows the continuity between the natural and transcendental attitude. Regarding MC, the author deals with Fink’s remarks on §32 – in which the ego in is understood as a »substrate of habitualities« and with the dialectic between the two I, the natural and the transcendental one. In a passage of Fourth Meditation, Husserl claims that his CM are for the »nascent philosopher the genuine introduction into a philosophy«. The same thing does not completely fit with Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions. In some parts the content discussed by the authors presupposes a good knowledge of Husserl’s philosophy – not just of MC – and for a non-specialist reader it might be difficult. Especially §14 Meditations on Purity: Edmund Husserl and Hans Kelsen wrote by Federico Lijoi and §18 Lavigne’s Objection to Phenomenologica Idealism: Critical Remarks with the Help of the Cartesian Meditations by Agustín Serrano de Haro are only fully clear to readers that already are familiar with the phenomenological milieu and, in the second case, with Logic Investigation. For this reason, the »broad sense« of the Commentary includes discussions of problems that are not limited to the text commented on here and investigate some core problems of Husserl’s phenomenology. Nevertheless, these chapters are certainly an opportunity to explore these issues.
Certainly, the Commentary’s part offers a detailed discussion. Claudio Majolino in the first part of Commentary (§1) clarifies the meaning of »Cartesian« and »Meditations« and he researches for the Motive – both in its German meanings (p. 27) – why Husserl took Descartes as a reference. This part is longer than the other and it deals both with Husserl’ Introduction and Fist Meditation. Since the earliest reviews many criticisms emerged against Husserl’s approach towards the figure of Descartes (p. 14-6), investigating this point is a good key to start. Claudio Majolino works on Husserl’s so-called Cartesianism and understands it in terms of »repetition and variation« (.p 22). Using some insights from Hua VII / VIII and Husserliana Materialen IX Claudio Majolino stresses the threefold meaning of Descartes’ Meditation recognized by Husserl: the eternal meaning, the importance of CM for the present and finally the meaning of Descartes’ Meditations for the present. The author approaches this problem by pointing out the way Husserl had already discussed Descartes (Socrates and Plato) in his previous Lectures. Regarding this point Claudio Majolino claims that „[Descartes] embedded the skepsis within the innermost core of genuine and radical philosophy itself“ (p. 35). If on the one hand, Descartes took some arguments from Skepticism, on the other, on several occasions he points out the differences between his doubt and skepticism. The boundness between the grounded knowledge and responsibility, well discussed in §1, from another point of view, is also investigated by Leonard Ip (§20) using the distinction between »Second« and »Last« Philosophy in Husserl. The reference to Descartes allows Husserl to link knowledge to responsibility, but it also poses some problems: first and foremost, that of the route into phenomenology. In §16 Rosemary Jane Rizo and Patron de Lerner points that out and discusses Husserl’s Cartesian way to reduction. Starting from a discussion of Begründung and Fundierung (p. 405-10) two terms used by Husserl to describe the foundational problem, the A. than discusses the main theme regarding CM. It is important to notice that Rosemary Jane Rizo and Patron de Lerner highlight two antithetical demands in Husserl’s thoughts about science: the interest in a mathematical theoretical foundation and the interest in transcendental subjectivity, which is connected to the Lebenswelt and gives it a foundation. The focus on the Husserl-Descartes link finds another insight in §17. Here, Sergio Pérez-Gatica in his The Distinction between »First« and »Universal« Philosophy in Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations: On a Basic Precondition for the Trasformation of Philosophy into a Rigorous Science points out that while »philosophy« means »universal philosophy« – in terms of Platonic and Cartesian idea of universal science –, Husserl uses »first philosophy« in a technical way to stress the basic method for a rigorous philosophical knowledge. Considering the lack of rigor in philosophy at his time, Husserl uses the Cartesian path to draft the real goal for its phenomenology: providing a fundamental epistemology. (p. 483). In conclusion Sergio Pérez-Gatica highlights the connection between logical and ontological requirements in Husserl’s philosophy and the reflections contained in MC on the idea of rigorous grounding philosophy. Regarding Cartesian way, another insight comes from §9. Here Ignacio Quepons points out that Landgrebe stresses the same problem of the Cartesian way to reduction declared by Husserl itself in Crisis. It’s also important to observe that even if Husserl criticizes the Cartesian way, nevertheless, the other ways do not reject the first one, but complete it by revealing other possibilities (p. 239-40). Another attempt to focus also on Husserl’s so-called Cartesianism can be found in §13 Jan Patočka on Descartes and Husserl’s Cartesianism wrote by Hynek Janoušek and Wojciech Starzyński. The authors discuss Patočka on epochē and reduction from Husserl. While »Patočka accepts Husserl’s method of epochē as a major breakthrough in modern philosophy […], he rejects Husserl’s idea of reduction as leading to the unwarranted subjunctivization of the phenomenal field of appearances« (p. 344). This chapter seems to me to be successful because it relates Patočka with Descartes and Husserl.
