English Translation of the Preface

to the Spanish Translation of the German PhD Thesis

Ein Beitrag zur etymologischen und ideengeschichtlichen Begründung des Informationsbegriffs. Munich 1978 (Information.
Contribution to the Foundation of the concept of Information
 based on the Etymology and History of Ideas)


Apeiron, Madrid 2022

Rafael Capurro


According to what has been said, cybernetics and what it claims hidden, to put it in philosophical terms, the leading perspective regarding a change of the being of all beings, something that cybernetics surely had in inkling but did not think about it explicitly and even today cannot be fully understood in all its far-reaching implications. Nevertheless, it knows about this being of all beings under the heading "information", news, announcement.

Martin Heidegger, October 30,1965.[1]


"Information is not a philosophical concept" someone told me in the early seventies when I suggested the possibility of writing a doctoral thesis in philosophy dealing with information. The concept was also, in my case, an existential issue. I was working in the field of scientific information at the time at the Documentation Centre on Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Research Centre in Karlsruhe (Germany).[2] My goal was to understand what was meant by the term information in context particularly to the proclamation of the coming information society. Professor Norbert Henrichs, director of the Philosophy Documentation Centre at Düsseldorf University, was very interested in my project.[3] And so, between the years of 1975 and 1978, under Henrichs’ supervision, I wrote my doctoral thesis: "Information. A Contribution to the foundation of the Concept of Information based on the Etymology and History of Ideas"[4], passing the doctoral examination with magna cum laude.

Some months ago, Julio Ostalé (University of Vigo, Spain) asked me if I planned to write a Spanish translation of the German text since the text was inaccessible to many Spanish speakers. In consideration, I knew the task would prove difficult, but it would also be a great experience. Translating a text that was conceived and written in German into Spanish, my mother tongue, would not be an easy venture. I had finished my philosophy studies at Colegio Máximo San Miguel run by the Jesuits in Buenos Aires with a licentiate (Master) in philosophy in 1971.[5] I left the Society of Jesus and came to Germany in 1972 to study what was called scientific documentation at the Karlsruhe Documentation Centre in cooperation with an institute that offered specialized courses on this matter.[6] A first step towards the leap from a philosophical-humanistic background to digital technology was the translation of my thesis into Spanish; indeed both a great difficulty and a great experience. To look at oneself from a distance of forty years resulted in not only discovering that other self but also in discovering the self I had become. This thesis was the beginning of a long journey that I newly recapitulated in an article published in the journal Apeiron with the title "Past, present and future of the notion of information" that included a text from 2008 based on a foundational work done with Birger Hjørland (Denmark) with additional excerpts from various publications over the last years.[7]

In this preface I would like to open spaces for future research presenting some interrogations that arose during this long path which I could only deal with briefly or not at all where in many cases they were beyond my philosophic, scientific, and particularly cultural knowledge. I understand through experience in cultural knowledge the problematization of the concept of information in other languages. The problems I dealt with in writing this thesis concerned Greek origins and the Latin heritage, that which allowed me to better understand how we, in the West, got to where we are.  However, the task failed to deal with other origins and legacies that in a globalized world are nearer and at the same time further. Reflecting on the abysses of ignorance that become manifest when one is aware of such differences, the need to thematize them rises in order to start a dialogue that goes deep into the issues at stake. This concerns, for instance, Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew traditions of the concept of information and the words subjacent to them that I could perceive in part when preparing an academic visit to Iran in 2014, which resulted in the palimpsest:  Apud Arabes. Notes on Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew Roots of the Concept of Information.[8] I had similar experiences with cultures of the so-called Far East, particularly in Japan[9] and China,[10] but also in Africa[11] and Latin America.[12] To go further along these paths of thought half understood and left behind would mean to do research on the concept of information based not only on the etymology and history of Western ideas as was the case for my thesis but also to imagine a complex non-eurocentric semantic network with different possibilities of incursions and excursions in order to better understand the world in which we live and that which we are.

