Luciano Floridi


Oxford, UK, Oxford Univesity Press, 2011 (Hardback, 360 pp. $55.00)

As the author declares at the beginning of his book, it “brings together the outcome of ten years of research”. A project arisen by the intention of “looking for a philosophy that could be free from the anthropocentric obsession with the knowing subject, and from commonsensical introspection.” The result is a Philosophy of information (PI) that can be articulated in three fundamental questions: What is really information? How is it understood, investigated and manipulated? How can information be used to cope with philosophical problems? Though obviously not all these broad and open questions can be fully answered –and particularly not in the extent of a book– this work can be regarded as a first serious attempt of laying down the principles and conceptual foundations of this new area of research, named Philosophy of information. Following Floridi, PI can be “defined as the new philosophical field concerned with (a) the critical investigation of the conceptual nature and basic principles of information, including its dynamics, utilisation and sciences; and (b) the elaboration and application of information-theoretic and computational methodologies to philosophical problems.”

In order to settle the principles of PI, Floridi pursues three goals, which are metatheoretical, introductory and analytic. Its metatheoretical goal is to describe what the philosophy of information is, its problems, approaches, and methods. Its introductory goal is to help the reader to gain a better grasp of the complex and multifarious nature of the various concepts and phenomena related to information. Its analytic goal is to answer several key theoretical questions of great philosophical interest, arising from the investigation of semantic information. However, it is in the analysis of meaning and his proposed General Definition of Information (GDI) where we found unnecessary the requirements of meaningfulness (as well as truthfulness for semantic information) as proposed by Floridi, if the final intention is to grasp the universality of information; though it might be of course relevant in human contexts. In other words, we consider unsatisfactory the given approach to “the symbol grounding problem”, i.e. “how can data, constituting semantic information, acquire meaning in the first place?” To this respect we have elaborated a “GDI revisiting programme”. (See: Emergence and evolution of meaning).

Contents: 1) What is philosophy of information; 2) Open Problems in the Philosophy of Information; 3) The Methods of Levels of Abstraction; 4) Semantic Information and the Veridicality Thesis; 5) Outline of a Theory of Strongly Semantic Information; 6) The Symbol Grounding Problem; 7) Action-Based Semantics; 8- Semantic Information and the Correctness Theory of Truth; 9) The Logical Unsolvability of the Gettier Problem; 10) The Logic of Being Informed; 11) Understanding Epistemic Relevance; 12) Semantic Information and the Network Theory of Account; 13) Consciousness, Agents and the Knowledge Game; 14) Against Digital Ontology; 15) A Defence of Informational Structural Realism.

A small selection of fragments to provide a taste of the work:

“Despite its length, the essential point of the book is quite simple. Semantic information is well-formed, meaningful and truthful data, knowledge is relevant semantic information properly accounted for, humans are the only semantic engines and conscious inforgs (informational organisms) in the universe, and the universe is the totality of information.” (preface)

“Among our mundane and technical concepts, information is currently one of the most important, widely used and least understood. So far, philosophers have done comparatively little work about it and its cognate concepts and this paradoxical situation counts as one more “scandal of philosophy”. […] I am using this expression to refer to the phenomenon of scholastic canonization of problems, which, by rigidly fixing the scope of issues that are supposed to be philosophically relevant, fails to keep the philosophical discourse open to new problems, thus preparing the ground for its own overcoming.” (ch.1, §6)

“PI can be introduced as a philosophia prima, both in the Aristotelian sense of the primacy of its object, information, which PI claims to be a fundamental component in any environment, and in the Cartesian-Kantian sense of the primacy of its methodology and problems, since PI aspires to provide a most valuable, comprehensive approach to philosophical investigations.” (ch.1, §8)

“P1) The elementary problem: what is information?

This is the hardest and most central problem in PI and this book could be read as a long answer to it. Information is still an elusive concept. […]” (ch.2, §3)

Definition: the behaviour of a system, at a given LoA, is defined to consist of a predicate whose free variables are observables at that LoA. The substitutions of values for observables that make the predicate true are called the system behaviours. A moderated LoA is defined to consist of a LoA together with a behaviour at that LoA.” (ch.3, §2.5)

GDI) σ (an infon) is an instance of semantic information if and only if:

GDI.1) σ consists of n data (d), for n 1;

GDI.2) the data are well-formed (wfd);

GDI.3) the wfd are meaningful (mwfd = d).” (ch.4, §3) 110

“The first step in the construction of [a Theory of Strong Semantic Information] is to define the concept of ―informative content‖ or intrinsic informativeness of extensionally and a priori in an ideal context, as a function of the positive or negative degree of ―semantic distance‖ or deviation of from a fixed point or origin, represented by the given situation w, to which is supposed to refer.” (ch.5, §5)

“How can the data, constituting semantic information, acquire their meaning in the first place? The question poses a radical and deceptively simple challenge. […]” (ch.6, §1)

“The basic idea of an action-based semantics is simple: in the beginning, the proto-meanings of the symbols generated by an Artificial Agent (AA) are the internal states of that AA, which in turn are directly correlated to the actions performed by the same AA.”(ch.7, §2)

“To summarise, both internal and external semantic paradoxes are faulty artefacts that fail to qualify as semantic information because they fail to pass the verification stage. This does not mean that they are useless informationally.” (ch.8, §7.5)

“Each piece of semantic information is an answer to a question, which, as a whole, poses further questions about itself that require the right sort of information flow in order to be answered correctly, through an appropriate network of relations with some informational source. Until recently, it would have been difficult to transform this general intuition about the nature of epistemic account into a detailed model, which could then be carefully examined and assessed. Fortunately, new developments in an area of applied mathematics and computational algorithms known as network theory have provided all the technical and conceptual resources needed for our task.” (ch.12, §3)

“Paraphrasing Kant, it states that (A 434-5/B 462-3):

(Digital) Thesis: the world is discrete; everything in the world consists of elements that are ultimately simple and hence indivisible.

(Analogue) Antithesis: the world is continuous; nothing in the world is simple, but everything is composite and hence infinitely divisible.

As Kant argues, the conflict is not between empirical experience and logical analysis. Rather, the antinomies, ours included, are generated by an unconstrained demand for unconditioned answers to fundamental problems concerning (1) time and space, (2) complexity/granularity, (3) causality and freedom or (4) modality.” (ch.14, §3.4)

“We are now ready for a definition:

Informational Structural Realismus (ISR) Explanatorily, instrumentally and predictively successful models (especially, but not only, those propounded by scientific theories) at a given LoA can be, in the best circumstances, increasingly informative about the relations that obtain between the (possibly sub-observable) informational objects that constitute the system under investigation (through the observable phenomena).” (ch.15, §5)