Category: c:o/re fellows

Getting the Measure of Humanity: or, Taking ‘Life is a Work of Art’ Literally


What it means to be ‘human’ and whether the human must be the measure of all minds inevitably returns us to Kant. Kant himself was drawn to the concept of ‘judgement’, which he interpreted in terms of the then-emerging science of ‘aesthetics’. Aesthetics positioned the human as a being called to integrate diverse and often contradictory sensory inputs into a coherent whole in the name of ‘autonomy’, which is in turn exercised through judgement, which of course is also informed by reason. What modern philosophy calls ‘epistemology’ and ‘ethics’ reflects Kant’s view that human judgement forms two rather different but coexistent wholes as part of its ‘worldview’, another term from the aesthetic lexicon. The trajectory out of Kant to the German idealists, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche was largely about trying to achieve a higher, more synthetic aesthetic vision of the world, which typically involved what Nietzsche called a ‘transvaluation’ of the way we see the world from either a strictly epistemological or ethical standpoint.


Steve Fuller

Senior Fellow at c:o/re (10/21-09/22)

Steve holds the Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick, England. This article is an opening statement for the 18-19 May workshop on ‘The Human Measure and the Measure of All Minds’.

Nietzsche’s somewhat ironic conclusion, already intimated in Kant, is that such a transvaluation would supplant the human with some other kind of being, which we nowadays might call ‘transhuman’ or ‘posthuman’. In effect, the sense of ‘judgement’ that defines the human for Nietzsche is not focused externally on the ultimate cosmic order but internally on the endless, perhaps even Sisyphean task of managing – if not reconciling – what we know and what we want. In this respect, Nietzsche continues to secularize Kant’s original theologically inspired vision of humans as fallen creatures.  From this standpoint, the act of passing judgement on another’s humanity – as in the Turing Test – poses a challenge. It is outward looking but it treats the larger world – or more precisely, a candidate alien being – as a canvas on which to project the human; yet the human remains itself a bundle of contradictions, not a template that can simply be imposed.

Illustration from Edouard Cuyer/ Dr. Fau: Anatomie Artistique du Corps Humain,  Paris: Baillière 1891.

Recent aesthetic theory offers an interesting angle on this dilemma. Nelson Goodman famously proposed that art may be divided into those works that can be forged (because they constitute a unique completed object) and those that cannot be forged (because they can be completed in many ways). He had in mind the distinction between a painting or sculpture, on the one hand, and a musical score or dramatic script, on the other. Against this intuition, Arthur Danto proposed imagining that two artists generate paintings that appear the same to the observer but one used Rembrandt’s method and the other Jackson Pollock’s. Goodman might claim that subtle differences between the two paintings could always be found, based on which one painting might be judged superior and the other perhaps a forgery. However, Danto argues that Goodman’s judgement would probably be based on suspecting that the two paintings had been produced at different times and by different means. For Danto, if you like one, you should like the other. If anything, knowing that they were produced differently should enhance not detract from your aesthetic experience. The Pollock might even be valued more, given the prior improbability of its result.

Danto’s point was designed to undermine the idea of forgery. For him, unlike Goodman, an aesthetic judgement involves treating not only the future but also the past of a candidate work ‘performatively’.  Just as we potentially learn something new about music or drama with each new performance, the same applies to our unlearning ideas about the ‘unique craftsmanship’ of a painting or sculpture upon realizing that it can be (and could have been) brought about differently. This sense of temporal symmetry dissolves Goodman’s original distinction. Of course, aesthetic judgement then gets more squarely placed on the shoulders of the judge – and in that sense, becomes more ‘subjective’. Indeed, Danto’s championing of Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box as art led many critics to claim that Danto dissolves the concept of art altogether.

Now applying Danto to Turing, does entertaining a comparably free — ‘morphologically free’, if you will — conception of the human undermine the very concept of humanity? Nietzsche believed that it might but remained agnostic about the consequences – and he was thinking only about how Homo sapiens might be transformed in the future. But why could we not also, á la Danto, discover ‘humans’ who never were Homo sapiens? Moreover, a practical question is attached to the idea of a morphologically free ‘human’. Is a more open conception of what passes as human sustainable in a world with finite resources in many different senses? Kant’s ideal of ‘cosmopolitanism’ suggested an indefinitely expanding circle of humanity, which he associated with collective self-improvement through sustained interaction with ‘alien’ others. Without denying the attractiveness of this ideal, its realizability remains an empirically open question, as non-stereotypically candidate ‘humans’ come forward for recognition.


Danto, A. (1974). ‘The Transfiguration of the Commonplace’. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 33(2): 139-148.

Featured Image: Le Penseur by Rodin, CC BY SA.

