Concluding Remarks

The main concern discussed here is the possibility of producing arguments as if they were part of public reason in online environments; as if they qualified for addressing a universal audience. To make something publicly availably is not to be confused with publicizability in O'Neill's sense. Dissemination of a Manifesto at the Internet is thus not necessarily publicizable. The difference between 'publicly available' and 'publicizable' becomes particularly urgent given the new information technologies of our times. Breivik's Manifesto is in this sense made possible due to the digital transition, and it is as such a result of living in hyperhistory, in Luciano Floridi's sense[1]. For humans to live in the hyperhistorical era then implies a dependence on ICTs as fundamental for wellbeing, also when it comes to communication itself. If this analysis is correct we may envisage a scenario where the welfare of citizens depend on their capability to master the new technology. But does it necessarily also imply that we are left without any means of distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate modes of communicating? I think not. But in order to maintain a human society we need to be able to draw the line between tolerable and non-tolerable modes of public reasoning. In this paper I have tried to sketch a strategy towards establishing this line, by identifying fictitious use of public reason as a mode of communication that should not be tolerated.

The virtual is not the real enemy; rather it is the ideological aspect linked to fictitious publics—the main reason being the possibility of ideological and fictitious “publics”. A further question arising from this claim is, however, whether the kind of “publics” in view could exist without the digital and virtual environments. My thesis is that they could not, thus pointing to a genuinely new aspect of Dewey's problem of the public. Floridi's concept of hyperhistory presented above is helpful in understanding how the digital transition in a radical way has changed the conditions of public reasoning. Whether the environments are virtual or “real” is less important.

My claim in this paper has been that the threat to public reason of today basically has to do with the possibility of creating fictitious publics. As argued above the real threat to public use of reason is not the virtual worlds online per se. The decisive criterion is whether we are facing a fictitious public without effective means of recognizing it. The argument developed here hopefully contributes to help identifying the problem of the public in an era of digital transition.

  • [1] Floridi (2012): ”[T]o summarise, human evolution may be visualised as a three-stage rocket: in prehistory, there are no ICTs; in history, there are ICTs, they record and transmit data, but human societies depend mainly on other kinds of technologies concerning primary resources and energy; and in hyperhistory, there are ICTs, they record, transmit and, above all, process data, and human societies become vitally dependent on them and on information as a fundamental resource”(author's italics).
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