FOUNDATIONS OF INFORMATION SCIENCE

REVIEW AND PERSPECTIVES

 
Rafael Capurro
  
 
 
 
This is a modified and enlarged version of a paper presented at the International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland, 26-28 August 1991. The original paper: What is information science for? A philosophical reflection was published in: Pertti Vakkari, Blaise Cronin Eds.: Conceptions of Library and Information Science. Historical, empirical and theoretical perspectives, London: Taylor Graham 1992, pp. 82-98. A Czech translation of this online version with the title "Základy informační vĕdy. Revize a perspektivy" was published in the journal "Národní knihovna" 2003 Ročnik 14 (3),163-168.

See:
- Chaim Zins: Knowledge Map of Information Science. A Report on a Delphi Study
- Rosa Lidia Vega-Almeida, J. Carlos Fernández-Molina, Radamés Linares: Coordenadas paradigmáticas, históricas y epistemológicas de la Ciencia de la Información: una sistematización. In: IRinformationresearch, Vol. 14, No. 2, June, 2009.

See also:
-:
Past, present and future of the concept of information (2009)
-: Pasado, presente y futuro de la noción de información (2008)
-:
Information - Ein Begriff macht Geschichte (2004)
-: Stable Knowledge? (2000) 
-: On the Genealogy of Information (1996)
-: Hermeneutics and the Phenomenon of Information (1986/2000/2008)
-: Epistemology and Information Science (1985)

-: R. Capurro, Birger Hjørland: The Concept of Information (2003) 
-: Peter Fleissner, Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Rafael Capurro: Is a Unified Theory of Information Feasible? A Trialogue (1999)

 

 
 

Contents

Introduction
I. Some critical comments on three leading paradigms of information science  
II. From the cognitive turn to the pragmatic turn  
III. Information science as hermeneutic-rhetorical discipline  

Notes  
References  

 

 
  

Abstract

Three main epistemological paradigms of information science, namely the representation paradigm, the source-channel-receiver paradigm, and the Platonistic paradigm, are criticized. Taking into consideration some basic insights from hermeneutics (Heidegger, Gadamer) and analytic philosophy (Wittgenstein) a pragmatic foundation of information science is suggested. Information means the possibility of sharing thematically a common world within specific forms of life. It thus becomes a rhetorical category. Information science is conceived as a hermeneutic-rhetorical discipline that includes a formal-methodological as well as a cultural-historical perspective.  

 

 
   
  

Introduction

Some thirteen years ago I made an investigation of the etymological roots of the term information [Capurro 1978]. I (re-)discovered that key theories of Greek ontology and epistemology based on the concepts of typos, idéa and morphé were at the origin of the Latin term informatio. These connotations were maintained throughout the Middle Ages but disappeared as scholastic ontology was superseded by modern science. Since approximately the 16th century we find the term information in ordinary French, English, Spanish and Italian in the sense we use it today: 'to instruct, to furnish with knowledge', whereas the ontological meaning of 'giving form to something' became more and more obsolete. Paradoxically, the epistemological meaning was the basis of the formalization by Shannon and Weaver, who explicitly disregarded the semantic and pragmatic connotations. Information seemed to lose its connection to the human world, and came to be applied, as a more or less adequate metaphor, to every kind of process through which something is being changed or in-formed. Through the mediation of cybernetics and computer science an inflationary infiltration of this term into many sciences (e.g. physics, biology, psychology, sociology) took place. The result has been a chaotic discussion between two extremes: anthropomorphism and reductionism (1).   

