Cover page

Table of Contents

Series page

Title page

Copyright page

Notes on Contributors


Chapter 1: Toward a Philosophy of the Web: Foundations and Open Problems


1. URIs: “Artifactualization” of Proper Names

2. Denaturalizing Ontology: Philosophical Activity Redux

3. Open Problems of the Philosophy of the Web

4. Conclusion


Chapter 2: Philosophy of the Web: Representation, Enaction, Collective Intelligence


1. Is Philosophy Part of Web Science?

2. Representations and the Web

3. Enactive Search

4. Cognitive Extension and Collective Intelligence

5. From the Extended Mind to the Web

6. The Web as Collective Intelligence

7. Conclusion

Chapter 3: The Web as Ontology: Web Architecture between REST, Resources, and Rules

1. Introduction

2. A Tale of Two Philosophies: URIs Between Proper Names and REST

3. From References to Referentialization

4. Conclusion: Toward Ontological Politics

Chapter 4: What is a digital object?

Technical Objects

Digital Objects

Not Yet a Conclusion

Chapter 5: Web Ontologies as Renewal of Classical Philosophical Ontology

1. Introduction

2. Addresses, Reference, and Signification

3. Floating Types and Recursive Process of Explicitation

4. Conclusion: Points Still to Be Made Explicit

Chapter 6: Being, Space, and Time on the Web


1. Research Questions and Main Findings

2. Existence in Web Space and Time

3. How the Web Affects Traditional Space, Time, and Being

Chapter 7: Evaluating Google as an Epistemic Tool

1. Knowledge and the Web

2. The Epistemic Role of Search Engines

3. Dimensions of Epistemic Assessment

4. Personalisation and Objectivity


Chapter 8: The Web-Extended Mind


Cognitive Extension and the Extended Mind

Extending the Mind: Cognitive Extension and the Current Web

Socio-Technical Evolution and the Making of an Extended Mind

Extending the Mind: Cognitive Extension and the Future Web


Chapter 9: Given the Web, What is Intelligence, Really?

1. The Web Extended and Immediate: True Intelligence?

2. Cartesian Skepticism

3. The Missing Science of Human+Web Intelligence

4. A Desideratum for a Science of H+W: Modeling Knowledge

5. Some Objections, and Our Responses

6. Summing Up



Chapter 10: The Web as A Tool For Proving

1. Introduction

2. The Web as a Tool for Proving

3. Original Features of Web-Based Proving Activity

4. Traditional Concepts of Proof and the Question of Use of New Technologies in Proving

5. Web Proving as a Particular Type of Proof-Event

6. Impact on the Concept of Proof


Chapter 11: Virtual Worlds and Their Challenge to Philosophy: Understanding the “Intravirtual” and the “Extravirtual”


Post-Phenomenology and Technology Relations

Applying Technology Relations to Virtual Worlds

Extravirtual and Intravirtual Consequences

Intravirtual Versus Extravirtual Conditions of Satisfaction

The Consequences for Philosophy


Chapter 12: Interview with Tim Berners-Lee

Chapter 13: Afterword: Web Philosophy




Series Editors: Armen T. Marsoobian and Eric Cavallero

The Philosophy of Interpretation, edited by Joseph Margolis and Tom Rockmore (2000)
Global Justice, edited by Thomas W. Pogge (2001)
Cyberphilosophy: The intersection of Computing and Philosophy, edited by James H. Moor and Terrell Ward Bynum (2002)
Moral and Epistemic Virtues, edited by Michael Brady and Duncan Pritchard (2003)
The Range of Pragmatism and the Limits of Philosophy, edited by Richard Shusterman (2004)
The Philosophical Challenge of September 11, edited by Tom Rockmore, Joseph Margolis, and Armen T. Marsoobian (2005)
Global Institutions and Responsibilities: Achieving Global Justice, edited by Christian Barry and Thomas W. Pogge (2005)
Genocide's After Responsibility and Repair, edited by Claudia Card and Armen T. Marsoobian (2007)
Stem Cell Research: The Ethical Issues, edited by Lori Gruen, Laura Gravel, and Peter Singer (2007)
Cognitive Disability and Its Challenge to Moral Philosophy, edited by Eva Feder Kittay and Licia Carlson (2010)
Virtue and Vice, Moral and Epistemic, edited by Heather Battaly (2010)
Global Democracy and Exclusion, edited by Ronald Tinnevelt and Helder De Schutter (2010)
Putting Information First: Luciano Floridi and the Philosophy of Information, edited by Patrick Allo (2011)
The Pursuit of Philosophy: Some Cambridge Perspectives, edited by Alexis Papazoglou (2012)
Philosophical Engineering: Toward a Philosophy of the Web, edited by Harry Halpin and Alexandre Monnin (2014)
Title page