Proposed citation: Fuller, Steve. 2022. Getting the Measure of Humanity: Or, Taking ‘Life is a Work of Art’ Literally,

Knowledge as capacity to act: takeaway from Professor Nico Stehr’s visit at c:o/re

Discussion on Professor Nico Stehr’s talk “Competition among forms of knowledge or the limits of the power of scientific knowledge”

We are grateful for Professor Nico Stehr‘s visit at c:or/e during April 2022. It was a pleasure and most interesting to have with us a pioneer of the “knowledge society”, who has been at the forefront of research on culture, society and sustainability for many decades and, as such, is a defining figure for this disciplinary intersection. In an excellent talk titled “Competition among forms of knowledge or the limits of the power of scientific knowledge”, Professor Nico Stehr introduced the breadth and depth of his notion of knowledge as capacity for action. By construing knowledge as model both of and for reality, Nico Stehr offered a timely reflection on the relation between representation, interpretation and factuality. Surely, his work will remain essential to STS, as well as to other akin areas of research.

Very kindly, Professor Nico Stehr donated some of his books to our library. This collection of books is a glimpse of his scholarly legacy.

Interdisciplinary Research in Robotics and AI

Joffrey Becker and c:o/re RWTH Aachen University are hosting this workshop on April 20th 2022
Interdisciplinary Research in Robotics and AI

This workshop addresses interaction design by focusing on the notion of Behavioral Objects. Based on robotics and artificial intelligence, these non-anthropomorphic, non-zoomorphic objects are endowed with capacities for expressive movement, actions and reactions and are also able to elicit observers’ behavioral interpretations (intentional and emotional attributions). They are therefore of interest to many fields of research like social sciences, humanities, robotics, computer sciences, art and design. The workshop will address the interdisciplinary framework opened by Behavioral Objects and the experimental perspective that brings together and combines these disciplines.

To take part online, please register with events[at]


The Apprentices: Objects with Interacting Behaviours

Samuel Bianchini (Reflective Interaction Research Group/EndsadLab, École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, PSL University), Elena Tosi Brandi (Xdlab/Art Directions Nods, Orange), Hugo Scurto (Inserm-Sorbonne Université and ISIR, CNRS Sorbonne-Université and Reflective Interaction Research Group)

The Appprentices is a design research project led by multidisciplinary teams from Orange Innovation and EnsadLab (the laboratory of the École des Arts Décoratifs, Paris). Following an experimental approach that combines human sciences (notably anthropology and cognitive sciences), robotics and computer sciences (machine learning) with digital creation and innovation, this project explores new relational modalities between humans and our robotic environments enhanced by artificial intelligence techniques. If our everyday objects might be empowered with abilities of movement and learning, action and reaction, and a behavioral dimension, how can we design new relationships with these robotic artefacts but also between them? This lunch talk will describe The Appprentices, an instrumental “dispositif” to experiment with such “behavioral objects”, focusing on an original dimension that allows movement and sound to be strongly paired: vibration, vibratory space as a system of communication and interaction. Specifically, the talk will detail the participatory design process that enabled practitioners and researchers from diverse disciplines to collaborate in the prototyping of the dispositif, in an attempt to entangle technical components of these robotic objects with concepts of agency, animacy, learning, and vibration.


05:00 – 07:00pm

Behavioral Objects, Agonistic Objects. How and why to design art robotic objects fighting against and for their being conditions?                                                                                                               

Samuel Bianchini (Reflective Interaction Research Group/EndsadLab, École nationale supérieure des Arts décoratifs, PSL University)

Created in an artistic context that also belongs to the wider field of robotics, “behavioral objects” are defined by their capacity to express a “personality” thanks to the quality of their movements and their actions and reactions, which are, in this case, regarded as “behaviors.” Non-figurative, these art objects have no need of being useful – their activity does not have a specific function or usage – and they have built-in energy sources that are, generally, not visible, making it impossible to attribute to a third party the energy directly required to make them move, the physical cause of their activity. If their expressive capacities can be provided through the ability to move and interact dynamically with the environment, what kind of interaction could we design to stimulate the attribution of behaviors and even personality? How to build an emotional and reflective relation with this robotics object through an aesthetic dimension in operation? Based on the presentation of several art projects developed in the framework of our Behavioral Objects research and creation project, we propose to consider the design of this objects through an agonistic approach. Even in operation, these objects are still in construction: in a kind of new homeostatic perspective, they are always seeking for their balance. They need to fight for that, against and for their being conditions. Exhibited such objects it is to exhibit this fight. It requires now to configure relations of forces, internal as with the environment. This new kind of settings as to consider aesthetic, symbolic and technical dimensions gathered in real-time operation. It raises the possibility of an agonistic design, a way to set conditions for a sensitive and reflective experience for objects and humans.


Enlightenment Now

Steve Fuller, Frederik Stjernfelt and c:o/re are hosting this one-day workshop April 21st 2022
Enlightenment Now

In this seminar, we’d like to draw a line between recent intense research into the intellectual history of the Enlightenment and our present situation. What would Radical Enlightenment mean today? How would a 17-18th century Enlightenment view on our present predicament look like? – given pressing issues of academia today, the fate of the universities, the development of AI, tech, the new West-East cold war, populism, globalization, post/trans humanism, the future of humanity?

To attend online please register with events[at]



Free Speech and Enlightenment: Lessons from the World’s First Full Press Freedom

Frederik Stjernfelt (RWTH Aachen/ University of Aalborg Copenhagen)

September 14 1770, full press freedom was suddenly declared in Denmark-Norway by king Christian VII and his German favorite, the radical enlightener doctor J.F. Struensee. That signaled the beginning of the dramatic three-year Press Freedom period, effectively kickstarting modern debate in the double kingdom. In the middle of the period, there was a coup, Struensee was decapitated after a mock trial, and Press Freedom was slowly smothered. What can be learned from this strange event of the High Enlightenment?