The rise of information science led to a further explosion of this chaos. Schrader [1986, p. 179] counted some 134 notions of information in our field! At the same time he observed that, on the one hand, the content of our domain was taken to be defined by the specification of the term information, but that, on the other, there was almost no reference to the negative form misinformation and its derivatives: "lies, propaganda, misrepresentation, gossip, delusion, hallucination, illusion, mistake, concealment, distortion, embellishment, innuendo, deception." This leads to a "naïve model of 'information man', which sometimes takes the form of decision-making man or uncertainty man." (ibid.) Nevertheless, one thing seems to be clear: the notion of information in our field is explicitly referred and restricted to the human sphere. This means a(n) (implicit) rejection of information science in the sense of a super-science whose object is information at all levels of reality. Such a science, without a material of its own, would be similar to a general techné, a science of sciences, as attributed to the Sophists by Plato in his Charmides [Capurro, 1991].

When we are looking for the foundations of a science, we cannot avoid reflecting on its main concepts. In the case of information science the main concept is not information but - man (= man and woman). If we take a look into some leading paradigms in our field, we observe certain ontological presuppositions having their roots in Greek as well as in Modern Philosophy. With the rise of philosophical Hermeneutics and Analytical Philosophy we have gained new paths of thinking which are, I believe, relevant to the foundations of information science.  

In this paper I will first briefly describe three main epistemological paradigms, which are based on a substantialist view of something called information as well as on the modern distinction between subject and object [Capurro, 1986].  From these I will pass to what I call the cognitive turn. This view abandons the idea of information as a kind of substance outside of the mind und looks for the phenomenon of human cognition as a necessary condition for the determination of what can be called information, but fails to consider the pragmatic dimension of human existence. I will argue in favor of a complementary pragmatic turn by claiming that information is a fundamental dimension of human existence. The question 'what is information?' asks for the substantial characteristics of something. But information, taken as a dimension of human existence, is nothing substantial. Instead of asking 'what is information?' we should ask 'what is information (science) for?' The change over to the second question means a change of perspective which takes as a starting point the cognitive turn but goes beyond it in search of a pragmatic and rhetorical perspective.  

  
 

 
  
  

I. Some critical comments on three leading paradigms

of information science

Following the positivist or, as Winograd and Flores call it [1986] (2), rationalistic tradition, not only informatics but also information science looks for its subject by considering information to be something objective in the external reality. This viewpoint remains basic with regard to three main paradigms in our field, namely:

- the representation paradigm  
- the source-channel-receiver paradigm  
- the Platonistic paradigm.  

All three paradigms consider the knowing subject in interaction with something called information. This typification leaves aside many nuances and combinations. It is not my intention now to criticize any specific authors, but just to delineate some paths of thought when looking for the groundings of our field (3).  

According to the representation paradigm human beings are knowers or observers of an outside reality. The process of knowledge consists of an assimilation of things through their representations in the mind/brain of the knowing subject. These representations, once processed or codified in our brain, can then be communicated to other minds and/or stored and processed in machines (computers). Human beings are biological information processors. Information is the codified double of reality. Humans can use information for specific rational purposes, but nothing speaks against the hypothesis that also machines can achieve this level of information processing and use.  

On this basis information science is concerned with the study of representation, codification and rational use of information.  

The source-channel-receiver paradigm takes the phenomenon of human communication as a metaphor to be applied to different levels of reality. When they communicate, human beings, or other kinds of sources and receivers, are said to exchange information. In order for the receiver to understand the meaning of the message sent by the source, a common stock of signs hast to exist. But the exchange of information can be considered only in relationship to the structure of the message. In this case we speak of syntactic information. Cybernetics couples source and receiver dynamically. Constructivism describes the autogeneration of organisms coupled with their own world in a similar way. There is no world outside to be represented, only the world as the organism sees or forms it for its own purposes of survival.

Under these premisses information science is primarily concerned with the impact of information on the receiver. At the same time, receivers are seekers or users of information in order to solve their problems.

Finally, the Platonistic paradigm takes an opposite view to the foregoing. Instead of starting with a knowing subject, it looks for something to be considered as information in itself. This is the sphere of human knowledge not as a biological, psychological or sociological process but as objectivized in non-human carriers. We can call it, paradoxically, materialistic Platonism. The idealistic version of this paradigm considers knowledge as something objective in itself, independently of any material carrier.  