Notes on Contributors

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web while at CERN in 1989. He is director of the World Wide Web Consortium, a Web standards organization he founded in 1994, which develops interoperable technologies to lead the Web to its full potential. He is a professor of engineering at the Laboratory for Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and also a professor in the Electronics and Computer Science Department at the University of Southampton, UK.

Selmer Bringsjord is professor of logic and philosophy, computer science, cognitive science, and management and technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the oldest technological university in the English-speaking world. He specializes in artificial intelligence and computational cognitive science, including the formal and philosophical foundations of both fields.

Andy Clark is professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, and chair in logic and metaphysics. He previously taught at the Universities of Glasgow, Sussex, Washington (St. Louis), where he was director of the Philosophy/Neuroscience/Psychology Program, and Indiana. His extensive publications on embodied cognition, neural networking, and cognitive science made him one of the key figures in the field. These include the keystone book Being There as well as Supersizing the Mind.

Naveen Sundar Govindarajulu is a postdoctoral research associate at the Rensselaer AI & Reasoning Lab of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His research continues work in building cognitively robust synthetic characters through formal modeling of self-consciousness in synthetic characters and building characters able to pass the mirror test for self-consciousness. His Ph.D. research overlaps with a Templeton Foundation-funded project, “Toward a Markedly Better Geography of Minds, Machines, and Math,” to study and advance the mathematical frontiers of artificial intelligence research.

Harry Halpin is a visiting researcher at Institut de Recherche et d'Innovation du Centre Pompidou (PHILOWEB EU Marie Curie Fellowship). He is also a postdoctoral associate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the World Wide Web Consortium. He received his Ph.D. in Informatics from the University of Edinburgh under the supervision of Andy Clark and Henry Thompson. He published his thesis under the title Social Semantics. He is president of LEAP (LEAP Encryption Access Project), which works on providing open-source secure tools for activists.

Yuk Hui is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Digital Cultures at Leuphana University, Lüneburg. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a B.Eng. in computer engineering from the University of Hong Kong. His Ph.D. thesis, “On the Existence of Digital Objects,” proposes a new philosophical understanding of data and experience by bridging the works of Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, and Gilbert Simondon.

Pierre Livet was formerly professor at the University of Franche-Comté and the University of Provence, and is now professor emeritus at the University of Aix-Marseille. His areas of research are the epistemology and ontology of social sciences (sociology and economics), the theory of action, the theory of emotions, and the epistemology of cognitive sciences. He is a member of CEPERC and IMÉRA at the University of Aix-Marseille.

Alexandre Monnin holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, on the philosophy of the Web. He is associate researcher at Inria Sophia-Antipolis, where he co-initiated the francophone DBpedia project and the SemanticPedia platform, and co-chair of the W3C “Philosophy of the Web” Community Group. He was named one of the twenty-five experts of Etalab, the French government's open-data agency under the respon­sibility of the prime minister. He was previously visiting fellow at Inter­nationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung undMedienphilosophie (Bahaus University, Weimar) and head of Web Research at Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation, Centre Georges Pompidou for three years.

Thomas W. Simpson is University Lecturer in Philosophy and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. After completing his doctoral thesis entitled “Trust on the Internet” in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, he took up a research fellowship at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. His research interests are in testimony and social epistemology, trust, applied ethics in the philosophy of technology, and the ethics of war.

Paul R. Smart is a senior research fellow in the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton. His main area of research is the Semantic Web, but he is also involved in research activities that sit at the interface of the network, Web, and cognitive sciences. He is currently involved in research that seeks to further our understanding of the effect that network-enabled technologies have on cognitive processes.

Johnny Hartz Søraker is assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Twente, where he received his Ph.D. cum laude, on virtual worlds and their impact on quality of life. He has published extensively on topics within computer ethics and the philosophy of technology, and is currently working on a project that aims to synthesize the ethics of technology and positive psychology.