Following the Commentary, in §2 Aurélien Djian points out how Husserl repeats and varies – using Caludio Majolino’s words – Descartes to introduce its own transcendental phenomenology. The author stresses specifically the horizon, synthesis, and intentionality notions. Aurélien Djian shows that transcendental subjectivity should not be conflated with the psychological ego because it only can be grasped through epochē (p. 68). The conclusion of §2 discusses a passage of MC §9 and it has a very specific purpose: showing the problems related to Husserl’s »ranking the horizon among the universal principles of phenomenology« (p. 88) and the need for apodicticity of the ego. In §3 Lilian Alweiss asks: how is it possible to do Ontology after Kant? To answer this question the author considers »two different ways of referring to non-being« picked up by phenomenological descriptions: one linked to »possibilities which have not yet been fulfilled, the other to possibilities which have been dashed« (p. 96). Then Lilian Alweiss traces a connection between Husserl and Kant regarding the answer to Hume’s circle. This passage is fundamental to understand why this chapter states that Husserl traces the limits of being from within, with the notion of evidence and through imagination. De Santis’ §4 investigates the role of transcendental idealism in MC, the only place where it has an »exoteric systematic presentation of this doctrine« (p. 115 mod). This comment connects the focus on Husserl’s idioms to the philosophical content in them. Namely, the author points out Husserl’s use of Unsinn, not just in MC but also in Ideas I, and compares it to the occurrences of Wiedersinn. The goal of this chapter is to show that each sense is grasped with respect to transcendental subjectivity, which must be regarded as a monad. De Santis claims also that the monad is »subjectivity constituted by the correlation between the surrounding world (or the world as it appears to me) and the »personal character« (p. 117). Since Husserl’s fifth meditation is longer than the others, the Commentary is divided into two sections: §5 written by Sara Heinämaa and §6 by Alice Pugliese. The first one deals with MC § §42-54, the second one with §55-64. Sara Heinämaa starts considering that »some forms of critique are thematic and reject Husserl’s descriptions of our experiences of other persons or other human beings, while other lines of critique are methodological and question the adequacy of the conceptual tools used in the analysis« (p.141). Then the author points out the role of these chapters within MC as a whole. As Sara Heinämaa states, »with the supposed failure of Fifth Meditation then, with the failure of its account of the constitution of the sense of another self, much, if not all, of Husserl’s phenomenological project would collapse« (p. 143). The main topic of this contribution is to explain the concepts of verification, analogical apperception, and empathy. This chapter faces the transfer of »sense problem« and stresses Husserl’s strategy already adopted in his previous texts. Namely, Husserl uses scientific and philosophic standard terms without their standard meaning – e.g Husserl’s »empathy« is different from Stein’s or Scheler’s use of the same word (p. 157). Alice Pugliese addresses the last part of MC »using one of the most consistent and ancient questions of metaphysics as a hermeneutical key: the dialectic of unity and multiplicity« (p. 171). More in detail, the author claims that the unity-multiplicity problem leads the empathy problem. This strategy completely fits MC, especially considering that »the monad is a unity that includes multiplicity« (p. 178). This reading is further confirmed if we consider »the core of the egological and monadic intuition« which stands for unity and the »the daily work of science and knowledge« as multiplicity (p. 186). The problems of Fifth CM discussed in the Commentary are taken again by Stefano Bancalari, who in §10 discuss The influence of the Cartesian Meditations on the thought of Emmanuel Levinas. If on the one hand, the 5th MC provided Levinas the intersubjective problem, central for his work, on the other, it determined the rupture with Husserl’s phenomenology (p. 260). Considering Levinas’ thought nearly in its entirety, Stefano Bancalari points out how Levinas used his »intersubjective