What is it about?

What is the value of a virtual friendship by comparison to a nonvirtual friendship? Or a virtual tennis game by comparison to a nonvirtual tennis game? The same can be asked about virtual theft, harassment, society, war, and love. This paper provides a framework for answering these increasingly pressing questions systematically. It proposes a basic four-fold division when valuing virtual items, along with further less basic divisions.

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Why is it important?

Contemporary society faces increasing challenges when deciding what norms should govern the virtual world. It is not clear that we can simply import the norms of our nonvirtual world to the virtual world. Nor is it clear that we cannot. We can seriously wonder whether norms of free speech apply on Twitter, whether virtual wars in a virtual reality game are morally acceptable, and what the value of a virtual education or relationship is. To answer these questions we need a systematic framework for ascribing value to virtual items, and this paper provides such a framework.


I wrote this paper because society has been struggling with value in the virtual world, and our struggles are about to rise exponentially. Immersive virtual technologies are on the horizon. And, to put it metaphorically, these technologies are going to pull the internet and video games out of screens and into our everyday surroundings. In these last six years I engaged consistently and in a hands-on way with virtual and augmented reality technology. This paper is the result of thinking through this engagement. I don’t think we can halt the technology’s progress, nor is it clear that we should. This technology will liberate humanity in new ways, even if it will also bring new dangers. What I believe we can do is to prepare ourselves for this future.

Rami Ali
University of Arizona

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The Values of the Virtual, Journal of Applied Philosophy, October 2022, Wiley,
DOI: 10.1111/japp.12625.
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