Petros Stefaneas is a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at the National Technical University of Athens. He has studied at the University of Athens, the University of Oxford (in Programming Research Group), and the National Technical University of Athens. His research interests include logic and computation, formal methods, the Web and philosophy, the information society, and new media.

Bernard Stiegler, philosopher, is president of the Association Ars Industrialis, director of the Institut de Recherche et d'Innovation du Centre Pompidou, and professor at the University of London (Goldsmiths College). He is associated with the Technical University of Compiègne (UTC) and is a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge as well as ETH Zurich. Currently a member of the French national advisory board on digital matters (Conseil National du Numérique); he is the author of twenty-five books.

Michalis Vafopoulos is an adjunct professor at the National Technical University of Athens and previously taught in the Department of Cultural Informatics at the University of the Aegean. In 2009 he served as local chair of the First Web Science Conference and cofounded the master in Web science program at Aristotle University, Thessaloniki. In 2010 he introduced the official Web Science Subject Categorization. His research interests include Web economics, business, economic networks, open data, Web philosophy, and didactics.

Ioannis M. Vandoulakis is a lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science at the Hellenic Open University. He holds a Ph.D. in the history of mathematics from Lomonosov Moscow State University and was research fellow at the Russian Academy of Science (Moscow) and CNRS (Paris). He has published on the history and philosophy of Greek mathematics, the history of mathematical logic, and the foundations of mathematics, including “Plato's Third Man Paradox: Its Logic and History.”

Michael Wheeler is professor of philosophy at the University of Stirling. His primary research interests are in philosophy of science (especially cognitive science, psychology, biology, artificial intelligence, and artificial life) and philosophy of mind. He also works on Heidegger, and is particularly interested in developing philosophical ideas at the interface between the analytic and the continental traditions. His book Reconstructing the Cognitive World: The Next Step was published by MIT Press in 2005.

There are excellent philosophers of physics, philosophers of biology, philosophers of mathematics, and even of social science. I have never even heard anybody in the field described as a philosopher on engineering—as if there couldn't possibly be enough conceptual material of interest in engineering for a philosopher to specialize in. But this is changing, as more and more philosophers come to recognize that engineering harbors some of the deepest, most beautiful, most important thinking ever done.

—Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (1995), p. 120

We are not analyzing a world, we are building it. We are not experimental philosophers, we are philosophical engineers.

—Tim Berners-Lee, Message to W3C Technical Architecture Group mailing list (2003)

Computer scientists have ended up having to face all sorts of unabashedly metaphysical questions. … More recently, they have been taken up anew by network designers wrestling with the relations among identifiers, names, references, locations, handles, etc., on the World Wide Web.

—Brian Cantwell Smith, On the Origin of Objects (1995), pp. 44–45

Chapter 1

Toward a Philosophy of the Web: Foundations and Open Problems

Alexandre Monnin and Harry Halpin


What is the philosophical foundation of the World Wide Web? Is it an open and distributed hypermedia system? Universal information space? How does the Web differ from the Internet? While the larger ecology of the Web has known many a revolution, its underlying architecture in contrast remains fairly stable. URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers), protocols like HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), and languages such as HTML (HyperText Markup Language) have constituted the carefully evolved building blocks of the Web for more than two decades. As the particular kind of computing embodied by the Web has displaced traditional proprietary client-side applications, the foundations of Web architecture and its relationship to wider computing needs to be clarified in order to determine the Web's roots and boundaries, as well as the historical reasons for its success and future developments. Crafting a philosophy of the Web is especially urgent, as debate is now opening over the relationship of the Web to platform computing on mobile devices and cloud computing.

The scope of the questions that the philosophy of the Web provokes is quite wide-ranging. These questions begin with the larger metaphilosophical issue of whether or not there are unifying principles underlying the architecture of the Web that justify the existence of a philosophy of the Web. Tim Berners-Lee, widely acclaimed as the inventor of the Web, has developed in his design notes various informal reflections over the central role of URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers, previously Locators) as a universal naming system, a central topic in philosophy since at least the pioneering works of Barcan Marcus. URIs such as identify anything on the Web, so the Web itself can be considered the space of all URIs. Thus, in brief, we would say that there is indeed at least one unifying principle to the architecture of the Web, that of URIs. The various architects of the Web, including Berners-Lee, made a number of critical design choices, such as creating a protocol-independent universal naming scheme in the form of URIs as well as other less well-known decisions, such as allowing links to URIs to not resolve (leading to the infamous “404 Not Found Message,” a feature not allowed in previous hypertext systems) that—little to the knowledge of everyday users of the Web—do form a coherent system, albeit one that has not yet been explicated through a distinctively philosophical lens.