Condorcet’s Predicament- can the democratic republic work?

Jonathan Israel (Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton)

Those late Enlightenment figures such as Condorcet, Destutt de Tracy, Paine, Palmer and Barlow and others who had reason to feel profound disappointment and pessimism at the defeat of their plans during the 1790s and opening years of the nineteenth century, apparently nevertheless refused to give up hope of eventual success. But they could hardly avoid a lot of soul-searching and especially asking themselves what are the minimum requirements needed to ensure the stability, viability and survival of a modern democracy. Significantly, all of these tended to see the solution in restructuring, in fact revolutionizing education.

12:00 – 12:15

Coffee Break


In Favor of Patterns: Reviving an Enlightenment Ideal

Rens Bod (University of Amsterdam)

There are two opposing traditions in the longue durée history of the humanities: one which searches for patterns and regularities (in texts, languages, art, music and the past) and one which rejects any notion of pattern and focuses on the unique and the exceptional. This opposition is found already in 250 BCE between the Analogist school of Alexandria and the Anomalist school of Pergamon and has not disappeared ever since. And yet, there have been periods when the search for patterns, regularities and underlying principles was dominant. The golden period of pattern-seeking was the Enlightenment: patterns were discerned in history by Vico, Condorcet and others, patterns were found in music to build musical grammars by Rameau and Koch among others, and principles were found to underlie languages (De Laet, Hemsterhuis), art (Bellori, Winckelmann) and literature (Boileau, Gottsched), not to speak about the search for patterns and principles in the natural world that has become dominant ever since. Very few of the Enlightenment patterns found in the cultural world have stood the test of time though, but the endeavor to try to understand the world by patterns and underlying principles remains a major feat of the Enlightenment. The opposition between patterns and the exceptional flared up again in the 19th century and arrived at a zenith after WWII with the advent of the Frankfurt School and the postmodern turn. And yet the search for patterns has recently shown a revival in the humanities with the appearance of new disciplines such as digital history, comparative global humanities, environmental humanities and digital humanities. I will show that the return to pattern-searching has also influenced the more traditional humanities disciplines, from philology to art history, and has resulted in a myriad of new discoveries in art, music, literature and history. I will argue that the revival of the Enlightenment ideal of pattern seeking may arguably be the only way for the humanities to survive.


Lunch Break


Kant Between Swedenborg and Linnaeus: A Fork in the Road to the Enlightenment’s Legacy
Steve Fuller (c:o/re RWTH Aachen/ University of Warwick)

I am currently writing a play about a possible but fictional event that would have Kant travel from Königsberg to visit Carolus Linnaeus and Emanuel Swedenborg, who made their reputations in Uppsala. The lives of the three significantly overlapped in time, and Kant was significantly influenced by the two Swedes – to be sure, more positively by Linnaeus than by Swedenborg. However, the three never met. Even Linnaeus and Swedenborg are known to have only met once, namely, when Linnaeus turned over his Stockholm flat to Swedenborg in 1741. Nevertheless, the fictional encounter is significant for marking a fork in the road of the Enlightenment’s legacy, which becomes clearer in the later, ‘critical’ phase of Kant’s career, on which his own reputation as the foundational figure of modern philosophy is based.

My play takes place in 1756, the year after the famous Lisbon earthquake that inspired Voltaire to write Candide and provoked a wide-ranging discussion of theodicy across Europe, epitomized by the question: Do we live in a just world? In that year, Kant was 32, Linnaeus 49 and Swedenborg 68 – each belonging to a different generation. For Kant, Linnaeus was someone who understood the empirical limitations of the ape-like nature of the human condition better than Swedenborg, even though Swedenborg’s more adventurous speculations about the powers of the human mind were often based on a remarkably prescient understanding of the brain’s workings. Kant’s first book, Dreams of a Spirit-Seer (1766) was a comprehensive takedown of Swedenborg, which anticipated his later scepticism about ‘pure reason’.

The play is very much a work in progress, and I plan to discuss the various considerations that the two Swedes might try to bring to bear on Kant, who himself reaches a kind of divided judgement on the matter, which is reflected in his later strong distinction between ‘pure’ and ‘practical’ reason, which effectively has noumenon do double duty in the epistemological and ethical realms.

