Rafael Capurro


Angeletics: Work in Progress



What is angeletics?

Further Readings



I call angeletics the study of messengers and messages. This word is derived from Greek angelos / angelia, meaning messenger / messages. We use these terms when we refer to angels or divine messengers. There is a long tradition in theology and religious studies called angelology. Angeletics is different from angelology. Its purpose is to study the phenomenon of messages and messengers within the boundaries of the condition humaine, having as its primary object human communication but including technical and natural processes as well.

For the philosophers of the Enlightenment, for instance for Immanuel Kant,  the censorship-free distribution of scientific knowledge through the press belongs to the core of a free society. According to Jürgen Habermas, Kant could not foresee the transformation of the public space in the 20th century becoming dominated by mass media (Capurro, 1996a). The Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo has criticized the Habermasian ideal of a transparent society argueing in favor of an opaque or "weak" communication structure as is the case of  the  Internet (Vattimo 1989). 

The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has pointed out that we live in a "time of empty angels" or "mediatic nihilism", in which we forget what message is to be sent while the messengers of transmission media multiply: "This is the very disangelium of current times" (Sloterdijk 1997). The word disangelium (bad news) builds a contrast to euangelium, addressing the empty nature of the messages disseminated by the mass media, culminating in McLuhans dictum: "The medium is the message". The question today is then to what extent the Internet creates a new angeletic space giving rise to new synergies of messages and messengers beyond the hierarchical structure of mass media. If according to Sloterdijk (1983) mass media have a cynical structure, the question arises now about the "fantasmatic" character of the new media (Zizek 1997, Capurro 1999a).

Eventually, I would like to address the relationship between angeletics and hermeneutics (Capurro, 2000). Hermeneutics was one of the main schools of philosophy in the 20th century. Beyond scholarly disputes, we can say that one of the main results of philosophical thinking in the 20th century has been the awareness of the interpretative nature of human knowledge. This is valid, for instance, for Karl Popper, for whom scientific knowledge is basically conjectural and subject to empirical falsifications, no less than for hermeneutics as addressed by Hans-Georg Gadamer. Each interpretation presupposes a process of message transmission. The "hermeneutic circle" no less than the "logic of scientific discovery" are implicitly located within the angeletic circle. Hermes is first and foremost a messenger and secondary an interpreter and translator.

In sum, angeletics deals with issues related to origin, end purpose and message content, power structures, techniques and means of diffusion, ways of life, history of messages and messengers, coding and interpreting, and psychological, political, economic, aesthetic, ethical and religious aspects. The phenomenon of messengers and messages can be analyzed in social, technical, and natural contexts as well.


Capurro, R. (1995): Leben im Informationszeitalter. Berlin.   
- (1996): On the Genealogy of Information. En: K. Kornwachs, K. Jacoby, Eds: Information. New Questions to a Multidisciplinary Concept. Berlin, p. 259-270.   
- (1996a): Informationsethik nach Kant und Habermas. En: A. Schramm, Ed.: Philosophie in Österreich. Viena, p. 307-310.   
- (1999): Ich bin ein Weltbürger aus Sinope - Vernetzung als Lebenskunst. In: P. Bittner, J. Woinowski, Eds.: Mensch - Informatisierung - Gesellschaft. Münster, p. 1-19.  
- (1999a): Beyond the Digital. 
- (2000): Hermeneutik im Vorblick. 

Flusser, V. (1996): Kommunikologie. Mannheim.

Serres, M. (1993): La légende des Anges. Paris.  

Sloterdijk, P. (1997): Kantilenen der Zeit. In: Lettre International, 36, p. 71-77.  
- (1983): Kritik der zynischen Vernunft. Frankfurt a.M.   

Vattimo, G. (1989): La società trasparente. Milano   

Zizek, S. (1997): Die Pest der Phantasmen. Viena

Last update: October  4, 2017






Rafael Capurro - John Holgate (eds.). Messages and Messengers. Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication.  Munich: Fink 2011.