reduction« to overcome the problems related to Husserl’s Cartesian way to reduction. Regarding the aim of this book this contribution is important because it thematizes Others’ constitution problem. Stefano Bancalari also shows why the lack of the Others’ gaze in the analogical apperception for Levinas is a problem (p. 271). Another perspective on the intersubjectivity problem comes from Jakub Čapek, who discusses Merleau-Ponty’s lecture of CM in §11. The author shows how from an initial critique to the ego Merleau-Ponty then uses Husserl’s analysis, and in particular the idea of appresentation, »to face the objection that his theory makes individual perspectives vanish into a monism of a supra-individual corporeity« (283). As Jakub Čapek recognizes, Merleau-Ponty goes further and in the end of Phenomenology of perception claims the return to the ego – albeit transformed. The author states that for Merleau-Ponty the main problem of Husserl’s account of intersubjectivity is the transposition from the I to the Other because it is based on the immediate self-knowledge. On the contrary, for Merleau-Ponty our self-knowledge is »a practical task yet to be accomplished« (284). Although in §11there is no reference to Merleau-Ponty’s receipt of Ideas II, this contribution further enriches some of the problems seen in the previous chapters. In §12 Saulius Geniusas in his Paul Ricoeur’s Husserlian Heresies: The Case of the Cartesian Meditations points out that MC are the core not only of Ricœur’s reading of Husserl, but also for his philosophy itself. The author approaches the topic using three questions: how Cartesian are Husserl’s MC? How descriptive is Husserl’s descriptive phenomenology? How egological is Husserl’s egology? Saulius Geniusas claims that »Husserl secularizes Descartes and interprets the Cartesian cogito as the transcendental subject, conceived of as the ultimate origin of all meaning« (p. 305). Additionally, if on the one hand, the author bounds both Descartes and Husserl on the problem, on the other he stresses that Husserl’s radicalization of Descartes does not address God. Regarding the second question, Saulius Geniusas stresses that »for Ricoeur, Husserl’s phenomenology is not sufficiently descriptive because it does not constrain its own descriptions from gliding into transcendental idealism» (315). It is important to notice that this chapter bounds itself both with Daniele De Santis’ §4 and Stefano Bancalari’s §10. Regarding the problem of evidence, Emanuela Carta in §15 reconstructs scholars’ discussion of Husserl’s evidence understood as Theory of justification (Standard View) and proposes a new interpretation of the theme where evidence justifies belief. Fallibilist Thesis claims »What is evidently given to one can be false« and it is related with The Corollary Thesis: »It is possible for one to have justification to believe a false proposition« (379). After criticizing the metaphysical realism of scholars, the author discusses Husserl’s notion of »idealism«. Here a footnote on De Santis’ work in this text could have been useful. Finally, Emanuela Carta provides an alternative to the Standard view, claiming the correlation between absolute truth- adequate evidence and relative truth-inadequate evidence (p 393). Thanks to that it is possible to reject both Fallibilist Thesis and The Corollary Thesis and to argue that evidence justifies belief because it shows what is true, even if in an open and perfectible way. A Discussion that shows the unity of the late Husserl’s thought is that of Andreea Smaranda Aldea, Self-Othering, Self-Transformation, and Theoretical Freedom: Self-Variation and Husserl’s Phenomenology as Radical Immanent Critique. Specifically on this topic the author links the self-critique of the self-variation with Crisis’ zig-zag method. Namely, self-variation clarifies both the goal of inquiries and itself. For this reason, if we consider the Besinnung as a Rückfrage, it is possible to regard self-variation »as methodological tool central to phenomenology as a whole« (p. 453). In his conclusion, following the sense of Besinnung, Andreea Smaranda Aldea claims that self-variation is not just a simple method related to self-constitution, but »a central method at the core of phenomenology itself functions as a necessary condition for the possibility of this radical self-critique« (455).
