Philosophy of information

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The philosophy of information (PI) is a branch of philosophy that studies topics relevant to computer science, information science and information technology.

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Computer science Study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation

Computer science is the study of processes that interact with data and that can be represented as data in the form of programs. It enables the use of algorithms to manipulate, store, and communicate digital information. A computer scientist studies the theory of computation and the practice of designing software systems.

Information science field primarily concerned with the analysis, collection, classification, manipulation, storage, retrieval and dissemination of information

Information science is a field primarily concerned with the analysis, collection, classification, manipulation, storage, retrieval, movement, dissemination, and protection of information. Practitioners within and outside the field study application and usage of knowledge in organizations along with the interaction between people, organizations, and any existing information systems with the aim of creating, replacing, improving, or understanding information systems. Historically, information science is associated with computer science, psychology, and technology. However, information science also incorporates aspects of diverse fields such as archival science, cognitive science, commerce, law, linguistics, museology, management, mathematics, philosophy, public policy, and social sciences.


It includes:

  1. the critical investigation of the conceptual nature and basic principles of information, including its dynamics, utilisation and sciences
  2. the elaboration and application of information-theoretic and computational methodologies to philosophical problems. [1]


The philosophy of information (PI) has evolved from the philosophy of artificial intelligence, logic of information, cybernetics, social theory, ethics and the study of language and information.

Artificial intelligence has close connections with philosophy because both share several concepts and these include intelligence, action, consciousness, epistemology, and even free will. Furthermore, the technology is concerned with the creation of artificial animals or artificial people so the discipline is of considerable interest to philosophers. These factors contributed to the emergence of the philosophy of artificial intelligence. Some scholars argue that the AI community's dismissal of philosophy is detrimental.

The logic of information, or the logical theory of information, considers the information content of logical signs and expressions along the lines initially developed by Charles Sanders Peirce. In this line of work, the concept of information serves to integrate the aspects of signs and expressions that are separately covered, on the one hand, by the concepts of denotation and extension, and on the other hand, by the concepts of connotation and comprehension.

Cybernetics theory of communication and control based on regulatory feedback

Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems—their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics in 1948 as "the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine." In other words, it is the scientific study of how humans, animals and machines control and communicate with each other.

Logic of information

The logic of information, also known as the logical theory of information, considers the information content of logical signs and expressions along the lines initially developed by Charles Sanders Peirce.

In semiotics, a sign is anything that communicates a meaning that is not the sign itself to the interpreter of the sign. The meaning can be intentional such as a word uttered with a specific meaning, or unintentional, such as a symptom being a sign of a particular medical condition. Signs can communicate through any of the senses, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or taste.

Charles Sanders Peirce American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist who founded pragmatism

Charles Sanders Peirce was an American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist who is sometimes known as "the father of pragmatism". He was educated as a chemist and employed as a scientist for thirty years. Today he is appreciated largely for his contributions to logic, mathematics, philosophy, scientific methodology, semiotics, and for his founding of pragmatism.


One source for the philosophy of information can be found in the technical work of Norbert Wiener, Alan Turing (though his work has a wholly different origin and theoretical framework), William Ross Ashby, Claude Shannon, Warren Weaver, and many other scientists working on computing and information theory back in the early 1950s. See the main article on Cybernetics.

Norbert Wiener American mathematician

Norbert Wiener was an American mathematician and philosopher. He was a professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A child prodigy, Wiener later became an early researcher in stochastic and mathematical noise processes, contributing work relevant to electronic engineering, electronic communication, and control systems.

Alan Turing British mathematician and computer scientist

Alan Mathison Turing was an English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist. Turing was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general-purpose computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. Despite these accomplishments, he was not fully recognised in his home country during his lifetime, due to his homosexuality, and because his work was covered by the Official Secrets Act.

Claude Shannon American mathematician and information theorist (1916-2001)

Claude Elwood Shannon was an American mathematician, electrical engineer, and cryptographer known as "the father of information theory". Shannon is noted for having founded information theory with a landmark paper, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, that he published in 1948.

Some important work on information and communication was done by Gregory Bateson and his colleagues.

Gregory Bateson English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician and cyberneticist

Gregory Bateson was an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician, and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields. In the 1940s, he helped extend systems theory and cybernetics to the social and behavioral sciences. He spent the last decade of his life developing a "meta-science" of epistemology to bring together the various early forms of systems theory developing in different fields of science. His writings include Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) and Mind and Nature (1979). Angels Fear was co-authored by his daughter Mary Catherine Bateson.

Study of language and information

Later contributions to the field were made by Fred Dretske, Jon Barwise, Brian Cantwell Smith, and others.

Fred Dretske American philosopher

Frederick Irwin "Fred" Dretske was an American philosopher noted for his contributions to epistemology and the philosophy of mind.