The following articles were published in the year 2000 in The International Information & Library Review, Volume 32, Numbers 3-4, Sept/Dec. as a response to my keynote at the EEI21 Symposium (The Ethics of Electronic Information in the 21st Century Symposium, Memphis, USA, 2000): "Ethical Challenges of the Information Society in the 21st Century"

Thomas J. Froehlich: Rafael Capurro and the Challenge of Information Ethics (277-282)

"Media conglomerates and the church in earlier times were at the top of a hierarchy that distributed messages to the masses. In the networked society, such a hierarchy which is challenged and may be radically displaced by dialogical media, each person can be creator, producer, distributor and receiver of messages. Rather than a pyramidal structure for the distribution of media, a horizontal one has emerged, thanks to the Internet. And for this reason, Professor Capurro advocates a new science of angeletics, not derived from some supposed incorporeal beings, but whose roots are related to the messages (angelía in Greek) that were conveyed between gods and men (by the poets or god of messages, Hermes, from which hermeneutics is derived).

Professor Capurro's use of angeletics embraces a decidedly secular meaning. Martha Montague Smith, in her response to Professor Capurro's paper, embellishes on the theme of the science of angeletics, seeing it a historically grounded and a unifying the disparate information disciplines. For Capurro, it could act as a productive way for seeing the discourse(s) of the information society, not only with regard to the different kinds of messages (sociological, esthetic) that are deployed in systems, but also with respect to power elites, information moralities and ethical discourses derived from the message practices of the information society." (281-282)

Martha M. Smith
: A Prologue to Angeletics: A Response to Rafael Capurro and Suggestions for a Research Agenda (283-289)

"As the science of messages and messengers, Angeletics has much appeal. As a term, Angeletics may sound like an invitation to study angels and the divine real, a theological endeavor. That is not Capurro's intention. Rather, he seeks to focus attention not on the divine butr on the human and the approaches that the human sciences, the social sciences, might bring to phenomena of message making and message sharing. Capurro's interest is to find unifying ways to understand information and its role in human life and global society.


Exploring the cultural roots in relation to current issues, Capurro asks if there is help to be found in the study of the message.
  • What is the relationship between the message and the messenger?
  • Is the meaning in the medium of the message?
  • Are content and form separate?
  • Can form and content be separated in order to understand how knowledge is created, transmitted, and used?
  • What is the relationship between hermeneutics and Angeletics? Could hermeneutics be said to dealwith the interpretation of the message or messenger in the aftermath of delivery and prior to another transmission?
  • What are the practices of message creation, dissemination, storage, retrieval, evaluation, and utilization? How do these practices shape the interfacing activity?
  • Who are the messengers in these practices? What are the technologies of messenger practice?
Capurro's insights and the question he raises offer a rich agenda for further research.

For example, Angeletics can cast new light on the collected wisdom of traditional academic disciplines, from established fields of study such as:

  • History - World History as Message, Great Messengers;
  • Language and Literature - Etymological Roots of the term Message in All Languages; Message Mediation in Literary Genres, Reader Response Criticism and Message Reception;
  • Art, Music, Dance, Film - Messengers and Imagination;
  • Physics, Chemistry and Biology - DNA Messengers;
  • Engineering/AI - Robot Messengers;
  • Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, Economics - The Social, Psychological, etc. Aspects of Messages and Messengers.
The new understanding gained can be used to build the conceptual foundations of Angeletics. There are similarities to the agenda of social epistemology as described in 1967 by Jesse Shera (Shera, J. (1967): The sociological foundations of librarianship. Sarada Ranganathan lectures, 3. New York. Asia Publishing House) and by Steve Fuller in 1988 (Fuller, S. (1988): Social epistemology, Bloomington. Indiana University Press.), both of whom see the structures and uses of knowledge and knowledge transmission a keys to understanding social institutions and human life.

While shifting away from a preocupation with the term "information", with all its problematic conceptual ambiguities, Angeletics probes the depths of another etymological river and its tributaries. Angeletics also moves in the direction of studying the processes of message transfer, at the interface as well as before and after. It heightens the role of the transaction, the mediation - the interface, and the mediator - human, print, electronic, cyberspatial/cyberspacial, bricks and mortal. Angeletics does not ignore definition and the value of asking ontological, epistemological, and theological questions. The nature of the message and its goal or purpose are important.