16:00 – 16:15

Coffee Break


The Enlightenment Now: The Human Skeuomorph://Public-Private

Cheryce von Xylander (Leuphana University Lüneburg)

Respondent: Steve Fuller (c:o/re RWTH Aachen/ University of Warwick)

This talk about the deep, taken for granted legacy of the Enlightenment, is based on the technological capabilities that were unleashed and largely celebrated in the eighteenth century. Social platforms have migrated discursively from purveyor of a utopian future that would unite users in egalitarian online activity to public enemy that threatens to wreck the democratic cultural order. This trajectory from paragon to pariah has much to teach us about human self-fashioning in the advanced capitalist, neoliberal dreamscape. It should give pause that a service sector that arose from the defence arsenal of the military-industrial complex ever inspired blind faith in its potential to better the human condition. An epistemic prosthetic as powerful as the vast knowledge repository that is the internet will rework cognition. The online industry is forever aggregating digital traces of enacted rationality. This smart techno-habitat systematically conceals what it emphatically re-enacts, namely figuration of the modern user as an aesthetic contrivance conjured in the eighteenth century. I propose to call this enabling latency the human skeuomorph. Skeuomorphism is a concept used by archaeologists to describe aesthetic attributes that outlast their utility in tool evolution. Like other tools in the archaeological record, the human skeuomorph has been subject to material transformations, yet persists as a semiotic undercurrent. The retooling of this apparition in new media will hinge on future interpretations of its Enlightenment past.

17:15 – 17:45

Closing Discussion

Drôles d’Objets: A New Art of Making


Robots, autonomous artifacts, connected objects: how can we design and understand these strange objects that renew our interactions with others and the world around us? We are more and more often invited to enter into a relationship with robots or machines, whether for practical (therapeutic, professional, scientific) or playful purposes. This type of relationship is rapidly developing beyond simple functional use, automatic or mechanical action, towards a type of interaction that involves our effort to interpret the behavior of these objects. Why and how are we tempted to interact with unusual objects that ‘come to life’, move and evolve? The study of these objects interests a wide range of fields in science, art and design. I can mention, among others, robotics, AI, art and design, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, language sciences: each field develops its own notions, methods and tools, often in multidisciplinary contexts. What answers can the philosopher bring to the roboticist’s questions? How can psychology feed on the work of anthropology? Can artists contribute to the sociolinguistics of human-machine interactions?


Joffrey Becker

Junior Fellow at c:o/re (10/2021-09/2022)

Joffrey is a Social Anthropologist and Research Associate of the the Laboratoire d‘Anthropologie Sociale at the Collège de France, Paris. He co-organized the conference “Drôles d’Objets” in autumn 2021.

Conference Poster “Drôles d’Objets”

In order to interface views in art, design and scientific practices on both these objects and the interactions they cause, the Psyphine research group joined forces with partners from the University of Lorraine, La Rochelle University and the Zero1 Festival for an interdisciplinary conference called “Drôles d’Objets” held during October 27th – 29th, 2021 in the harbour of La Rochelle.[1]The proceedings of the conference can be found here. In French, the adjective “drôle” covers a wide range of meanings and can be translated as amusing, entertaining, silly, creepy, surprising, funny, interesting, unusual, thought provoking, etc. The term refers to a complexity of issues which characterizes these curious objects as well as the various ways researchers, artists and designers address them.

The conference gathered more than 35 participants coming from various fields of research, such as computer sciences, robotics, art, design, psychology, management, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics. Organized around four main panels, the conference also devoted an afternoon to showcases, workshops and posters with Antoine Desjardin, Giancarlo Rizza, Dominique Deuff, Marion Voillot, Arnaud Blanchard, Romina Romay, Yann Boniface or Xavier Hinaut. The work of artists in residence Agustín Ramos Anzorena and Fabien Zocco (with his project Spider and I) were also presented during an evening session.

Presentation of Fabien Zocco’s project “Spider and I”. Photo: V. André.

Starting with a session dedicated to conception practices, the conference first addressed questions related to the methods, tools and know-how associated with the design of interactive objects. How do we design an interactive animated object? What are the parameters, characteristics and properties we can play with so that an animated object becomes a “partner”? What are the tools, knowledge and technologies that can be mobilized? The first panel, coordinated by Nicolas Rougier, offered inputs on the diversity of approaches regarding not only the design of objects but also the tools and the methods employed to address conceptualizing from various disciplines. The session featured contributions from Jeanne Lallement and Juliette Passebois on service robots in commercial types of interaction, Mariela Yeregui on her research and creation project “États d’alerte” (State of alert), which illustrates the otherness of machines as a potential threat, Ghiles Mostafaoui on natural and intuitive interaction design in robotics and computer science, and Sylvain Raynal on the autonomy of the subject in his relation to industrial machinism and freedom.

The conference also addressed questions on the observation and the interpretation of results. How can we design an experiment? How can we understand what is happening during an interaction with an animated object? What can we measure, evaluate, and observe? What do we learn from these experiences? How to interpret data from experiments with animated objects? Can we trust the testimony of the subjects? Coordinated by Valeria Giardino, this second panel gathered contributions from Guillaume Nassau, who asked whether a robot is perceived as an interactant or as an object for discussion, and Manuel Rebuschi, who explored questions associated to mental projections and animism using Kendall Walton’s theory of fiction.

La Course 12–4–90: INRIA researcher Xavier Hinaut presented his Ozobot based project during the workshop / demo / installations and posters session. Photo: V. André.