Although the use of the concept of information in the natural sciences and humanities achieved a height in the seventies it was difficult to foresee that the conjunction of librarianship, bibliography and computation with the label Information Science would change as much as it did after the invention of the internet and the impact of social media in the 21st century. Here a reorientation with focus on social, economic and political issues took place which are today at the heart of the debate about societies shaped and often dominated by digital technology and its global players. It was also at that time difficult to imagine the different uses of the concept of information in the sciences that gave rise to a Science of Information whose beginning were the meetings with the title of Foundations of Information Science that started in the middle of the nineties in Vienna and culminated with the creation of the International Society for the Study of Information (IS4SI).[13

It was also difficult for me in the seventies to imagine the philosophical problematization of the concept of information to which I tried to approach prudently as terra incognita that turned today into an academic hot spot. But looking at the contributions in the last years I have sometimes had the impression that some authors believe they invented the Philosophy of Information and that such a field rises with digital technology and its recent predecessors putting aside or just ignoring the great contributions not only of the Western philosophical tradition as well as of other traditions, that is to say, without retrieving the history of thought about this concept and its subjacent words in all its epochal amplitude and semantic complexity. A philosophy of information that forgets its roots is condemned to fail as it is lacking access to the currents that give it life.  They must be remembered and reinterpreted, retrieved in a deeper sense, as a concept originating in the seventies in the context of Information Science. This was one lesson I learned from the work of Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker.

But I must strongly criticize myself. My thesis is based on Western philosophical traditions. It is a metaphysical thesis that shines forth particularly in the last chapter (6.) with implicit and explicit allusions to Hegel and dialectical materialism weakened by hermeneutics and philosophy of language. This weakness, remembering Gianni Vattimo's "pensiero debole"[14], has a post-metaphysical manifestation in my post-doctoral book "Hermeneutics of Scientific Information" from 1986.[15] When I translate my thesis from 1978 I do it implicitly from this turn as well as from the one that took place in the first decade of the new millennium and that I use to call angeletics.[16] The great experience that I mentioned at the beginning has to do with this back and forth characteristic of a thinking that does not move forward in a linear form starting with a word with different meanings and used in different contexts towards a conceptual definition as it is the case of this thesis, but remains open to what conditions itself, in most cases without being aware of it. Rather it flourishes or is allowed to open the opportunity to unexpected turns. This way of thinking from and towards language and what language shows and conceals was called the "hermeneutic circle". But it is Heidegger himself that questions it and speaks about messages and messengers to which I refer to at the end of my thesis. The roots of this change can be found already in "Being and Time" that I interpret as being fundamentally angeletic, open to what phenomena show and hide from themselves before being pre-informed by modern subjectivity.[17] My angeletic turn took place in the first decade of the new century and culminated with the book edited in cooperation with John Holgate (Australia): "Messages and Messengers.  Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication".[18]

Rethinking my thesis of 1978 this time around was in some way pre-viewed in the excursus on the Greek concept of message (angelia). The reason for this excursus is very simple. Looking for a term in classic Greek and Latin that would correspond to what we mean by information in everyday life I was confronted with a kind of linguistic blockage finding it only since the time of Modernity. I tried to decipher the enigma subjacent to this thesis by following hints by von Weizsäcker on the Greek concepts of eidos and morphe translated into Latin with forma. The challenge was to find Latin texts where these concepts were translated with informatio and informo, something for which this thesis provides large evidence. But the question remained open about how far we can find, beyond the path suggested by von Weizsäcker, one or more words in classical Greek (and in other languages) that could be translated using the term information in its everyday use today. The excursus was a first attempt to answer this question. It is evident that this issue brings us near to the abyss of anachronism as analyzed by Siam Lewis showing the historic and cultural hiatuses of our term news and the difficulty using it when we translate classical Greek texts. What comes nearer to our present everyday meaning is, according to Lewis, the word angelía.[19]