Before concluding this review, I would like to focus on another goal of the volume: if on the one hand the volume presents itself as a unique volume, on the other the richness of the contributions also allows a specific selection of some parts of it. This means that Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditation. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions is not only aimed at specialists of Husserl, but also at all those who, across the board, have to deal with MC. In sum, this volume marks a notable achievement. The broad sense of the Commentary completely full fits the goal of the editor. Additionally, it should not be read merely as commentary. Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditation. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions is a collection of contributions which gives a rich and broad view of the Cartesian Meditations as a whole. All the various parts move in different, often intertwined, directions and show the richness of Husserl’s work. The volume’s conspicuous number of pages proves how urgently an entire study dedicated to MCs was needed.
 Edmund Husserl, Cartesian meditations (translated by D. Cairns), p. 88.
 See René Descartes, Œuvres Complètes, vol. 12 (Vrin, 1996). Specially AT VI 29, AT X 512 and AT III 434.
This volume takes an interesting approach to the phenomenology of place and human lived emplacement. The book is an anthology of previously published papers and essays rather than a continuous arrative argument. Seamon has, however, assembled the parts of the anthology as an extended annotated bibliography for his 2018 book, Life Takes Place: Phenomenology, Lifeworlds, and Place Making. As Seamon states in his introduction to this volume, all of its chapters make a range of references to the three aspects of place discussed in Life Takes Place—phenomenology, lifeworlds, and placemaking.
Seamon is the curator of this anthology, giving it the strength of a deliberate, cohesive narrative, at least from the author’s perspective. How much would we love to have had notable philosophers of the past give us their own sense of their oeuvre as Seamon has given us here! Phenomenological Perspectives is an important service to phenomenologists interested in Seamon or in the philosophies of place and the social lifeworld.
Phenomenological Perspectives, being an in-depth exploration of the three interrelated themes of the book Life Takes Place, is divided into three groups of chapters. The three parts of Phenomenological Perspectives deal with phenomenology as a means of studying place, phenomenologically understanding place experience and lived emplacement, and using artistic media to illustrate the many ways that humans encounter lived experience in place.
In Part I, Seamon presents four chapters in which he explains the basics of the phenomenology of place. Chapter 2, “Lived Bodies, Place, and Phenomenology,” could serve as a general introduction to phenomenology and as an approach to understanding people and the societies they create. The other three chapters in Part I introduce and explain the concepts of lifeworld, homeworld, and environmental embodiment, foundational concepts for Seamon’s phenomenology of place. Chapter 4, “Body-Subject, Time-Space Routines, and Place Ballets,” is noteworthy for Seamon’s discussion of his concept of “place ballet.” This he defines as “the regularity of place grounded in the bodily habituality of users.” It is a concept reminiscent of Heidegger’s “everydayness,” with Seamon placing more emphasis on the lived body in our experience of place and our pedestrian routines within our lifeworld.