I had the pleasure to coordinate the third session, focused on health- and care-related issues. Robotics and computer sciences have entered this field in various ways. A number of projects are, for instance, concerned with the cohabitation of humans and robots. Some aim at replacing humans in work situations. Robots are also used as a new sort of mediation tool for caregivers. However, their therapeutic contribution remains difficult to establish. With contributions from Jean-Pierre Merlet on the conception and the experimentation of assistive robotic objects, Gloria Michiels on the ethnography of humanoid robots in care spaces, Olivier Duris and Charlotte Labossière on the use of robots regarding children suffering from autistic spectrum disorders, and Quentin Dumoulin on the role that fabrication laboratories could play in pedopsychiatry, the panel addressed questions raised by robots and artificial intelligent-based objects. Are they useful tools or rather gadgets? What is their role? Is their aesthetic appearance important? Do they replace the work of caregivers or are they rather a new tool in the therapeutic process?

Finally, the last session coordinated by Virgine André addressed experiences conducted on telepresence, interactive systems and virtual reality. Gathering researchers mainly working in the field of language and education sciences, the panel explored the effects of telepresence oriented technologies on social interaction. Maud Ciekanski and Virginie Privas-Breauté presented the results of a comparative study of immersive technologies for language learning. Jean-François Grassin showed how telepresence robots modify attention processes during a meeting. Joséphine Rémon, Christelle Combe and Amélie Bouquain, presented an experimentation on telepresence robots conducted within the project “présence numérique” (digital presence). Caroline Vincent, Christine Develotte, Mabrouka El Hachani and Justine Lascar addressed the methodology for studying interactions in mixed groups using telepresence robots.

The conference concluded with an intervention by anthropologist Denis Vidal and neuroscientist Frédéric Alexandre who aimed to put into perspective the work conducted during the week for a larger audience. The recording of their intervention, which is in French, can be viewed on the website of the University of Lorraine:

This interdisciplinary conference showed the necessity of crossing the viewpoints of different disciplines when it comes to the design of interactive robotic systems. It showed that despite the differences, only a transversal approach involving engineering sciences, humanities and social sciences, artists and users can address the major issues that these “drôles d’objets” pose to our societies.

proposed citation: Joffrey Becker. 2022. Drôles d’Objets: A New Art of Making.


1The proceedings of the conference can be found here.

Farewell and Welcome!

Professor Alexandre Hocquet has now completed his c:o/re senior fellowship. We are grateful to Alexandre for the nice times in Aachen and for his invaluable contributions to our Research Centre. We look forward to continue our joint ongoing projects together! As a glimpse into his work at c:o/re, you can Steal this Blog Post!

We are now excited to be welcoming some new-coming fellows at c:ore: Welcome Professor Nicko Stehr, Professor Markus Rautzenberg and Dr. Fernando Pasquini-Santos!

Lecture Series

As we are about to start the summer term with our new Lecture Series, “Philosophy of AI – Optimist and Pessimist Views“, you can now also listen to some of the talks of the previous series on the “Digitalization of Research”. The recordings can be found in our archive.

Joffrey Becker talks about human-machine interactions and social changes associated to the design of intelligent systems. Markus Pantsar takes a complexity perspective on human-like numerical cognition in Artificial Intelligence and Alexandre Hocquet portrays the possibilities, limits, and consequences of the concept of “openness” in science and research.

Steal this Blog Post!



This text is a collage, licensed under a CC0 license. It was taken from another author, without mentioning or citing them. We changed the original, as this license allows doing so. The original arguments have been copied and pasted, passages have been deleted, their order has been changed and we added more text.[1]We have even let the originally French text run through an open source translation program. A new text emerged, which can suffer the same fate: you can steal this blog post.[2]The title is a reference to the 1970s counterculture textbook titled “Steal this book”. We are not the first to make use of this pun. See, for example, “Steal this review” by … Continue reading Indeed, this text is already a modified version of a first collage and a part of the ambition of this project is for the text to be reused and modified it several times. In this way, its possibilities to evolve increase!


Alexandre Hocquet

Senior Fellow at c:o/re (10/2021-03/2022)

Alexandre is Professor of History of Science at the Université de Lorraine, France, and Member of the Laboratory Archives Henri-Poincaré. He has published extensively on the topic of open science. This blog post is in fact an updated shorter version of a book chapter, and it is at the same time an experiment. So, please go ahead: Steal this post!

One of our research topics is the complexity of what does it mean to be open in science and what does this imply. This complexity includes the constellation of phrasings that are using  “open” as a prefix  (open knowledge, open science, open acess, open data, open source…). We are particularly interested in scientific software. In this context, the licenses of scientific software have a meaning that is often misunderstood. Beyond software, the creative commons licenses applied to scientific texts within the open access framework involve changes in the notion of plagiarism or auctoriality, notions that are often misunderstood as well.

In science, “Open” is a fuzzy word, a “floating signifier” to borrow from Ernesto Laclau. It contains several visions of the world that can be different or even incompatible. An operational way of removing this ambiguity is to actively learn about and engage with user licenses, an operating mode linked to the world of software.

