Rafael Capurro

Foreword to Rafael Capurro & John Holgate (eds.): Messages and Messengers Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication. München: Fink 2011, 9-12.
See also:

Messages and Messengers: Introduction (R. Capurro & J. Holgate). Rafael Capurro & John Holgate (eds.): Messages and Mesengers. München: Fink, 2011, 13-30.

A Dialogue on Intercultural Angeletics (R. Capurro & M. Nakada). Rafael Capurro & John Holgate (eds.): Messages and Mesengers. München: Fink, 2011, 67-84.



This book has a short and a long history. The short history goes back to 2009 when my colleague, Michael Nagenborg, organized a symposium “Von Boten und Botschaften” (“On Messengers and Messages”) at the Karlsruhe Center for Art and Media (ZKM) on the occasion of my retirement (STI-IE 2009). I warmly thank him and our host in Karlsruhe for this symposium. The long history is rooted in my PhD on the concept of information (Capurro 1978). I was intrigued by the question regarding an adequate term in ancient Greek for what we call information in its everyday meaning of (new) knowledge communicated. The information concept itself or, more precisely, the word ‘information’ has Latin roots (informatio) that take us to forma and its Greek ancestors, namely idea, eidos and morphe that played a key role in Greek philosophy. Their echo can be followed for centuries in the Latin tradition as well as in the modern and present-day use of ‘information.’

The lecture “Language as Information” by the physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, gave me a crucial hint for exploring this fascinating etymological and conceptual history (Weizsäcker 1974, 51). I could not find any special word in the Greek tradition of idea, eidos and morphe that would match ‘information,’ but I discovered that the concept of message (Greek angelia) addressed the phenomenon of ‘communicating something (new) to somebody.’ I did not follow further this path within (and beyond) the research project at that time, but I added a short note on angelia, its importance within the Christian theological context and its origin in Semitic as well as Arabic languages, where the root bsr means announcing something new and good. It belongs to the language of politics, sports, and religion (Capurro 1978, 46-49). The debate on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the early 1980s prodded me to explore the analogy between hardware / software and the body / soul dichotomy that is older than the well-known Cartesian dichotomy between res cogitans and res extensa. It goes back to speculations on ‘separate intelligences’ (intelligentiae separatae) in medieval philosophical thought, particularly in Arabic, as well as in most religious traditions where divine messengers are called angels (Capurro 1995, 78-96) However, in fact, angelos (messenger) was an everyday word in ancient Greek. It played a key role in poetry (Pindar) and Greek tragedy. I was surprised to discover the absence of this concept as a philosophic term in Plato’s dialogues and found the reason for it in Socrates’ rejection of the role of poets as messengers of the gods for instance in the dialogue, Ion. I understand this rejection as the birthplace of philosophy in the sense of a horizontal dialogue where logoi are exchanged, and not divine or vertical messages merely received. In other words, the angeletic paradigm was replaced by the ‘dialectical’ one (Capurro 1995, 99 and Capurro 2003, 112-115). But what was in fact replaced was the vertical, ‘top-down’ paradigm, since the philosophical Socratic dialogue is based on a horizontal exchange of messages with the specific goal of giving reasons (logon didonai) for what seems to be the case.

From this perspective it became clear to me that Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutics as a theory aimed at understanding what is being communicated presupposes angeletics. Gadamer was aware of Hermes being a messenger and not only an interpreter, but he developed a hermeneutics, not an angeletics (Gadamer 1974, 1061; Capurro 2003). This is astounding, since Gadamer’s hermeneutics is rooted in Heidegger’s phenomenological thinking. The late Heidegger questioned his own hermeneutic thinking and proposed a phenomenology of the relationship between message and messenger (Heidegger 1975, 150). Heidegger’s thinking can be conceived as angeletic, giving primacy to what “calls us to thinking,” to quote the title of his famous lecture course (Heidegger 1971), instead of to the modern foundation: the autonomous thinking subject. As Jean-Luc Nancy rightly stresses – following Heidegger as well as Benjamin’s idea of translation and Wittgenstein’s concept of sign – the first task of philosophy is the transmission of a message  by a messenger prior to any interpretation taking place. Philosophy forgot the messenger (Nancy 2001, 94-95).