Information science is supposed to study primarily the world of information in itself, i.e., to contribute to the analysis and construction of it. Information has the same ontological status as the laws of logic with regard to the psychological or biological description of the process of thinking. There remains the problem of the relationship between this world and the world of the knowing subject. This is a problem similar to the one posed by the representation paradigm. In its materialistic version, information science studies information as far as it is materialized in carriers outside the brain, in the form of documents or of their electronic surrogates. The idealistic version considers information as an objective but non-material entity.  

All three paradigms have a long tradition in the history of ideas, but they were the object of further developments in modern philosophy particularly with regard to the difference between the knowing subject as a kind of substance or thing separated from the objects of knowledge (Descartes' res cogitans vs. res extensa), which, according to Boss [1975, Fig. 1], led to the subjectivist-objectivist representation of human communication, i.e., to the idea, that objects of the outside world are represented in the mind or brain of a subject. Communication means, on this basis, the exchange of information between subjects concerning their representations of the outside world objects. The main characteristics of this philosophical paradigm are to be found, in one way or another, in the three leading paradigms of our field. Maturana and Varela's constructivism [1980], philosophical hermeneutics and Wittgenstein's later philosophy criticize this kind of dichotomic thinking. In the case of constructivist theories the outside world becomes formally determined by the structure of the living. Within information science similar attempts were made, for instance, with the development of the cognitive viewpoint. From a hermeneutic point of view cognitivism dislocates knowledge from social praxis.

 

 
Fig 1: Subjectivist-objectivist representation of human communication (Boss 1975) 

1a/1b: body of a and b 
2a/2b: brain of a and b 
3a/3b: psyche (or mind or self) of a and b 
4a/4b representation of an object (information) of the outside world  
5: outside world 
6: impression of (or 'in-formation' process from) the object  
7: object of the outside world 
8a/8b: information exchange between a and b concerning their representations of the outside objects 

 

 
    
  

II. From the cognitive turn to the pragmatic turn

The shift from the "physical or mechanical" paradigm of the Cranfield tests [Ellis 1991] to the cognitive turn took place at the beginning of the seventies [Kunz/Rittel, 1972] and particularly with the ASK-Theory developped by Belkin et al. [1982] as well as with Ingwersen's "cognitive viewpoint" [1984]. Belkin's theory refers to an "anomalous state of knowledge" as the basis of the information retrieval process. The knower is originally a non-knower. This is a Socratic insight as well as a hermeneutic one. The non-knower is a partial-knower i.e., an inquirer, whose questions are based on a "conceptual state of knowledge" that is part of the "user's image of the world". The affinity of these terms to some basic ideas of hermeneutics, for example pre-understanding, is evident, and it was very soon identified as such [Hollnagel, 1980]. Instead of starting from an objectivist consideration of something called information and its interaction with a sender or receiver, common to all kinds of living and non-living systems, the cognitive turn asks for the intrinsic relationship between the human knower and her/his potential knowledge. The cognitive turn led also to a specification of the traditional paradigms in our field. But this turn too rests upon the modern subject/object dichotomy, i.e., it overemphasizes an epistemological view of the relationship between man and world. Knowledge becomes, even more emphatically, a world in itself.

This emphasis becomes manifest for instance in Brookes' foundation of information science. On the basis of Popper's ontology Brookes proposed his "fundamental equation of information science", where a knowledge structure is modified by information. Information is to be found objectively as "extra-physical entities which exist only in cognitive [mental or information] spaces." [Brookes, 1980, 1981]. This is, on the hand, an idealistic version of the Platonistic paradigm. On the other side, Brookes considers the interaction between subjective and objective knowledge as being reflected in the changes to be observed in the knowledge structure caused by new information. Following Rudd [1983] we can ask: "Do we really need World III?" i.e., do we really need a trichotomic Popperian ontology? Hermeneutics and Wittgenstein's late philosophy criticize some presuppositions underlying ontological dichotomies and trichotomies, without taking the path of monism, i.e., remaining skeptical. By questioning the presuppositions of a "capsule-like psyche" [Boss, 1975] and of a re-presented outside world, hermeneutics offers a new insight into the question of how knowledge is being pragmatically constituted and socially shared by human beings, whose being is basically a being-in-the-world-with-others. The empirical study of this phenomenon is at the core of information science. 