The concept of Open Science tends to gain momentum, gradually becoming the new reference paradigm for the dissemination of research results. In particular, it was pushed by the European Union as part of the “Horizon 2020” program. In April 2016, a solemn appeal was launched from Amsterdam to encourage member states to initiate actions for Open Science. Considering that it improves the quality, efficiency, and responsiveness of research, the European Commission kept Open Science as a policy priority and, supposedly, a standard method of working in its newer “Horizon Europe” program. If the definition of the Open Science concept is fluctuating and difficult to grasp, it is generally agreed that its potential goes beyond Open Access. Inspired by the same general philosophy, it is applied to other objects than scientific publications. Open science also concerns software used by researchers to conduct their research (open source), as well as the data on which they rely (open data), all of which are often associated with a discourse on reproducibility in science.

Open Access without open licenses is nonsense and a regression in regard to the original spirit that inspired the editors of the Budapest Initiative. Being free to read is only a small part of the possibilities that open licenses entail. The freedom offered by open licenses is only valid, however, if they are actually used. This is what we try to do modestly contribute to by writing this text. Creative  commons licenses applied to texts, or data, or even works in general are powerful tools that originate historically in the influence of the free software movement (and its sometimes antagonistic versions, i.e. the open source initiative). This comes down to a certain way of thinking about how to share. The free software movement, imagines “open” as a philosophy that allows individuals to be autonomous and adds an element of proselytism. It is a vision that strives to make the world compatible with its ideal. It corresponds (roughly speaking) to the CC-BY-SA license. Wikipedia is the most well-known project that operates under this licensing policy. For the open source movement, “open” is regarded as a business opportunity based on diffusion and collaboration, and it corresponds to CC-BY. It is agnostic towards further reuse being open or enclosed. The difference between these two visions of the world lies in a “share alike” clause that obliges the one who reuses to do so under the same license. This  “free software” version (whose heroic figure is Richard Stallman) of what is open is inspired by a certain idea of the science related to the communalism/communism described by Robert K. Merton,[3]Robert K. Merton. 1973 [1942]. The Normative Structure of Science. In idem (ed.): The Sociology of Science. Theoretical and Empirical Investigations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 267–278. and is also a political movement. The “open source” version (championed by Eric Raymond) is about pragmatism and business opportunities.

It is not a coincidence that the licensing of choice for open access publications is CC-BY. It is sometimes advised that open data are also released under a CC-BY or even CC0 licence. The opportunities for reuse are arguably broader in scope. The caveat is in the form of possibilities to eventually enclose what was supposed to be open in the first place. For example, this is what happened to the Android operating system or the Github platform. You can also do the same with this blog post now.

proposed citation: Alexandre Hocquet. 2022. Steal this Blog Post!


1We have even let the originally French text run through an open source translation program.
2The title is a reference to the 1970s counterculture textbook titled “Steal this book”. We are not the first to make use of this pun. See, for example, “Steal this review” by Chris Kelty.
3Robert K. Merton. 1973 [1942]. The Normative Structure of Science. In idem (ed.): The Sociology of Science. Theoretical and Empirical Investigations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 267–278.

The Long Summer of Anarchy on the Old Mountain

Map of the municipality Moresnet


The midget state of “The Neutral Moresnet” on the outskirts of Aachen: a historical footnote or a political utopia?

Did you ever hear about “The Neutral Moresnet”? Neither had I, before I recently moved to Aachen close to the German border with Belgium and the Netherlands. But from my position in the North-Western edge of the city, it is less than five kilometers to this strange area. Here was located, for more than a hundred years, a midget state governed by both Germany and the Netherlands – or rather: by neither of the two.


Frederik Stjernfelt

Senior Fellow at c:o/re (10/2021-09/2022)

Frederik Stjernfelt is Professor at the Department of Communication, Aalborg University Copenhagen, Denmark. He is an author for the Danish weekly newspaper Weekendavisen, for which he wrote a longer version of this text.

The prehistory lies with the Vienna Congress after the final defeat of Napoleon in 1814. At that time, the political borders of Europe were to be redrawn in a conservative balance of powers. One of the results was the construction of the United Netherlands as an autonomous kingdom – whose borderline to Prussia now had to be drawn. Here was a problem. In the borderland, in the small village of Kelmis, rested one of the world’s largest deposits of zinc – the village is named after the mineral calamine, zinc oxide. The interest in this metal, well fitted for many purposes such as covering the roofs of modern 19th century Paris, was increasing, and none of the two countries was willing to let the neighbor get away with the riches. The result of the negotiations was a compromise: a structure in international law known as a “condominate” – an area with shared sovereignty. Revenues from mining were shared between the Netherlands and Prussia. The Neutral Moresnet was a tiny zone, an oblong, roughly triangular pie slice; its basis rested on a couple of kilometers of the Aachen-Liège main highway, and a pointed end of 4-5 kilometers up to the the low mountains where Holland, Belgium and Germany now meet. As its legal basis the Code Napoléon applied.

postcard of the four-country-point
postcard of the four-country-point, 1905; Wikipedia: public domain

An enclave based on zinc and governed by (almost) none

The administrator of the area became a mayor assigned by the two countries, and security in the small village with 256 inhabitants should be granted by one single gendarme, who, in emergency cases, would have the authority to call upon police forces from the neighboring states. In the area, “platdiets” was spoken, a dialect somewhere between Flemish and Low German. With the independence of Belgium in 1830, the new Belgian state took over responsibilities of the United Netherlands, and in the steadily growing population of the area, you could find both Germans, Belgians, Dutchmen – and “Neutrals” without any citizenship at all.