The angeletic turn allowed me to leave, and then come back to, the semantic network of information as well as to leave and then come back to hermeneutics. How can we manifest the relationship between message and information that is inscribed in Shannon's scheme but remains unthought? How can we conceive of the relationship between interpreting a message (hermeneutics) and the act of its transmission (angeletics)? It is evident, at least for me, that a message must be codified and transmitted before it is interpreted. Angeletics, semiotics and hemeneutics build a knot in which language is at stake and with it human as well as non-human Being to which Weizsäcker and Heidegger refer. But in which way(s) does this twisting take place in other languages, cultures, and ways of being? What terms were used and are used today and to what extend do they deal with cultural and/or historical hiatuses such as in the case of news, that recall us to be humble and modest when we translate a thesis like the one written in 1978 within the background of Western metaphysics being aware that it is apparently the same person who wrote it and now translates it? And, eventually, up to what extent are questions regarding these ties originally ethical questions or, better, messages, in which our being-in-the-digital-world is at stake, that which is referred to today as digital ethics? We often have the tendency to answer such questions with a list of well-meant advice or, in some cases, with a critical discussion dealing with an ethics of artificial intelligence addressing sustainable life in a society which conceives itself as a commodity managed by the digital empires. But we would need, in fact, a broad philosophical foundation of such ethical considerations.

I do not wish to finish this preface giving the impression of being pessimistic. Quite the contrary. My message is to expose ourselves to the questions that our epoch (and other epochs) address to us in all their dimensions without searching for simplistic solutions about the great questions concerning human life. The term information, no less than the term message, can be understood as an anchor that we throw when we arrive at a port of call. We start a new voyage in the ocean of language, that is to say, in a world moved by forces that we cannot master but with which we can play in several ways, taking appropriate responsibility, enjoying the trips that life offers to the task of thinking as translation.

Karlsruhe, October 2022




Selection of publications in which the findings of this thesis were presented in Spanish and English.

R. Capurro: Pasado, presente y futuro de la noción de información. In: I Encuentro Internacional de Expertos en Teorías de Información, León, 2008. Online: http://www.capurro.de/leon.pdf

R. Capurro: Past, present and future of the concept of information. In: tripleC 7,2, 2009, 125-141. Online: http://www.capurro.de/infoconcept.pdf

 R. Capurro: Apud Arabes. Notes on Greek, Latin, Persian, and Hebrew Roots of the Concept of Information, Iran 2014. Online: http://www.capurro.de/iran.html

R. Capurro: Pasado, presente y futuro de la noción de información. In: Ápeiron. Estudios de filosofía, No. 12, April 2020. Online: http://www.capurro.de/apeiron2020.pdf

State-of-the-art by Rafael Capurro and Birger Hjørland: The Concept of Information. In: Blaise Cronin (ed.): Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST), 37, 2003, 343-411. Online: http://www.capurro.de/infoconcept.html Original version: http://www.capurro.de/Capurro_Hjoerland.pdf

Interview (video) with Robson Abshtoffen: "El pensamiento vivo de la información", Brussels, November 13, 2012. Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvzOsFUQhy4


I thank Jared Bielby (Chair, International Center for Information Ethics, Canada) for polishing my English.



Mark Burgin, Jaime F. Cárdenas-García: A Dialogue Concerning the Essence and Role of Information in the World System. Information, 11, 9, 2020. Online: https://www.mdpi.com/2078-2489/11/9/406/htm

Pieter Adriaans: Information. Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy 2020. Online: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/information/

Matthew Kelly, Jared Bielby eds.: Information Cultures in the Digital Age. A Festschrift in Honor of Rafael Capurro. Wiesbaden: Springer 2016. Online:  http://www.capurro.de/kelly.html Thanks and Responses: Online: http://www.capurro.de/thanksandresponses.html

Vinícios Souza de Menezes: Informação, um excurso crítico-filológico. Perspectivas em Ciência da Informação, 20,1, 3-18, 2015. Online: http://portaldeperiodicos.eci.ufmg.br/index.php/pci/article/view/2074

Editores Logeion: Filosofia da Informação. Revista Logeion 1,2, 2014. Online: http://revista.ibict.br/fiinf/issue/view/118