A critic could easily respond that there is no a priori reason any particular technology deserves its own philosophy. After all, there is no philosophy of automobiles or thermostats. Why would one privilege a philosophy of the Web over a philosophy of the Internet? These questions can be answered by looking at the nature of the design choices made in the formation of the Web: namely, in so far as the Web is based on URIs, the architecture of the Web exists on the level of naming and meaning, both of which are central to semantics and so are traditionally within the purview of philosophy. What the Web adds to the traditional philosophical study of natural language is both the technically engineered feat of a universalizing naming scheme in the form of URIs and the fact that such names can be accessed to return concrete bits and bytes, a distinctive feature of naming on the Web. However, the Web itself is agnostic over how the concrete low-level bits that compose something like a web page are transmitted across the network in response to an access request to a URI, as this is determined by protocols such as the Internet's TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). Thus, the Web can be considered an abstract information space of names above the networking protocol layer, up to the point that it could have been (or could still be) built on top of another networking protocol layer (such as OSI [Open Systems Interconnection] or the “Future Internet”). Likewise, the Internet can also host applications other than the Web that do not use URIs, such as peer-to-peer file sharing or the Web's early rivals (the Gopher system, for instance). So in response to our critic, the Web does have its own architecture, and—unlike the case with automobiles and even the Internet—this architecture uncontroversially deals with philosophical concepts of naming and meaning, and this justifies the existence of a philosophy of the Web, at least insofar as names and meaning on the Web differ from natural language (or the philosophical way to conceptualize it!), a topic worthy of further exploration (Monnin 2012a).

The Web is not all protocols and naming schemes; it is also a wide-ranging transformation of our relationship to the wider world “out there,” to the ontology of the world itself. It is precisely this engineering aspect that makes the philosophy of the Web differ qualitatively from traditional philosophy of language, where it has been assumed that natural language is (at least for philosophical purposes) stable and hence “natural.” In contrast, the nature of the growth of both the Web and digital technologies undoubtedly calls into question the contemporary transformation of our entire form of life. Bringing scrutiny to bear on Wittgenstein's naturalistic concept of the “form of life,” American sociologist Scott Lash takes into account the anthropological upheaval caused by the evolution of various mediums of thought on our technological forms of life (Lash 2002), a subject that has been abundantly discussed in the context of the Web (Halpin, Clark, and Wheeler 2014). Our main focus here, however, is less the future of humanity than that of philosophical research and philosophy itself. The architecture of the Web reveals a process of continuation and regrasping (which precisely needs to be properly assessed) of the most central of philosophical concepts: object, proper name, and ontology. On the Web, each concept of philosophy in its own way then gains a new existence as a technical artifact: objects turn into resources, proper names into URIs, ontology into Semantic Web ontologies.

Such a transition from philosophical concepts to technical objects isn't a one-way process and cannot remain without consequences for the original concepts that have been uprooted from their normal context, and accordingly this transition warrants careful examination. Do we philosophize today as we did in the past? With the same subject matter? Or in the same manner? Does it still make sense to locate oneself within established traditions, such as phenomenology and analytic philosophy, when their very own concepts freely cross these boundaries, and the real conversation is taken up elsewhere, using a language that only superficially seems identical to the one that preceded it? These kinds of questions have always been central to metaphilosophy, yet the advent of the Web—and so the philosophy of the Web—brings to these questions both a certain renewed importance and impetus. In the essays collected here, we bring together a number of authors who have offered some key contributions to this initial foray into the tentative realm of the philosophy of the Web. In order to guide philosophers through this nascent philosophical field, in the next section we delve deeper into the philosophical role of URIs and engineering as these two subjects serve as the twin foundations of the philosophy of the Web, and we then put each of the contributions in this collection within its philosophical context before reaching some tentative conclusions for next steps for the field.