Expressing Seamon’s background in architecture and environment behavior, the chapters in Part II explore the relations of places and lived emplacement to architecture, design pedagogy, and urban placemaking. The five previously published papers in Part II use the concepts of lifeworld and place ballet to understand and improve architectural design, with particular emphasis on the practical value of understanding place and lived emplacement. Chapter 8, “Architecture, Place, and Phenomenology: Buildings as Lifeworlds, Atmospheres, and Environmental Wholes,” provides an insightful description of how architecture plays a central role in human life. The short essay of Chapter 7, “Serendipitous Events in Place: The Weave of Bodies and Context via Environmental Unexpectedness and Chance,” is a slight diversion in tone. In it, Seamon discusses place serendipity—relating stories of people having chance experiences in place. Seamon connects the stories to the subject of Part II by observing that architectural design is an aspect in serendipitous events that affect people’s lives.
Part III comprises eight essays about artistic creations that Seamon sees as providing real-world groundings that identify general aspects of human life and place events. The essays discuss the work of two filmmakers, a photographer, four writers, and a television producer. Seamon’s phenomenological interpretations of these mostly fictional artistic creations may or may not express the intentions of their creators. Nevertheless, the connections that Seamon makes are interesting and informative. If phenomenology, as Seamon defines it, is the description and interpretation of human experience, then fictional creations can concretize human experience in ways that help us understand that human life is impossible without place.
Phenomenological Perspectives is invaluable in a study of David Seamon’s philosophy. It also provides a solid set of resources for the phenomenological study of place and lifeworlds. This book can be useful on its own but is perhaps best appreciated if one also has Seamon’s Life Takes Place alongside. Phenomenological Perspectives deserves a place on the phenomenologist’s bookshelf next to monographs of Jeff Malpas and Anthony Steinbock.
At a mere 100 pages, Jörg Noller’s little booklet traverses an impressive range of topics. Beginning with a philosophical conceptualization of virtual reality and its metaphysical status, it ends on digital ethics, aesthetics, and the digitization of education. This scope demands that some of these themes appear as philosophical appetizers, rather than main dishes. The order of that menu appears reversed, as the heaviest (and best) courses are served first. Here, Noller introduces his concept of virtual reality and demarcates it from the cognate notions of simulation, representation, illusion, and fiction. This part of the book should be digestible and useful to many readers. Some other features of the book might be matters of taste, especially the sometimes liberal use of technical vocabulary and the wide-ranging philosophical references and allusions. As a book aimed at a general audience, the metaphysical argument is informal and discussions of digital technology are set aside, although with philosophical reasoning for doing so. The goal is apparently to avoid a discussion of the details of transient technologies, and to focus on independent conceptual questions. This seems like a good idea, but it sometimes leads to a dearth of examples. At times, it can be surprisingly difficult to say whether Noller is talking about the present or a future state of technology. This is of course not helped by the rapid development in Large Language Models that led to new services like ChatGPT. Before my concluding comment, I now summarize the book in more detail.
Noller begins by introducing the concept of digitality (Digitalität): it is the layer of reality which only emerges on the basis of the cultural-technological process of digitization. Building on McLuhan, he argues that we have become not only blind to the medium of digital communication, but also this new layer of reality that this technology sustains (9). Here we encounter the first key metaphor: digitality emerges from the technological layers of digitalization like the phenomenon of life emerges from physico-chemical processes (22). Like the phenomenon of life cannot be described exhaustively as a physical phenomenon, objects of digitality have irreducible causal effects. This is an interesting line of thought, and metaphysically minded readers might be interested to see how it could address questions of causal exclusion. But given the intended audience of the book, it here remains as a conceptual proposal, without a technical in-depth treatment.
The other conceptual proposal concerns the process of virtualization. The metaphor here is the development of fiat currency: Whereas bank notes and coins are tied to a physical medium for exchange, the rise of digital banking systems has virtualized money. While it still serves as a universal medium of exchange, this economic role has become functionally independent of the material basis from money developed. Similarly, Noller argues, virtual reality can be considered independently of the technological basis that realizes it, since we are only interested in its functional roles. Surprisingly, there is no reference to debates on functionalism in the philosophy of mind, where parallel arguments (and debates) would be available.