These few references to the "cognitive viewpoint in information science" [Belkin, 1990] show a tendency in recent discussion of the foundations of our discipline: information is intrinsically connected to the knowledge structure of human beings. The cognitive viewpoint brings out a founding dimension of our field but it remains unsatisfactory as far as the user is considered primarily as a knower. I would like to introduce some hermeneutic concepts in order to look for a possible solution of the difficulties which arise when the subject/object dichotomy of modern epistemology is taken for granted in the cognitive turn.

One of the key insights of hermeneutics is the holistic (not monistic) approach to the relationship betwenn man and world. This approach is a social and a pragmatic one. We are not isolated monads, having first a private or subjective cognitive sphere, separated from the objective one. Language is not something occurring in the inner sphere of a subject, whose interactions with an outside object lead to inner representations, to be communicated through signs to other receiver-minds. Wittgenstein's private language argument has clearly refuted this thesis [Wittgenstein 1984].

Instead of the modern presupposition of subjectivity as a "psyche-capsule" which was established in order to describe a theoretical or objective view on things belonging to a real world, hermeneutics refers to the founding dimension of our being-in-the-world-with-others, in the sense of a historical dimension of disclosure of meaning, which conditions (but does not fully determine) our understanding of the world including our theories of it. Being prior to our theoretical and/other practical projects, this dimension is called pre-understanding. It is the open context of possibilities within which our inter-personal life as well as our dealing with things and with nature reveals a possible horizon of meaning. Our being-in-the-world is such that we are not first within our subjectivity and look afterwards for ways of getting out of it, but we are basically open i.e., able to be addressed, within specific situations, by the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of things. At the same time we grasp this openness as a finite one, given our posterior knowledge of birth as well as our prior knowledge of death. Fig. 2 shows the dimension of shared and limited openness, which characterizes our being-in-the-world.

 

 
Fig. 2: Sketch of our being-in-the-world-with-others (Boss 1975)

1: World-openness: open and finite context of possibilities (past, present and future ones) in their partial and socially mediated 'dis-closure' 
2: 'closure' or undiscovered and never completely discoverable dimension of all our foundational efforts 
3: 'being-outside' sharing thematically with others the meaning of (for instance: past) things in changing contexts (=circles and crosses) 
4,5,6: 'being-outside' sharing present things (for instance: a tram) 

Our way of being is, according to hermeneutics, different from the one of other beings we know of (e.g. animals, machines). The term existence is an indicator of this difference, by stressing the sense of being outside (ek-). This being outside is originally a being-outside-with-others. Communication in the sense of sharing together a common world is a specific trait of our being-in-the-world. Here lies the existential foundation of information science. Information, in an existential-hermeneutic sense, means to thematically and situationally share a common world. If we ask for the conditions of possibility of communicating to each other the possible meaning of things within specific horizons of understanding, then the hermeneutic answer is that we can do this because we already share a world. Thus, information is not the end product of a representation process, or something being transported from one mind to the other, or, finally, something separated from a capsule-like subjectivity, but an existential dimension of our being-in-the-world-with-others.  