1. URIs: “Artifactualization” of Proper Names

On the Web, the analogue of proper names is found in URIs, given by the standard IETF RFC 3986 to be “a simple and extensible means for identifying a resource,” a definition in which resources are left crucially underdefined to be “whatever might be identified by a URI” (Berners-Lee, Fielding, and Masinter 2005). URIs are everywhere: everything from (for identifying an e-mail address of Harry Halpin) to (for identifying the page about the White House) qualifies as a URI. What quickly becomes apparent is that URIs are kinds of proper names for objects on the Web.

During the past fifteen years, philosophical discussions around the notion of a proper name have seamlessly followed in a business-as-usual manner, without any significant breakthrough. Yet during that same period, the architects of the Web have taken hold of the idea of proper names, and without purposefully altering its definition, have made naming the first supporting pillar of the Web, thus formulating an answer to the ages-old question of the relationship between words and things by combining in an original—and unintentional!—fashion the thoughts of Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Kripke. For philosophy to take the URI, an engineered system of universal and accessible names, as a first-class philosophical citizen is then the first task of the philosophy of the Web.

While at first URIs may seem to be just a naming system for ordinary objects on the Web like e-mail addresses and web pages, the plan of Berners-Lee is to extend URIs as a naming scheme not just for the Web but for all reality—the Semantic Web will allow URIs to refer to literally anything, as “human beings, corporations, and bound books in a library can also be resources” (Berners-Lee, Fielding, and Masinter 2005). This totalizing vision of the Web is not without its own problems. In a striking debate between Berners-Lee and the well-known artificial intelligence researcher Patrick Hayes over URIs and their capacity to uniquely “identify” resources beyond web pages, Berners-Lee held that engineers decide how the protocol should work and that these decisions should determine the constraints of reference and identity, while Hayes replied that names have their possible referents determined only as traditionally understood by formal semantics, which he held engineers could not change but only had to obey (Halpin 2011). This duality can be interpreted as an opposition between a material and a formal a priori. Interestingly enough, recently, Hayes and other logicians such as Menzel have begun focusing on adopting principles from the Web into logical semantics itself, creating new kinds of logic for the Web (Menzel 2011). Unlike philosophical systems that reflect on the constraints of the world, the Web is a world-wide embodied technical artifact that therefore creates a whole new set of constraints. We suggest that they should be understood as a material a priori—in the Husserlian sense—grounded in history and technology.

Thus the Web, when it comes to its standards, breaks free from French philosopher Jules Vuillemin's definition of a philosophical system as built on the logical contradictions between major philosophical schools of thought (Vuillemin 2009). Yet the Web doesn't lead either to the collapse of the transcendental and the ontological into the empirical, a new kind of “technological monism” as suggested by Lash (2002). Logical contradiction is overcome not by factual opposition (two words that Vuillemin highlighted) but through an artifactual composition, associating through the mediation of the artifact the virtues of competing philosophical positions. As the functions of concepts become functionalities, it is becoming increasingly easier to make them coexist for the sake of a tertium datur, without having to give up on consistency (Sloterdijk 2001).

The material a priori of technical systems such as the Web is brought about by what we call “artifactualization” (Monnin 2009), a process where concepts become “embodied” in materiality—with lasting consequences, as the result trumps every expectation, being more than a mere projection of preexisting concepts (which would simply negate the minute details of the object considered). While such a process clearly predates the Web, we can from our present moment see within a single human lifetime the increasing speed at which it is taking place, and through which technical categories (often rooted in philosophical ones) are becoming increasingly dominant over their previously unquestioned “natural” and “logical” counterparts. At the same time, the process of having philosophical ideas take a concrete form via technology lends to them often radically new characteristics, transforming these very concepts in the process. Heidegger posited a filiation between technology and metaphysics, with technology realizing the Western metaphysical project by virtue of technology inscribing its categories directly into concrete matter. Yet if technology is grounded in metaphysics, it is not the result of a metaphysical movement or “destiny” (Schicksals), but a more mundane contingent historical process, full of surprises and novelties. For all these reasons, it must be acknowledged that the genealogy of the Web, as a digital information system, differs from traditional computation with regard both to the concepts at stake and to our relation to them. The scientific ethos is indeed being replaced by an engineering one, something Berners-Lee dubbed “philosophical engineering” (Halpin 2008)—and this difference even holds true with regard to the (mainly logical, thanks to the Curry-Howard correspondence) ethos of computer science itself.