In the mid-1990s I started using the term, angeletics (German ‘Angeletik’), that I also called the “postal paradigm” (Capurro 2003, 108; Capurro 2003a, 69), as the name for a theory of messages and messengers (Capurro 1999). In the last ten years this theory, disseminated in short messages accessible at my website, drew attention in the academic community (Sloterdijk 1998, 480; Krämer 2008, 112-113). It was the friendship and shared passion with John Holgate that helped me to think about the possibility of editing this book with him. I would not have been possible without his strong support, no less than the support of friends and colleagues whom we invited to contribute. I thank Michael Eldred for his engagement in reviewing several contributions to this book and for giving me key insights into a phenomenology of communication. Makoto Nakada and other Japanese colleagues helped me to better understand Western angeletic experience particularly with regard to the Christian missionaries in Japan (Capurro 2002) in a way similar to how I tried to understand this phenomenon during the Spanish conquista of Latin America (Capurro 2003). I is evident to me that philosophical angeletics finds its complement in an empirical science of messengers and messages. Last, but not least, I would like to thank Océ Deutschland that early on, when this book was still germinating, gave me a generous financial support  to publish these messages in a single volume.

“Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli” (“Little books have their destinies according to their readers’ intellectual capabilities”). This famous quote from Terentianus Maurus (2nd century AD) can be understood in the sense that books, particularly little ones like essays, pamphlets, or petitions, have their own lives, independently of their authors: “habent sua fata libelli” as this quote usually reads. The context of the quote (Beck 1993, 122) makes it clear, however, that a message’s destiny, i.e., its receiver's understanding and pragmatic impact, depends on its receivers’ pre-understanding. Perhaps "leisurely and impatient" ("deses et impatiens") readers would believe they have retrieved "obscure" ("obscura") or little knowledge from a long message ("pauca reperta putet"), while others think they have discovered much more on their own. Terentianus believes that this will not be the case with his own readers, to whom he attributes love and prudence (“amor et prudentia”) as well as "tireless work" work (“labor in studiis semper celebratus inhaeret”). I can find no better words to express what this collection of messages aims at and to thank readers in anticipation for messages to come.

 Karlsruhe, June 2011


Capurro, Rafael (2003). Theorie der Botschaft. In ibid.: Ethik im Netz. Stuttgart, pp 105-122. Also published in Erich Hamberger, Kurt Luger (eds.): Transdisziplinäre Kommunikation. Vienna 2008, 65-89.

Capurro, Rafael (2003a). Angeletics – A Message Theory. In Hans H. Diebner, Lehan Ramsay (eds.): Hierarchies of Communication. An inter-institutional and international symposium on aspects of communication on different scales and levels. Karlsruhe, 58-71.

Capurro, Rafael (2002). Die Lehre Japans. Theorie und Praxis der Botschaft bei Franz Xaver [Japan’s Lesson. Francis Xaver’s Theory and Praxis of Message]. In R. Haub, J. Oswald (eds.): Franz Xaver – Patron der Missionen. Festschrift zum 450 Todestag, Regensburg, pp. 103-121.

Capurro, Rafael (1995). Leben im Informationszeitalter. Berlin

Capurro, Rafael (1978). Information. Ein Beitrag zur etymologischen und ideengeschichtlichen Begründung des Informationsbegriffs [Information. A contribution to the foundation of the concept of information based on its etymological and conceptual history]. Munich.

Capurro, Rafael (1999). Ich bin ein Weltbürger as Sinope. Vernetzung als Lebenskunst [I am a Cosmopolitan from Sinope. Networks as Art of Living] In P. Bittner, J. Woinowski (eds.).: Mensch - Informatisierung – Gesellschaft. Münster, 1-19.

CGL (Corpus Grammaticorum Latinorum): Terentianus: De littera, de syllaba, de pedibus, C. Cignolo (ed.) 2002: 93, Verse 1286.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg (1974). Art. Hermeneutik. In Joachim Ritter et al. (eds.): Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, Darmstadt, 1061-1073.

Heidegger, Martin (1975). Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache. Zwischen einem Japaner und einem Fragenden. In ibid. Unterwergs zur Sprache. Pfullingen, pp. 83-155.

Heidegger, Martin (1971). Was heisst Denken? Tübingen, 3rd ed.

Krämer, Sybille (2008). Medium, Bote, Übertragung. Kleine Metaphysik der Medialität. Frankfurt am Main.

Nancy, Jean-Luc (2001). Das Vergessen der Philosophie. Vienna [Orig. L’Oubli de la philosophie, Paris 1986].

Sloterdijk, Peter (1998): Sphären I. Frankfurt am Main.

STI-IE (Steinbeis-Transfer-Institute – Information Ethics) (2009). Symposium „Von Boten und Botschaften“ aus Anlaß der Pensionierung von Rafael Capurro. Organized by Michael Nagenborg. Sponsored by Karlsruhe Center for Art and Media (ZKM) and The Club of Rome – European Support Centre (Vienna).

Weizsäcker, Carl Friedrich von (1974; Orig. 1959): Sprache als Information [Language as Information]. In ibid. Die Einheit der Natur. Munich 1974, pp. 39-60.

Last update: August  21, 2017


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