Marcos Gonzalez de Souza: A gramaticalização de informação: uma abordagem sociocognitiva. (PhD) Río de Janeiro 2013. Online: https://ridi.ibict.br/handle/123456789/861

José María Díaz Nafría, Rainer M. Zimmermann:  Emergence and Evolution of Meaning. triple C 11, 1, 2013. Online: https://triple-c.at/index.php/tripleC/article/view/334

Gerhard Luhn: Towards an Ontology of Information and succeeding Fundamentals in Computer Science. In: Proceedings of the 4th International Conference: Foundations of  Information Science, Beijing, 21-24 August 2010; Sciforum Electronic Conferences Series, 2010, fis072, pp. 1-10. Online:  https://sciforum.net/paper/view/conference/354

Wolfgang Lenski: Information: A Conceptual Investigation. Information 2010, 1, 74-118. Online: https://www.mdpi.com/2078-2489/1/2/74

José María Díaz Nafría: What is information? A multidimensional concern. tripleC, 77-108, 2010. Online:

Thilo Deussen: Informationsverarbeitung bei Mensch und Computer. Der kybernetische Informationsbegriff und seine Auswirkungen auf das Selbstverständnis des Menschen. Seminar "Philosophie und Informatik", Humboldt-Studienzentrum Universität Ulm. 2006/2007. Online: https://www.thilodeussen.de/informationsverarbeitung/ThiloDeussen2008_Informationsverarbeitung.pdf

Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic: Investigations into Information Semantics and Ethics of Computing (Diss.). Mälardalen University, Sweden, 2006. Online:  http://mdh.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:120541/FULLTEXT01

Friedhelm Greis: Fehl-Information. Korrekturen an einem Begriff. Remscheid: Gardez! Verlag, 2006.

Herbert Okolowitz: Virtualität bei G.W. Leibniz. Eine Retrospektive. Diss. Universität Augsburg 2006.

Renato Fabiano Matheus:  Rafael Capurro e a filosofia da informação: abordagens, conceitos e metodologias de pesquisa para Ciência da Informação. Perspectivas da Ciência da Informação, 2005, 10, 2, 140-165. Online: http://portaldeperiodicos.eci.ufmg.br/index.php/pci/article/view/341

Sascha Ott: Information. Zur Genese und Anwendung eines Begriffs. Konstanz: UVK. 2004.  

Werner Sesink: In-formatio. Die Einbildung des Computers. Münster: Lit Verlag 2004.

Boris Wyssusek: Methodologische Aspekte der Organisationsmodellierung in der Wirtschaftsinformatik. Diss. (TU Berlin) 2004, 182-187. Online: http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/wyssusek/publications/wyssusek_boris.pdf

Helmut Klemm: Ein großes Elend. Informatik-Spektrum, 26, 4, 2003, pp. 267-273. Online: http://www.informatik.uni-leipzig.de/~graebe/Texte/Intern/Klemm-03.pdf

Wolfgang Hofkirchner: Projekt Eine Welt: Kognition - Kommunikation - Kooperation. Versuch über die Selbstorganisation der Informationsgesellschaft. Technikphilosophie 9.  Münster: Lit Verlag 2002.

Helmut Klemm: Auskunft geschlossen - Information geöffnet. Das Informationszeitalter kann sich nicht über die "Information" verständigen. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 7.12 2002.

Holger Lyre: Informationstheorie. Eine philosophisch-naturwissenschaftliche Einführung. München: Fink, UTB, 2002.

Holger Lyre: Quantentheorie der Information. Mit einem Geleitwort von C.F. v. Weizsäcker. Wien, New York: Springer, 1998.

Peter Fleissner, Wolfgang Hofkirchner: Informatio revisited. Wider den dinglichen Informationsbegriff. Informatik-Forum 9, 3,1995, 126-131. Online:

Ewald Wessling: Individuum und Information. Die Erfassung von Information und Wissen in ökonomischen Handlungstheorien. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991.