As already mentioned, URIs form the principal pillar of Web architecture, so it shouldn't be surprising that they also constitute our gateway into the aforementioned problematic between engineering and philosophy. From its inception, the Web was conceived as a space of names, or “namespace,” even if the historical journey to URIs led through a veritable waltz of hesitations as the engineers who built the Web tried to pin down standardized definitions to various naming schemes. The numerous Web and Internet standards around various kinds of names bear witness to that ambivalence: URL (Uniform Resource Locator), URN (Uniform Resource Name), and even URC (Uniform Resource Characteristic or Citation). Each of these acronyms matches a different conception of the Web and modifies the way it constitutes a system. Eventually, the acronyms have slowly evolved over time to return to Berners-Lee's original vision of a URI: a “Universal” Resource Identifier for everything, from which follows naturally the ability of links to allow everything to be interconnected on the Web.

The notion of proper name as it prevails today is directly inherited from analytic philosophy, and more precisely, from the work of Saul Kripke; although other definitions may exist in philosophy, Ruth Barcan Marcus (Humphreys and Fetzer 1998) is clearly the one who launched this Kripkean tradition, and this strand of work eventually meant that “proper name” would become the key operating term for questions on reference, identity, and modality. It holds such a weight that it explains how fields as diverse as epistemology and ontology can be considered part of a larger story, that of a science of reference. This space of convergence was historically opened by the different theories of intentionality and objects from Brentano to Twardowski and Meinong, but it was to split post-Frege philosophy into two rival traditions, the analytical and the phenomenological—the latter sometimes considered “continental” from the analytical perspective (Benoist 2001). Ruth Barcan Marcus and Saul Kripke's works on proper names provide the apex for the analytic tradition, but what we see now on the Web is the URI as a proper name and technical object that reopens a space for reunification of these two divergent philosophical traditions within the philosophy of the Web as the problems around reference and naming migrate from philosophical systems (Vuillemin 2009)—in particular, the philosophy of language—toward technical and artifactual systems, asking for a complete shift of analysis.

A clear example of how URIs are transforming the analytic tradition's bedrock of logic has recently been pioneered by Patrick Hayes, known for his original quest to formalize common-sense knowledge in terms of first-order logic of artificial intelligence but also more recently deeply involved for several years in the development of the Semantic Web, the extension of the Web beyond documents into a generic knowledge representation language (Hayes 1979). As a logical foundation for the Semantic Web, Hayes has suggested the creation of “Blogic” (a contraction of “WeB logic,” inspired by a similar contraction of “Web logs” to “blogs”), in which logical proper names, which possess no signification of their own outside their formally defined role in logic, would be replaced by dereferenceable URIs, which could in turn dereference logical sentences or even new interpretation functions not present in their original context.1 Blogic would leverage the ability to use a name—in this case, a URI—to retrieve a “document,” functionality that has played a critical part in the Web's success to this day, but outside hypertext and in the realm of semantics. With access mechanisms then possibly defining the semantics of proper names, the notion of reference on the Web cannot clearly choose between Wittgenstein (meaning determined by use), Russell (definite descriptions), and Kripke (rigid designators) for a theory of meaning. As a framework, the architecture of the Web composes with these conceptual positions: a user is free to give any kind of meaning to a URI, someone publishing a new URI may refer to it rigidly or with the help of a description for the Semantic Web, and what we access via that URI can also play a role in defining its meaning.

This mixture of the technical and the philosophical is found not only in the semantics of URIs but also in their governance (the latter having an impact on the former). URIs are not just free-floating names but assigned virtual territory controlled by bodies such as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) via domain registrars. While being proper names, URIs also have a particular legal and commercial status that does not clearly compare to proper names in philosophy, with perhaps only a vague analogue to the ability of organizations to copyright names. For websites, controlling a name, and thus which web pages can be accessed from it, is a source of immense power. According to Tim Berners-Lee, the ability to mint new URIs and link them with any other URI constitutes not only an essential linguistic function but also a fundamental freedom. Yet as URIs leave the field of semiotics, they undergo a change in nature as regards both the possibilities offered by a technology of naming and the limitations imposed by the legislation that governs bodies such as IANA. Once again, objects such as URIs or disciplines such as philosophy that seemed purely formal are gaining a newly found materiality, full of historical and even political contingencies around extremely concrete juridical and economic issues.

