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actual and virtual

A Dictionary of Critical Theory

Ian Buchanan

actual and virtual 

A modal distinction proposed by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze as a replacement for the problematic real-possible distinction more commonly used in philosophy. The possible is a bad concept according to Deleuze because it presupposes that everything that is real must also be possible (which rules out a great number of conceptual inventions, consigning them to the ontologically lesser category of the unreal, or impossible), and it is unable to explain why that which is possible has not already come into being. For Deleuze, both the actual and the virtual are fully real—the former has concrete existence, while the latter does not, but it is no less real for that fact. The importance of this distinction can readily be seen by giving thought to the state of being of an idea: it may only exist in our heads, or on paper, but its effects are fully real and may also be fully actual too. Initially treated as an esoteric distinction of interest only to specialists in the field of ontology, since the advent of computer games, and more especially the Internet, this distinction has become very important because it allows that what is seen or experienced on screen is still real, even if it isn't actual.