Noller uses this causal independence of virtual reality to distinguish it from fiction, simulation, and illusion. Virtual reality is not a simulation because it does not only serve as a representation of an independent part of reality, and it has causal effects on reality that are not due to its use as a representation (32). The demarcation from fiction is more difficult. Noller refers only to the causal effects that virtual reality can have on analogue reality to draw it, but it would seem that fiction can similarly feed back into the non-fictional world. Committed fans set up conventions, or more drastically, Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther inspired self-harming responses to unrequited love. It is not clear that a causal distinction offers all that is necessary here. But Noller’s discussion of computer games suggests how the distinction could be refined. While Noller considers computer games in single player to be fictions or simulations, they constitute a virtual reality when they become interactive and connect multiple players (42). In addition to the causal role of virtual realities, the relevant criterion seems to be also that virtual reality sustains the interaction of multiple agents.
Digitality is the domain of Noller’s investigation, and virtualization is how it achieves a level of independence from the technological infrastructure that realizes it. Noller proceeds to characterize digitality in terms of three categories. Objects of digitality are ubipresent because they can be accessed from anywhere and at any time. Agents in digitality constitute an interobjectivity, in contrast to an intersubjectivity, because artificial intelligences not only occur as tools for human agents, but as integrated into their actions and constitutive of their digital agency. Finally, digitality is transsubjective because it dissolves the distinction between creator and recipient of information.
The subject-object divided understanding of AI is instrumentalist, because it considers AIs to constitute only objects for human subjects. By focusing on augmented intelligence, a cooperative achievement of humans and machines, rather than humans as the users of machines, we lose the distinction between human and machine intelligence. Furthermore, this is supposed to also eradicate the distinction between strong and weak artificial intelligence, but this seems to be based on an idiosyncratic interpretation of that distinction (55). Instead of understanding it in terms of the generalizability of capacities, Noller ties it to a distinction between simulating and realizing human intelligence and then argues that this distinction disappears for interobjectivity.
Noller emphasizes again that we should question the distinction between subjects and objects of actions in digitality. Theorists who rely on that distinction are prone to misunderstand artificial intelligence as a tool for subjects. But since interobjectivity erases the subject-object distinction, it also undermines this conception of artificial intelligence. However, Noller himself goes on to discuss whether artificial neural networks can be ascribed capacities for knowledge and judgement. While they have ‘determinative judgement’, they always act heteronomously (58). But the very discussion of that question seems to require conceiving of artificial intelligences as subjects after all. Noller does not say whether the limitation to heteronomy is due to legal and ethical reasons, or whether it depends on the technological state of the art. While it seems to be proposed as a limitation in principle, its only support comes from a polemic citation of Dreyfus from 1988.
Digitality is transsubjective because it changes the relations between consumers and creators of information. While an encyclopaedia clearly separates the roles of author and reader, the internet blurs this distinction. This of course glosses over the fact that for many people, the internet is structured by giant corporations. These can lock data into proprietary formats or close their APIs on a whim (see Twitter). Even explicitly open projects like Wikipedia are run by a minority. Insofar as digitality is integrated into our lifeworld, does it really appear as an invitation to contribute? This seems to be more than a description of what is the case. But Noller understands his account of digitality as ‘weakly normative’. It does not only aim to describe the digital environment and how it appears, but also to formulate a vision towards which we should work. The subsequent chapter on ethics spells this out a little further.
Noller’s proposal for an ethics of digitality is based on understanding the internet as a virtual action space (Handlungsraum). This is not a space that consists of possible actions, but a space in which they take place: the Internet, YouTube, Twitter (67f.). The ethics of digitality are governed by the ‘virtual imperative’: act such that you enlarge the virtual action space (69). While this sounds like a libertarian principle, Noller seems to have something more restricted in mind. The establishment of a ‘parallel space’ like the dark web, for example, is considered to contradict the virtual imperative (69). The only hint towards a principle for such restrictions is that parallel spaces, such as fake news networks, do not allow for a ‘coherent connection’ to the global internet. But this does not tell the reader where the expansion of the digital action space runs up against principles that limit the freedom of speech, for example, and where mere contradiction of assertion turns into incoherence. Since the virtual imperative is not intended as a libertarian or techno-anarchist answer, it is at least incomplete.