2. Denaturalizing Ontology: Philosophical Activity Redux

Another field in which the Web is rapidly causing massive conceptual tremors is the once forgotten philosophical realm of ontology. Given the long-lasting gap between a name and its object, the study of URIs on the Web naturally causes an intrepid philosopher of the Web to lean on work on names in philosophy of language, while with the study of ontology on the Web we return to the preponderance of the object. Generally considered a branch of metaphysics, ontology traditionally has generally been the study of the (often possible) existence of objects and their fundamental categorization and distinctions. Interestingly enough, engineering-inclined artificial intelligence researchers (the late John McCarthy being first among them) have also seized upon the word “ontology” over the past fifty years, making “ontology” their own term for purposes of creating knowledge representation languages, as exemplified by Gruber's famous engineering definition that “an ontology is a specification of a conceptualization” (Gruber 1993). While this definition may at first glance seem so vague to be totally useless, one should remember that Tim Berners-Lee also had notorious trouble defining precisely what a URI is, and this did not seem to prevent URIs from becoming central to the entire edifice of the Web. In fact, one would almost suspect that the utility of a term may somehow be related to the fact that it is underdefined—or perhaps more precisely, defined just enough to allow concrete engineering to reveal the inherent productivity of the term's concept. While the use of ontology by knowledge representation has become sidelined in philosophical circles by more clearly philosophical debates in artificial intelligence around embodiment, the move of Berners-Lee to create a Semantic Web that transforms the Web from a space of URIs for hypertext documents to a giant global knowledge representation language built on URIs has led to a renewal of interest in the engineering of ontologies as well. We suspect this computational turn in ontologies on the Web will in turn lead to a revival of the philosophical field of ontology.

As the shift from philosophical ontology to ontological engineering progresses, philosophers are gradually losing control over their own tools, even if they are not necessarily aware of it. What ensues is a real “proletarianization,” as Bernard Stiegler (1998) puts it, and this process is smooth and passive, since philosophical activity goes on uninterrupted, as if nothing were amiss. Nonetheless, there are a number of unmistakable signs. Following the example of Barry Smith, some philosophers have already made their move explicit by rebranding themselves ontologists, as they are now working exclusively in the field of knowledge engineering. Might the conundrum of this technological life form be all about employing the concepts of philosophy in a new light while at the same time making the previous blissfully technologically unaware philosophical discipline obsolete? Although there are possibly some examples to illustrate such a strong point, a more reasonable response would be to answer this question with a little more subtlety by taking into account the precise nature of how the Web transforms ontology before tackling the wider question of how the Web transforms philosophy.

The ontological implications of the Web are deeply related to the concept of a resource harbored at the heart of Web architecture; for the philosophy of the Web this particular concept constitutes an opportunity to renew the question of ontology itself. As designated by a URI, a resource can be “anything at all,” exactly as was the case for the hoary philosophical concept of the “object,” which was the actual focus of the ontological tradition (as long as you trace the word back to its origins in the seventeenth century, more than twenty centuries after Aristotle's definition of the science of being). Consequently, it is not the sole business of philosophers, hidden far from the world at the back of some unidentified abode where they can hone their weapons alone to issue judgments and decide what “anything at all” really means. Everywhere, the gap is narrowing and the old privileges are in crisis, as Scott Lash (2002) has discussed. The new indexing tools and the contributive nature of the Web make it possible for anyone to tackle this issue—not only philosophers and engineers. Thus, the way in which the question will be asked relies on the Web itself. Nevertheless, in opposition to Lash's thesis, ontology is not suffering from being conditioned by the patterns of our technological way of living. Technology is the condition of the liberation of ontology, the “ontogonic” dimension of technology discussed by Bruno Bachimont (2010) and more recently with regard to the notion of philosophical engineering in Monnin (2012b) that draws on Pierre Livet's work presented in this collection (Livet 2014).

According to Livet's recent work on the ontology of the Web, we can chart the operations that allowed the emergence of the objects that in turn proved essential to conceptualize the Web's architecture and, subsequently, to clear the ontological horizon (Livet 2014). Far from consisting merely of epistemic processes, this work opens the door for an ontology of operations constitutive of an ontology of entities, which bit by bit refines itself as time goes by. The possibility to move back and forth, as the whole process unfurls, is not to be excluded, leading to new beginnings and thus leaving entirely open the question of the nature of the ultimate constituents of our technological cosmos.