Zinc was the motor of this strange construction. The colorful entrepreneur François-Dominique Mosselman took over the business of the French engineer Jean-Jacques Dony who had secured himself a concession from Napoleon himself in 1806 to mine zinc in Kelmis . Mosselman founded the company, Vielle Montagne, in German Altenberg – that is, The Old Mountain, and invested in a comprehensive improvement of the efficiency of production. He saw to the construction of a railroad line and began importing zinc ore from all of Europe to his top modern plant in Kelmis. With the economic upswing, the population of the enclave then numbered several thousands. In reality, the “Neutral Moresnet” was a mini-state governed by a joint-stock company.

The Wild West outside of Aachen

But neutrality also gave rise to odd and surprising possibilities. None of the two constitutive countries had the right to levy duties and taxes in the area, and the prices of many goods soon sank considerably under the level of the neighboring countries. This applied to alcohol especially, and soon distilleries began to emerge in Neutral Moresnet. The population largely consisted of mine workers – men, women, and children alike – and after a hard day’s toil they cut loose and caroused in one of the 80 public houses in the minuscule area. As time went by, many of the hosts began to extend business with cabarets, and the population of a few thousand seemed to have had access to a rich cultural life of comedians, singers, dancers. Other, more shady occupations joined them: prostitution, gambling, smuggling. The gendarme, patrolling the area armed with his baton, hardly had much control over what really went on there. The smuggling of alcohol, particularly, became a strong enterprise, and myths circulate about how inhabitants might take their bicycle to work outside of the zone, every day filling up the tubes of the bicycle frame with moonshine which could now be drained and sold at expensive prices in Aachen or Liège. Neutral Moresnet also attracted draft dodgers, and girls with a higher social background who had become pregnant outside of marriage, gradually learned that you could refer to Neutral Moresnet where wet nurses were willing to take over unwanted kids for a suitable payment.

Newspaper clipping of “Echo der Gegenwart”, August 18th, 1903 announcing the opening of a casino in Altenberg, from a record of the local government in Aachen; LAV NRW R, BR0001 Nr. 972

Anarchical conditions, in short, developed. Neutral Moresnet grew to a strange piece of Wild West, a tiny lawless spot outside of political control where very different types of persons might pursue happiness beyond the laws and regulations of the surrounding countries. When the exploding casinos of Europe were gradually prohibited around 1900, statelets like Monaco were quick to grasp the opportunity. This also was the case in Neutral Moresnet, and a casino was established in the hotel in Kelmis. Suddenly, the rare, new, shiny automobiles from Aachen, Liège and Maastricht could be seen flocking there. There was no law against gambling in the Code Napoléon, but in a rare display of unity, German and Belgium intervened to stop it.

Moresnet – the Seat of Friendship

The most touching events of Moresnet, however, are the utopian vistas that began to develop. The first one began as a sort of joke. In 1867 in Bruxelles, Jean-Baptiste Moens, publisher of the journal Le timbre-poste for stamp collectors, got the ingenious idea of catching his business opponent Pierre Mahé red-handed by publishing a piece of fake news in his own journal. What would be more obvious than spreading the news that the ministate of Neutral Moresnet had now begun to publish its own stamps? Mahé fell right into the trap and passed on the false news story in his journal Le timbrophile. But in a strange reversal, the joke became reality.

Already in 1883, Moresnetians began to use a flag – a tricolor with three horizontal strips of black, white, and blue. Why not publish stamps as well? Moresnet’s house doctor Wilhelm Molly founded the company of Verkehrs-Anstalt Moresnet, which published a series of eight stamps referring to Poste intérieure de Neutre Moresnet the interior mail of the Neutral Moresnet. It might appear strange. No two houses of the area were more than two kilometers apart, and most of the inhabitants would be able to deliver their messages themselves. The stamps had no validity beyond the borders of Moresnet, in the lack of membership of international postal organizations. Was the initiative intended as a sort of political signal? In that case, Molly certainly succeeded. The Moresnet stamps gave rise to immediate anger in Bruxelles and Berlin alike. The idea, however, may also have been a personal investment for Molly. Even if Le timbre-poste scornfully made it clear that the Moresnet publications could in no sense be said to be real stamps, collectors would not be scared, and Molly’s stamps soon became valuable rarities.

Photo of the boundary stones of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Neutral Moresnet from a newspaper article of “Österreichs Illustrierte Zeitung”, November 22nd, 1908; digitized by the Austrian National Library