The section on ethics is followed by a brief discussion of aesthetics of digitality. This touches NFTs, generative AI and computer games, but treats these mostly through rhetorical questions. For a section on digital education, Noller has specific expertise through a longstanding experience in running hybrid seminars, starting long before the pandemic. The lessons for digital education offered here, however, remain surprisingly generic. The ‘concrete use’ (92) that hypertextuality offers to philosophy education is that the ‘giving and taking of reasons’ becomes ‘ubiquitous and independent of specific places and times’ (94). But was the giving of reasons not already decoupled from time and place through written language, or at least other means of mass communication? It is not easy to see how this characterization would help philosophy educators to leverage digital technology. On the other hand, there is surprisingly no discussion of more obvious aspects of the digitization of teaching, such as the interplay between synchronous and asynchronous modes of instruction. And for the topic that looms large at the time of (unaided) writing of this review, namely the impact of large language models like GPT4 on essay-based education, Noller’s booklet is already too old.
It follows a brief comment on digital enlightenment, where Noller understands immaturity as the use of the internet as a static repository of information or a medium of consumption (97). As expected, mature users contribute actively to the enlargement of the digital action space. The concluding chapter on anthropology runs at less than 2.5 pages. It argues that instead of seeing new technology as a threat to our sense of reality, it should be seen as another means of expressing our human freedom, but the consequences of this idea are not articulated.
As already mentioned, the book is written in a slightly idiosyncratic style. While the format is aimed at a broad audience and the philosophical arguments are not treated in technical depth, the language contains a fair amount of philosophical jargon. Throughout, there are references to classical works, mostly to Kant, but also to Aristotle, McTaggart, Leibniz, Schiller, and Wittgenstein. But these references are mostly playful, and it is not always clear how seriously some philosophical formulae should be taken—for example, when Noller claims that the internet is the ‘condition of possibility of mediality’ (65). I imagine that one group of readers will be irritated by the language of such claims, and a very different group will be surprised by how little follows them. Kantian vocabulary and aphorisms like ‘data based intuitions without algorithmic concepts are blind, algorithmic concepts without data based intuition are empty’ (48) create anticipations of something important, but then remain aside remarks. The question is whether there is an audience in the middle, who is keen to have the philosophical references, but happy to stay at the general level of discussion.
The booklet bears the subtitle On the philosophy of the digital lifeworld, and sometimes speaks of the priority of a phenomenological description of digitality, in lieu of discussing its technological basis. But the philosophical approach is not placed in a phenomenological context. The concept of lifeworld is not further specified, and phenomenological and postphenomenological debates of the concept and role of technology play no role, which might disappoint some readers of this journal. Lastly, there are two minor irritations that could have been avoided editorially: a quotation from Engelbart lost all punctuation and thereby becomes unreadable (52), and the word ‘interaction’ has a recurring typo (90, 93), which can be mistaken for a neologism.
Noller’s booklet is strongest in the conceptual clarification of digitality and virtualization. Here he argues on the basis of two clear metaphors to establish digitality as a domain of philosophical, and not just technological research. Whether the two metaphors can sustain the philosophical roles that Noller assigns them is worth further investigation. The later parts of the book remain comparatively generic. As it is such a compact book, it might be most useful to whet one’s appetite for new questions and perhaps as an antidote for readers who are used to a very technical approach to its subject matter. The book also offers a good starting point to motivate a philosophical treatment that focuses more on the description of our everyday digital lives than on what sustains them technologically. But there remains room for phenomenologists to carry out such a description, and to do so not in large notes, but ‘in small change’.