To go in the direction of critical theory, other questions might arise. For example:
  • Who are the messengers?
  • How are they chosen?
  • What interests do they represent?
  • What determines the content and the delivery form of the messages?
  • Who receives which messages?
  • Who receives messages first? Last?
  • Are any receivers excluded?

To stretch a bit beyond the present discussion into potential uses for Angeletics in knowledge organization and management. Could it be that the agenda for Angeletics might be expanded into specific domain areas, drawing from academic, professional, and popular discourse communities and their practices of knowledge creation. Are the styles, methods, practices and content domains sufficiently different to justify analysis? To plat common elements and patterns as well as disticntive characteristics? Could this be another approach to building controlled vocabularies for information retrieval and domain specific portals to serve particular user communities on the Web? For example, could there be American studies angeletics? Business angeletics? Engineering angeletics? Environmental angeletics? Medical angeletics? Historial angeletics? Biblical angeletics? Medieval angeletics? If the goal of abstract conceptual analysis is to provide a unifying foundation for life in the real world, then angeletics analysis may be the key. We are all creatures of messages and messengers ourselves. How can we unite to understand each other and peacefully separate to preserve identity, unique communities, and accomplish the tasks of life?

Finally, Capurro's contribution by suggesting Angeletics as a new field of study challenges scholars to think of other historical and philosophical streams that may converge into a better broading understanding for practicing the art of living as Digital Cosmopolitans. While specific etymological traditions can enlighten research, they also should not constrain contemporary enquiry. Angeletics, tempting us to explore messengers and messages in the realms of art and imagination, may open our eyes to images, sound, and experiences as well as in our electronic and print texts. Where this may lead is the next challenge." (283-289)


Willard McCarthy,
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London Humanist Discussion Group, vol. 17, 469: "information"

Tadashi Takenouchi, Leslie M. Tkach Kawasaki, Toshikazu IitakaOn Hermeneutics, Angeletics, and Information Technology: Questions and Tentative Answers

Tadashi Takenouchi: The Development of Hermeneutic Information Science (Ph.D.)
Siehe auch ders.: Hermeneutic Information Studies of Rafael Capurro. Ethos of the Information Society and the Development of 'Angeletics'. In: SHISO, 2003, No. 951, 89-99.

Hans H. Diebner
: Operational Hermeneutics and Communication. In: Hans H. Diebner, Lehan Ramsay (Eds.): Hierarchies of Communication. ZKM / Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe 2003, 30-57.

"In this paper we make some cautious steps towards a cybernetics model for a system of coupled agends, i.e., a communication system, and the gain of knowledge. Each agent per-/re-ceives 'messages' [1] from the environment / medium (15), whereby the latter as well as the agents' own actions and locomotion, are to be optimized under consideration of the given constraints. In other words, we formulate a model of how  brains model the world and compute strategies therewith.
Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores pointed in a convincing way towards a connection between computer science and hermeneutics [2]. In the following we develop on their work bridging the gap between cybernetics and hermeneutics (Fig. 1). Our hermeneutic stance has also been fruitfully influenced by the works of Ichiro Tsuda, Peter Erdi, and Rafael Capurro [9, 10]

We feel certain, that the art of interpretation, specifically the 'hermeneutics circle' manifests itself also in the methodology of sciences with the Bayesean inference principle as a prominent representative. The hermeneutic circle describes the evolution of knowledge by anticipating the whole, experiencing the part, therewith re-think the whole and so on. Likewise, the Bayesean inference principle and other so-called boots-trapping methods are constructed so as update given knowledge" (31-32)

(15) Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores [2] prefer to use the term medium to emphasize the fact that the brain and the environment in which it is embeded are not strictly separable due to Maturana's autopoiesis.

[1] Rafael Capurro, Angeletics. This issue.
[2] Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores, Understanding Computers and Cognition - A New Foundation for Design. Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 14th edition, 1999.
[9] Peter Érdy and Ichiro Tsuda. Hermeneutic approach tothe brain: process versus device? Theoria et Historia Scientiarum, VI: 307- 321, 2002.
[10] R. Capurro and B. Hjørland. The concept of information. In B. Cronin, editor, Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, volume 37, pages 343-411. Medford, New Jersey, 2003.


