‘Philosophy of Information’ has been established over the last 25 years, by Luciano Floridi and others, as a significant area of philosophy, largely in the analytic tradition. However, information has also been treated quite extensively in the continental tradition, in ways that have often remained submerged or disconnected. This course aims to given an introductory outline of some of the main ideas and themes in this neglected area. Information, in the contemporary, technical sense, was established as a theory by Claude Shannon in 1948, and was quickly disseminated through many disciplines, notably through the research programme of cybernetics. This idea of information lies at the heart of the information technologies which dominate our contemporary world, and it has given rise to a host of philosophical problems and speculations.
What makes continental approaches to information distinctive is that they examine the implications of Information Theory for broad social, political, and existential issues. Such issues are beginning to be raised by Floridi and others, but in a way which generally neglects the valuable work that has already been done by continental philosophers, starting in the 1950s. The course is structured around the identification of two main approaches to information, the ‘critical’ and the ‘constructive.’ The critical approach tends to view information negatively, as a reductive and destructive influence on human life. This approach will be surveyed in two main traditions of continental philosophy, phenomenology (with Martin Heidegger and Paul Virilio) and poststructuralism (with Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard). These traditions and thinkers will be used to discuss two main areas of critical focus: the nature and meaning of language, and the cultural politics of communication technologies.
While the issue of information itself has usually not been foregrounded, these ‘critical’ thinkers and traditions have had a healthy reception in the English-speaking world for quite some time. On the other hand, the ‘constructive’ approach to information is represented by thinkers who have been relatively neglected, even in their native France, until relatively recently. This course will examine the responses to cybernetics and Information Theory of two such important thinkers, Raymond Ruyer and Gilbert Simondon. While each were critical of the limits of the technical approach to information, they also saw great value and potential in the idea of information, seeing it as able to positively reformulate a wide range of foundational philosophical concepts, and to forge a more positive cultural relation to technology. The works of these thinkers are now being rediscovered, as their relevance to the information society in which we live today is becoming increasingly apparent.
The course will draw on original research and translations by the lecturer, and will make availble to students material which is not yet published.
1. Introduction and Overview. Introduction to Philosophy of Information; introduction to cybernetics and Information Theory; the idea of a ‘continental’ philosophy of information; brief overview of philosophers and traditions to be covered.
- Luciano Floridi, “What is the Philosophy of Information?”
- The Π Research Network, The Philosophy of Information: A Simple Introduction, 1.1: “A Quick History of the Philosophy of Information”
2. Language (Heidegger and Lyotard). Heidegger’s critique of cybernetics and information; poetry as a model of meaning in language; ontological language vs. communication; the link between information and capitalism (exchange); paradox and paralogy as alternative views of meaning.
- Martin Heidegger, “Traditional Language and Technological Language”
- Jean-François Lyotard, “Rules and Paradoxes and Svelte Appendix”
3. Cultural Politics (Virilio and Baudrillard). How the rapid technological exchange of information alters social reality; speed as an essential dimension of how information technologies are changing the world; the link between new technologies and the Military Industrial Complex; against the cyborg: cybernetics destroys what is essential to being human (phenomenal reality); simulation and hyperreality; information and semiology.
- Paul Virilio, The Information Bomb, chapter 14.
- Jean Baudrillard, “The Implosion of Meaning in the Media”
4. Raymond Ruyer. The first philosophical critique of cybernetics; a strong argument against naturalizing meaning with information; ‘Absolute survey’: essential aspects of first-person consciousness; scientific explanation also requires this perspective; a metaphysical, Platonic explanation of the origin of information; an idealism which encompasses both science and human value; how the technical concept of information can be extended to psychology, culture, and society (“quasi-information”).
- Raymond Ruyer, Cybernetics and the Origin of Information, “Introduction.”
- Raymond Ruyer, “Quasi-Information.”
- Ashley Woodward, “Ruyer, Information Philosopher.”
5. Gilbert Simondon. Individuation: How something becomes what it is; information as the formula for individuation; the central role of information in a speculative, naturalist metaphysics; Simondon’s system (types of individuation); the relationship between machines and humans; how we are alienated by our relation to technology, and the role of the concept of information in overcoming this alienation.
- Gilbert Simondon, “Form, Information, and Potentials.”
- Gilbert Simondon, “Cybernetics and Philosophy”
- Gilbert Simondon, “The Epistemology of Cybernetics”
- Ashley Woodward, “Philosophy of/as Information.”