[1] Martin Heidegger, Die Bestimmung der Sache des Denkens, October 30, 1965. In: ibid.: Unveröffentlichte Abhandlungen (GA 80.2), Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann 2020, p. 1247: "Demgemäß verbirgt sich in der Kybernetik und in ihrem Anspruch, philosophisch ausgedrückt, der leitende Hinblick auf ein gewandeltes Sein alles Seienden, ein Sachverhalt, der von der Kybernetik selbst zwar geahnt, aber nicht eigens bedacht und in seiner Tragweite nicht durchdacht werden kann. Dieses Sein alles Seienden ist ihr jedoch bekannt unter dem Titel "Information", d.h. Nachricht, Meldung."

[3] Cfr. Wikipedia: Norbert Henrichs. Online: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norbert_Henrichs;
Philosophie Informationsdienst Düsseldorf. Online: https://www.phil-fak.uni-duesseldorf.de/iud/Allg.html

[4] R. Capurro: Information. Ein Beitrag zur etymologischen und ideengeschichltichen Begründung des Informationsbegriffs. München: Saur, 1978. Online: http://www.capurro.de/info.html

[5] R. Capurro: Reseña de mis estudios de Humanidades ("Juniorado") (1965-1966), Padre Hurtado, Chile y de Filosofía (1968-1970), Colegio Máximo, San Miguel, Argentina en la Compañía de Jesús. Online http://www.capurro.de/jesuitas.html; cfr. Wikipedia: Juan Carlos Scannone. Online: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Carlos_Scannone; cfr. R. Capurro: "Wirf den Helden in Deiner Seele nicht weg!" Online: http://www.capurro.de/meinehelden.html

[6] Cfr. Lehrinstitut für Dokumentation. Online: https://www.tuhh.de/b/hapke/ispg/lid.htm; cfr. R. Capurro: Urkunden. Online: http://www.capurro.de/Urkunden.html

[7] R. Capurro: Pasado, presente y futuro de la noción de información. En: I Encuentro Internacional de Expertos en Teorías de Información, León, 2008. Online: http://www.capurro.de/leon.pdf; R. Capurro & B. Hjørland: The Concept of Information.  B. Cronin (ed.): Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST), 37, 2003, 343-411. Online: http://www.capurro.de/Capurro_Hjoerland.pdf; R. Capurro: Pasado, presente y futuro de la noción de información. Online: http://www.capurro.de/apeiron2020.pdf

[9] R. Capurro: Homepage: http://www.capurro.de/home-jp.html

[10] R. Capurro: Homepage: http://www.capurro.de/home-cn.html

[12] R. Capurro: Homepage: http://www.capurro.de/home_port.html

[13] International Society for the Study of Information. Online: http://is4si.org/about-is4si/

[14] R. Capurro: Nachwort. Gianni Vattimo: Das Ende der Moderne. Stuttgart: Reclam 1990. Online: http://www.capurro.de/vattimo.htm

[15] Rafael Capurro: Hermeneutik der Fachinformation. Freiburg/München: Alber, 1986. Online: http://www.capurro.de/hermeneu.html

[16] R. Capurro: Angeletics - A Message Theory. 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: Verlag ZKM 2003, 58-71. Online: http://www.capurro.de/angeletics_zkm.html

[17] Cfr. Martin Heidegger: Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache. Zwischen einem Japaner und einem Fragenden. En: ibid.: Unterwegs zur Sprache. Pfullingen: Neske, p. 142 ff. On the relation between language and information in Heidegger see R. Capurro: Heidegger über Sprache und Information. En: Philosophisches Jahrbuch 88 (1981) 32,  p. 333-343. Online: http://www.capurro.de/heidinf.htm

[18] R. Capurro & John Holgate: Messages and Messengers. Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication. Munich 2011.  Online:  http://www.capurro.de/angeletics_foreword.html

[19] Sian Lewis: News and Society in the Greek Polis. London 1966. Ver: R. Capurro: Pseudangelía - Pseudangelos. On False Messages and Messengers in Ancient Greece. Informatio 25(1), 2020, pp.106-131. Online: https://informatio.fic.edu.uy/index.php/informatio/article/view/246/249.

Last update: August 14, 2023


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