Tadashi Takenouchi: Capurro's Hermeneutic Approach to Information Ethics: Ethos in the Information Society and the Development of "Angeletics". In: International Review of Information Ethics (IRIE)


Tadashi Takenouchi: Capurro's Hermeneutic Approach to Information Ethics: Ethos in the Information Society and the Development of "Angeletics". In: International Review of Information Ethics (IRIE)

Murilo Cardoso de Castro: Capurro's hermeneutic approach to information ethics, Tadashi Takenouchi


Chaim Zins: Knowledge Map of Information Science: Rafael Capurro's Responses to Chaim Zins


Beata Sirowy: Understanding the Information Society: The Potentials of Phenomenological Approach. In:  Frank Eckardt (Ed.): Media and Urban Space: understanding, investigating and approaching mediacity, Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2008, 45-64.

"Although phenomenology is a philosophical current with a considerable tradition, it still proves its pertinence being in the center of interests of many contemporary thinkers. The influence of phenomenology has not been as wide-spread as post-structural thought, but what is important – phenomenological hermeneutics is currently seen as one of possible conceptual directions after postmodernism (Madison 1997 & Capurro 2003)." (Sirowy 2008, 49).

Capurro, R. (2003). On Hermeneutics, Angeletics, and Information Techology. Questions and Tentative Answers. http://www.capurro.de/tsukuba.html
Madison, G.B.(1992). The Hermeneutics of Postmodernity and After. http://www.focusing.org/agm_papers/madison.html


Persian translation by Mohammad Khandan. In Journal of Librarianship. A Quarterly Journal on Academic Librarianship. Vol. 39 (Spring & Summer) 2009, pp. 77-93. [This is a Persian journal published by the Central Library and Documentation Center of Tehran University, Tehran, Iran].

Mohammad Khandan: What is angeletics? Persian translation by Mohammad Khandan. In: Science Communication. The monthly journal of Irandoc. Vol. 45, September-October 2009


Mohammad Khandan: Angeletics: a message theory. Persian translation by Mohammad Khandan. Forthcomming in: Mohammad Khandan (Ed.) Epistemological Explorations in the Realm of Information Studies. Tehran: Chapar (2010).



Joseph Brenner: Angeletics and Logic in Reality. In: Information 2012, 3(4), 715-738; doi:10.3390/info3040715


Pak Hang Wong: Angeletics and Social Epistemology (2011/2013)


Joseph E. Brenner: Information: A Personal Synthesis. In: Information 2014, 5, 134-170:

"11.3. Logic in Reality and Angeletics

With some minor qualifications in relation to the capability of science, I can accept essentially Capurro’s entire thesis. As I have discussed elsewhere [54], for LIR, what makes human beings uniquely human can also be defined by the interactions between individuals in which meaningful messages, in contrast to just the simple information necessary for survival, are exchanged. The concept of messages makes particularly clear the role of man in the universe where there is a physical, as well as a philosophical, ground of those interactions.
Capurro’s conception is “not to forget that we are part (or players) of the “angeletic” interplay with and “in” the world. And, this openness to the world means a “restriction” of the infinity of the world. However, if at the same time we understand it as a restriction, we are free to perceive the message of the “whole”. This is another way to gain understanding of contradictory phenomena in addition to the dialectical or informational ones discussed above. The freedom we acquire is similar to the increased degrees of freedom, in Luhn’s conception, resulting from information about the circumstances of our existence that drive us towards “fairness”.
There is thus a difference between information as a selection from a meaning offer and messaging as the offering of such possibility of selecting one possible meaning. This is the reason why Capurro thinks that hermeneutics dealing with the question of understanding messages presupposes Angeletics as dealing with messaging itself. In both cases we have to analyze ethical aspects that concern the different ways in which free (human) beings deal with both, selection and messaging." (p.  165)


Information Cultures in the Digital Age.  A Festschrift in Honor of Rafael Capurro.
Editors: Matthew Kelly and Jared Bielby. Wiesbaden: Springer 2016

Thanks and Responses by Rafael Capurro

Information Cultures

  last update: 15.05.2024


Copyright © 2000 by Rafael Capurro, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.

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