Information Philosophy

So what is information? We talk about it all the time, but how can we define it? These questions, and many more, move us into a consideration of the philosophy of information. My introduction to this was the purchase of a Very Short Introduction to Information by Professor Luciano Floridi, published in 2010. It may be very short (126 pages) but it raises more questions than it answers. Take a look at some of the chapter headings.

  • The language of information
  • Mathematical information
  • Semantic information
  • Physical information
  • Biological information
  • Economic information

If Professor Choo has taken the high ground in information culture then Professor Floridi has done so (though I am sure he would disagree) in the philosophy of information (PI). The scale of discussion about, and towards, a philosophy of information can be judged by the fact that his book The Philosophy of Information, published in 2011, lists over 2000 references in the bibliography. Professor Floridi has also edited the Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Information, published in 2016.  He is the author of only one of the 33 chapters, which again shows the scale of work and thought into PI. The philosophy of information is one of the most rapidly developing areas of philosophy at the present moment, not least because it touches on areas such as information ethics which will underpin a 21st Century in which information is the social and economic driving force. One of the centres for information philosophy in the UK is within the Computer Science Department of Oxford University.

I have to admit that I find The Philosophy of Information very difficult to read. A better starting point is probably the entry on Information in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which suggests that the earliest considerations of a universal philosophical language (which is one way of describing information) date back to the mid-17th century. Information theory did not start with Claude Shannon. Among the other entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia are

Another good introduction to information philosophy is The Information Philosopher. There is also a Society for the Philosophy of Information.

In conclusion I should note that the subject area is always referred to as the Philosophy of Information (PI) and not as information philosophy, but that would have spoilt the structure of Information Plus!

Martin White

October 2016

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