Information is, more precisely, the articulation of a prior pragmatical understanding of a common shared world. This prior understanding, or pre-understanding, remains to a great extent tacit even when we articulate it in spoken or written form just because, given our finite being, we can never make it fully explicit. One important consequence of this is that, in the case of scientific thematization of the world, we can never render a full foundation of knowledge. Human knowledge is, as theory of science stresses, always tentative. This tentative character means, as I argue in [1986], that knowledge, being basically shared knowledge necessarily refers to limited horizons of pre-understanding as well as to a community which shares this pre-understanding. Hermeneutics stresses the pragmatic dimension of human existence in the sense that we primarily live within a tacit context before we get the undisturbed freedom to look at things as if (!) we were not existentially concerned. But, indeed, "primum esse, tum philosophari" (Seneca). We were not asked beforehand whether we like to be or not. To be means primarily having to do with things, which is the original meaning of Greek prágmata. We can use this term to denotate a fundamental characteristic of our being-in-the-world, i.e., a characteristic prior to the theoretic subject/object dichotomy. This is also the meaning of Wittgenstein's "forms of life", which are the basis for our "language games" [1984, p. 23].  

The cognitive turn in information science presupposes this pragmatic dimension of our being-in-the-world, but it does not make it explicit. This pragmatic dimension is not a practical as opposed to a theoretical one, because also in our actions we are not void of all pre-understanding but already informed i.e., sharing a common background of un-discovered potentialities for being.   

Thus, information is neither a mentalistic nor just a mind-related concept but expresses a characteristic of our pragmatic way of being. It points to the dimension of sharing with others thematically different practical and/or theoretical possibilities of world disclosure. When we say: 'we store, retrieve, exchange etc. information' we act as if (!) information were something out there'. But it is, on the contrary, we who are there, sharing a common world and therefore able to share explicitly with others, in a process of partial disclosure, the conditions and limits of our understanding. I take the term information in this existential meaning as a basic concept of information science.  

Scientific knowledge is the classical field where the creation of a common pre-understanding is an essential aim in itself. It is not by chance that information science, since its very beginning, considered the processes of technological manipulation of scientific or, more generally speaking, professional-oriented knowledge, as its paradigmatic model of shared knowledge, i.e., of information.  

The pragmatic turn´ was proposed by Roberts [1982] and Wersig et al. [1982 and 1985] in the eighties. Roberts looks for a behaviourist approach to "information man". Wersig considers the "actors" within "problematic situations". The "rational-cognitive treatment of problems" constitutes for Wersig only one aspect of the problem of rationalization. In other words, "information man" cannot be separated from the specific situations in which she/he is pragmatically and socially imbedded. More radically, "information man" cannot be separated in her/his cognitive functions from, for instance, aesthetic or ethical ones. I believe that these ideas lead to a hermeneutic and rhetorical foundation of information science.  

The question 'what is information?' asks for substantial characteristics of something. But information, taken as a dimension of human existence, is nothing substantial. Instead of asking: 'what is information?' we can ask: 'what is information (science) for?' The turn to the second question means a change of perspective. The pragmatic fields of open possibilities are shared contexts, also in the linguistic sense of the word (con-texts), i.e., of thematically shared pre-understanding. The aim of information science is to thematize this con-textual dimension taking into consideration primarily all technical forms of communication as parts of other forms of life. This scientific thematization can take place in a formal-methodological as well as in a cultural-historical or pragmatic perspective. I call the first an information heuristics or ars quaerendi' and the second information hermeneutics. All methods of information retrieval belong to the first one and are an essential part of our science. But a mere formalist or substantialist view leaves aside the existential groundings i.e., the necessary thematization of the historical, cultural, economic etc. dimensions which are the pre-conditions for understanding what we mean when we say: 'we store, retrieve, exchange etc. information'. An information economy that seeks to reduce information to an exchange value without taking into account the different forms of life in which it is grounded is no less dangerous than a blind exploitation of nature. In designing tools we are designing, as Winograd and Flores remark [1986, p. xi], "ways of being". This, I think, is a key insight with far-reaching implications for information science studies, which do not forget the pragmatic dimension of their subject matter.

Taking into consideration the unity of boths aspects, the methodological and the pragmatic, information heuristics and information hermeneutics, information science can be considered a sub-discipline of rhetoric.