Given the conceptual purity required by formal ontology, built as it is upon relationships of dependency and the application of mereology, and the materiality of devices as the place of a new technicized a priori, the time has come for a re-evaluation of the very notions of form and matter, through the filter of digital technologies in general and the Web in particular. In this regard, the research initiated several years ago on Ontology Design Patterns (Gangemi and Presutti 2009), which may appear to be limited only to the field of knowledge engineering, in fact has implications far beyond the boundaries of its original field. Incidentally, nothing prevents philosophers from trying to conceive their practice in a more collaborative fashion using a similar pattern analysis of their own activity, in order to gain a better view on the collective fine-grained ontological invariants that groups of philosophers share beyond the explicit debates through which philosophers normally distinguish themselves. Beyond this, the background against which these ontological patterns appear is formed by practices that, though they may produce certain apparently transhistorical regularities, are rooted in an historical context and therefore should not be “naturalized” prematurely.

In order to identify and qualify these invariants by taking into account that which supports and maintains them, one has to, so to speak, “denaturalize ontology”—and this slogan could serve as a synthesis of the entire philosophical research program we are suggesting here. To pretend, as is often the case in analytic philosophy, that certain ontological constructions are simply pregiven would be a serious error, for everything has a cost—one need only consider the works of Bruno Latour and Pierre Livet to realize that (Latour 2001; Livet 2014). The key is determining how technology opens an avenue into the historicization of ontology.

There are clear predecessors in either explicitly or implicitly building ontologies into technology as well as having technology influence our everyday ontology. In the fields of cognitive science and artificial intelligence, the question of the representation, formalization, and computation of knowledge—as well as the more philosophically neglected approaches centered on collective intelligence and human computation that partially go beyond traditional philosophy of the mind due to their focus on human intelligence's complementarity with the machine—have already produced interesting leads in the wake of the work of Andy Clark and David Chalmers on what they call “the Extended Mind Hypothesis” (Clark and Chalmers 1998). We would like to extend the extended mind by renewing metaphysics through a focus on the positive aspect of French linguist and semiotician François Rastier's critique of cognitive science, which he accused of “naturalizing metaphysics” (Rastier 2001).2 Given the lessons learned from the implicit metaphysics of cognitive science and artificial intelligence, we cannot simply criticize or reject the ongoing exploitation of the Web on an unprecedented scale that harnesses vast resources of centuries of philosophical debates on language and knowledge. In order to describe the paramount importance of the technical production of media ranging from television to computers in the twentieth century, Bernard Stiegler (1998) coined the expression “the machinic turning-point of sensibility.” With a slight shift of focus, we may talk of a machinic (or perhaps better, artifactual) turning-point of metaphysics itself, an ongoing deep modification of the meaning of metaphysics in philosophy.

At the present moment, the perspective given by the original architecture of the Web needs to be broadened as two problematics currently intersect: (a) the artificialization of a growing number of particular domains (“natural” but also “formal” ones,3 each of these two notions being traditionally contrasted with technics but now becoming technical) and (b) the artifactualization of philosophical concepts in general as they are imported into the realm of the digital—in particular under the guise of the dominant sociotechnical form of the twenty-first century, which is none other than the Web. It may even be argued that semiotic objects, such as philosophical concepts, already have features similar to those of technical objects (Halpin 2008),4 in which case this latest round of digitization on the Web may rather appear tantamount to a re-artifactualization, provided that we do not ignore the (often overlooked) original ties of philosophy to technology.

Behind the distinction between the two aforementioned problematics stands an important issue: if these two dimensions are not clearly acknowledged, there is a risk that we will “naturalize” (a) without any real philosophical scrutiny the re-introduction (b) of some body of philosophical knowledge (or some unconscious philosophical legacy) while designing technical systems.5 For all these reasons, the very practice of philosophy is transformed by having to take the material a priori and its technical categories as seriously as “natural” (synthetic) or “analytic” categories from biology or natural language. Philosophers then have to deal with engineered categories that may have a lasting effect in domains like the Web, not just as variants of categories that can be analytically understood but rather as concrete artifacts that can even transform analytic categories previously taken for granted. Ironically, the main challenge to analytic judgment is no longer what Quine called naturalization, but rather the ongoing artifactualization of which the Web is the historical exemplar par excellence (Livet 2014; Monnin 2013).