But stamps were also a symptom that the Neutral Moresnet was in the process of developing a sort of political identity, a patriotism which might focus on exactly the anarchic character of the zone.  In 1906, Molly met Gustave Roy who was a glowing esperantist. The period around the turn of the century was bubbling with ideas about a simple, artificial language able to transgress linguistic and cultural borders and grant world peace. Among those, Esperanto was clearly the most successful. Why not turn Neutral Moresnet into the world’s first Esperanto-speaking state? This would have made it more difficult for Belgium and Germany to cancel the autonomy of the area, such as circulating rumors were warning. Esperantist feasts, celebrations, and parades were organized, the mining company was involved, shops began to market their goods in Esperanto, even the waiters at the hotel felt obliged to learn a couple of idioms. The Esperantist World Congress in Dresden applauded and even declared that the headquarters of the movement should be transferred from Geneva to Moresnet.  The Esparantist song “La Espero” was adopted as a new national anthem of Moresnet, praising internationalism and the beautiful altar of friendship to the tune of “O Tannenbaum”, and the green star of Esperantism was added to the Moresnet tricolor. The name of the new state would be “Amikejo” – The Seat of Friendship – and The Old Mountain itself bore the name of “Kvarstonoj”. Newspapers across the world reported about the project. Moresnet was increasingly referred to as a state in its own right in international media. But Bruxelles was not enthused, Berlin even less. Moresnetians organized delegations to King and Emperor in the two cities in a vain hope to protect their autonomy.

In the end, the Germans turned off the electricity. The new director of the Vieille Montagne, Charles Timmerhans, in 1913 had to go begging at the German government representative in Aachen – residing in Schinkel’s palace on Theaterstrasse 14, now the RWTH’s seat of the Human Technology Center (HumTec). Timmerhans did not succeed, however, to persuade the Germans to turn on the light switch so that zinc production could be resumed. The Germans wanted to cut the area into two, once and for all. But all these negotiations were swiftly overtaken by the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. As of 1920, the now 5.000 inhabitants of Moresnet became Belgians. The bloody repetition of military events across the area in the Second World War did not change this outcome, even if the post-war period made coffee a new lucrative item for smuggling in Moresnet. One hundred years of anarchy had ended.

Shining example Moresnet?

Is there anything to be learnt from the curious example of Moresnet? The American investor and anarcho-libertarian Peter C. Earle thinks: yes. In his booklet A Century of Anarchy, Earle declares himself a revisionist and presents the argument that the example of Moresnet goes to show that peace and prosperity is possible without force, without state, without government. In the absence of high taxation and export-import control, the enclave of Moresnet became prosperous, and the inhabitants managed to solve disputes in a flexible way with the mayor and gendarme, Earle claims. One would like, however, to have access to a credible criminal statistics of the area. Earle refers to the traditional urge for liberty among mountain people – even if the rugged and mountainous character of the area, truth be told, is rather limited and rather amounts to sweet rolling hills. Not only must it be said that Eales does not testify to any more close knowledge of the history of the enclave – he also overlooks the special boundary conditions of the area. Its prosperity basically had its roots in the presence of a rich zinc vein and related international investments, plus smuggling and other shady businesses – while railroads, electricity, mail, telephone, security were taken care of by the two conflicting protecting powers. The Dutch author Philip Dröge’s small bestseller Moresnet (German: Niemands Land) is a more thorough source of information about the area – from which the present small article has benefited.

If you take a trip to Moresnet today, you must sharpen your gaze to catch a glimpse of the traces of the glorious days of neutrality. There is a fine small museum in the former railway station, but the old industrial architecture is long gone, and the large open mine has been filled up. There are no longer 80 pubs, but there is no lack of serving establishments, and the delicious and hearty Belgian cuisine cannot be denied, e.g. at the Auberge de Moresnet to which I can offer my best recommendations. In 2020, the last “neutral” died, the 105-years old Catharina Meessen. Might Moresnet, in a parallel world, have survived like San Marino, Andorra, Athos, or other strange bunions on the map of Europe? With its 3½ square kilometers, Moresnet boasts almost the double area of Monaco. An economy of philatelists, history buffs, casinos, tourism, alcohol, plus a Michelin restaurant or two, might it have attracted sufficiently many – here, only one hour of driving form Bruxelles or Cologne, ten minutes from Aachen, maybe also attracting speculators and tax fraudsters like the Channel Islands?

This would hardly, however, have realized the more ambitious political visions of the Neutral Moresnet.


Peter C. Earle. 2014. A Century of Anarchy:  Neutral Moresnet through the Revisionist Lens, Intangible Goods.

Philip Dröge. 2017. Niemands Land: Die unglaubliche Geschichte von Moresnet, einem Ort, den es eigentlich gar nicht geben durfte. München: Piper Verlag.

Featured image: Map of the municipality Moresnet, 1868; LAV NRW R, RW-Karten 6317.

proposed citation: Stjernfelt, Frederik. 2022. The Long Summer of Anarchy on the Old Mountain.

“Only the Initiates Will Have the Secrets Revealed”

Tune in for the next talk in our Lecture Series “Cultures of Research – Digitalization of Research“. On Wednesday, January 26th, Alexandre Hocquet (Fellow c:o/re Aachen, Archives Henri Poincaré) will talk about the Politics and Materialities of Open Science.

The talk focuses on software in science and its diversity of entanglements with openness. Software has been “eating” the world, and science is no exception. From Excel to complex “big” scientific instruments, via Photoshop or molecular modelling software suites, the vast majority of software used in science is not open, and a vast majority has nothing to do with computer science. When software is open, it is very often naively represented as a solution to all issues in science, especially reproducibility. Yet, even open software is full of epistemic issues, from governance to consistency, and the consequences of its influence on the rest of open science are often misunderstood, especially regarding licensing policies.