  
 

  
    
  

III. Information science as a hermeneutic-rhetorical discipline

In his Rhetoric [Rhet. 1358 b] Aristotle distinguishes three kinds of speech:  

- deliberative speech (genos symbouleutikon): concerns arguments for or against someone or something, and is related to future actions.   
- juridical speech (genos dikanikon): concerns charge or defence, and is related to past events.  
- laudatory speech (genos epideiktikon): concerns praise and blame and is mainly related to present situations.  

Aristotle connects rhetoric not only to other linguistic-methodological disciplines such as logic, dialectic and topic, but also with ethics and politics.  

This classical division of rhetoric embraces, in other words [Schlüter, 1978, pp. 22-26], three objectives including their corresponding human capabilities:  

- to teach/to inform (docere, informare): concerns reason  
- to influence/to move (movere): concerns the will (and the feelings)  
- to please (delectare): concerns (sensory and sensual) perception  

The characteristics of good speech (arete tes lexeos) are:  

- unambiguity (saphe/claritas): the use of clear expressions  
- commonness (to hellenizein/latinitas): the use of common expressions  
- adequation (to prepon/proprietas): the use of adequate expressions  

In the case of informative (and deliberative) speech these characteristics can be achieved with different kinds of figures: argumentative figures (such as: examples, comparisons, detailed explanations, prima facie-judgements, definitions), composition figures (such as anticipations and looking back), and lexical figures (such as: paradoxes, irony, puns, litotes).  

It is easy to see that the negative forms of the informative speech, to which Schrader refers, cannot be considered as an essential part of information science as long as such a science is not seen as a sub-discipline of rhetoric. The crucial point underlying the hermeneutic-rhetorical paradigm of information science is neither the analogy of information as something physical nor the representation of reality within an inner sphere, but the recognition of the interwovenness of information and misinformation as an existential dimension, i.e., as a specific human way of sharing with others the world openness. Information and misinformation are, in some way, pseudonyms, i.e. ,they are abbreviations for experiences such as "lies, propaganda, misrepresentation, gossip, delusion, hallucination, illusion, mistake, concealment, distortion, embellishment, innuendo, deception" (Schrader) on the one hand, and of telling the truth, communicating publicly our convictions and ideas, looking for adaequate approaches to all kinds of phenomena, hearing to what others have to say, letting our phantasy create new possibilities of being, developing our sense of reality, cultivating critical thinking, as well as other capacities such as righteousness, openness, frankness, clarity, helpfulness, and truthfulness, on the other.  

By grasping information and misinformation as a dimension of human existence, I am suggesting a distinction with regard to other uses of these terms. This anthropologic (or ontologic) distinction does not imply an anthropocentric view. It criticizes a worldless subjectivity representing the things of the outside world in an encapsulated mind. To exist means, for human beings, to be thrown into a field of possibilities with the capacity of conceiving and misconceiving not only our own (technological) projects, but also the nature of things that bring themselves forth.  

One fundamental reason for the interwovenness of information and misinformation is precisely the finite structure of human existence, our facticity or thrownness (Heidegger's "Geworfenheit").  Science remains fallible and all the information we are supposed to store, retrieve etc. is to be understood within a possible breakdown situation (Winograd and  Flores 1986). According to the classical physical paradigm these situations should be avoided in order to get relevant results.  For the hermeneutic-rhetorical approach they are a basis for users constructions.  

The rhetorical distinctions do not intend to separate informative (and deliberative) speech from the other forms of speech nor to isolate all of them from ethics and politics. In order to see these connections, for instance between informative, persuasive and pleasant speech in our field, we have but to recall questions of data security and copyright, or the persuasive efforts of a host marketing division or, finally, the efforts to create user-friendly systems. The ideology of a pure informative speech rests upon the disregarding of its rhetorical roots. Many of our so-called information systems are remnants of a pre-pragmatic, utopic view of an ideal language, although or, more precisely, because our field has been considering itself as a practical one, i.e., as one which does not need a theory.  