Kenneth Jon Barwise was an American mathematician, philosopher and logician who proposed some fundamental revisions to the way that logic is understood and used.

Brian Cantwell Smith is a scholar in the fields of cognitive science, computer science, information studies, and philosophy, especially ontology. His research has focused on the foundations and philosophy of computing, both in the practice and theory of computer science, and in the use of computational metaphors in other fields, such as philosophy, cognitive science, physics, and art. Smith was Dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Information from 2003–2008; he is currently professor of information, computer science, and philosophy at University of Toronto.

The Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI) was founded at Stanford University in 1983 by philosophers, computer scientists, linguists, and psychologists, under the direction of John Perry and Jon Barwise.


More recently this field has become known as the philosophy of information. The expression was coined in the 1990s by Luciano Floridi, who has published prolifically in this area with the intention of elaborating a unified and coherent, conceptual frame for the whole subject.[ citation needed ]

Definitions of "information"

The concept information has been defined by several theorists.


Charles S. Peirce's theory of information was embedded in his wider theory of symbolic communication he called the semeiotic, now a major part of semiotics. For Peirce, information integrates the aspects of signs and expressions separately covered by the concepts of denotation and extension, on the one hand, and by connotation and comprehension on the other.

Shannon and Weaver

Claude E. Shannon, for his part, was very cautious: "The word 'information' has been given different meanings by various writers in the general field of information theory. It is likely that at least a number of these will prove sufficiently useful in certain applications to deserve further study and permanent recognition. It is hardly to be expected that a single concept of information would satisfactorily account for the numerous possible applications of this general field." (Shannon 1993, p. 180)[ full citation needed ]. Thus, following Shannon, Weaver supported a tripartite analysis of information in terms of (1) technical problems concerning the quantification of information and dealt with by Shannon's theory; (2) semantic problems relating to meaning and truth; and (3) what he called "influential" problems concerning the impact and effectiveness of information on human behaviour, which he thought had to play an equally important role. And these are only two early examples of the problems raised by any analysis of information.

A map of the main senses in which one may speak of information is provided by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article. The previous paragraphs are based on it.


Gregory Bateson defined information as "a difference that makes a difference". [2] which is based on Donald M. MacKay: information is a distinction that makes a difference. [3]


According to Luciano Floridi[ citation needed ], four kinds of mutually compatible phenomena are commonly referred to as "information":

The word "information" is commonly used so metaphorically or so abstractly that the meaning is unclear.

Philosophical directions

Computing and philosophy

Recent creative advances and efforts in computing, such as semantic web, ontology engineering, knowledge engineering, and modern artificial intelligence provide philosophy with fertile ideas, new and evolving subject matters, methodologies, and models for philosophical inquiry. While computer science brings new opportunities and challenges to traditional philosophical studies, and changes the ways philosophers understand foundational concepts in philosophy, further major progress in computer science would only be feasible when philosophy provides sound foundations for areas such as bioinformatics, software engineering, knowledge engineering, and ontologies.

Classical topics in philosophy, namely, mind, consciousness, experience, reasoning, knowledge, truth, morality and creativity are rapidly becoming common concerns and foci of investigation in computer science, e.g., in areas such as agent computing, software agents, and intelligent mobile agent technologies.[ citation needed ]

According to Luciano Floridi " [4] one can think of several ways for applying computational methods towards philosophical matters:

  1. Conceptual experiments in silico: As an innovative extension of an ancient tradition of thought experiment, a trend has begun in philosophy to apply computational modeling schemes to questions in logic, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of mind, and so on.
  2. Pancomputationalism: On this view, computational and informational concepts are considered to be so powerful that given the right level of abstraction, anything in the world could be modeled and represented as a computational system, and any process could be simulated computationally. Then, however, pancomputationalists have the hard task of providing credible answers to the following two questions:
    1. how can one avoid blurring all differences among systems?
    2. what would it mean for the system under investigation not to be an informational system (or a computational system, if computation is the same as information processing)?

Information and society

Numerous philosophers and other thinkers have carried out philosophical studies of the social and cultural aspects of electronically mediated information.

See also


  1. Luciano Floridi, "What is the Philosophy of Information?" Archived 2012-03-16 at the Wayback Machine , Metaphilosophy, 2002, (33), 1/2.
  2. Extract from "Steps to an Ecology of Mind" Archived 2012-02-04 at the Wayback Machine
  3. The Philosophy of Information. Luciano Floridi. Chapter 4. Oxford University Press, USA (March 8, 2011) ASIN: 0199232385
  4. Luciano Floridi, Open Problems in the Philosophy of Information Metaphilosophy 35.4, 554-582. Revised version of The Herbert A. Simon Lecture on Computing and Philosophy given at Carnegie Mellon University in 2001, with RealVideo

Further reading

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