With regard to the formal-methodological questions to be studied against a rhetorical background, we are particularly committed in our field  to considering the technological or artificial possibilities of the informative speech. Aristotle distinguishes between non-artificial (atechnoi) and artificial (entechnoi) means  of persuading (pisteis), the first ones being the given ones ("such as witnesses, tortures, documents"), whereas the second are the ones to be produced by the speaker and to be analyzed theoretically by rhetoric (Rhet. 1355 b). Information science, as a sub-discipline of rhetoric, studies the different forms of handling artificially i.e., technologically, shared knowledge. But such handling is, as in the case of other forms of rhetoric, not just a formal-methodological question, completely independent from ethical and political dimensions. Rhetoric and topic play a basic role in the construction of hypertext databases. For, as Wallmannsberger remarks [1990], non-linearity and associativity imply a conception of human knowledge, where analogy and probability are the key aspects. Contrary to the idea of information as a decontextualized or situation-independent sphere, a hermeneutic and rhetorical view stresses the contextuality (including cultural, aesthetic, ethical, and political dimensions) of meaning. The pragmatic turn in philosophy, as carried out by hermeneutics and Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, has decisive implications for our field. Hypertext and hypermedia as well as other kinds of intelligent databases and systems, can be called intelligent as far as they take into consideration dialectical, topical and rhetorical figures. On the background of rhetoric it is also possible to thematize the connections of these technological mediations to ethics and politics.  

The question: What is information science for? is a rhetorical question in the sense that information science, conceived as a sub-discipline of rhetoric, implies a double-bind methodology. It must accomplish a self-reflection in a formal-interpretative as well as in a cultural-historical way. It has to resist the temptation to become just a technical heuristics or a metadiscipline embracing ethics and politics. As a sub-discipline of rhetoric it belongs to other deliberative techniques. As one part of them it is different from juridical and literary forms of speech, but it certainly implies aspects of persuasion and pleasure. This relationship between rhetoric and aesthetics within information science needs to be more strongly emphasized than I am doing it here. It does not only imply the user-friendliness or the ergonomic design of information systems, i.e., the alliance between information science and information design, as Orna and Stevens remark [1991], but also takes into consideration, much more basically, the bodily or aesthetic (Greek: aisthesis = perception) dimension of human existence. We should study how information technologies influence the bodily possibilities of the users. We need, in other words, an information science aesthetics closely related to an information science ethics i.e., to a critical analysis of the ways in which power structures are imposed on the (bodies of the) users or, viceversa, to become aware of the situations and conditions in which information technology becomes, individually and socially, an open field of self creation. One way of doing this is, as Frohmann proposed [1991], through discourse analysis. Information science is a hermeneutic science just because there is no definite separation between information and misinformation. Information science is the science of information and misinformation.

We are concerned, as Popper suggested [1973], with problems and not with subject fields precisely because problems always arise within changing (cultural and historical) horizons or fields (!) of expectations. These terms belong, by the way, to the same geographical metaphor (pro-blem = to throw before). 

The linear model of human knowledge and action from "facts" to "decisions", suggested by Hayes [1991], is an idealized description of human understanding, which must take decisions in order to establish facts, thus being involved in a hermeneutic, i.e., not only intellectual, but also pragmatical circle.  

The question 'what is information for?' leads to the question 'what is information science for?' since information science, conceived as a hermeneutic-rhetorical discipline, studies the con-textual pragmatical dimensions within which knwoledge is shared positively as information and negatively as misinformation particularly through technical forms of communication. These are not just an instrument but a "way of being" [Winograd and Flores 1986]. This conception of information science is important if we want information systems to become part of the background of various forms of living.  

 

 
  

Notes

(1) For a detailed exposition see my [1986].  
(2) For criticisms on Winograd and Flores see my [1991a]  
(3) For more details see my [1986, pp. 74-98]  
 
  
 
 
    

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