The Notion of ‘Information’: Enlightening or Forming?

  • Francois Oberholzer
  • Stefan GrunerEmail author
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 134)


‘Information’ is a fundamental notion in the field of artificial intelligence including various sub-disciplines such as cybernetics, artificial life, robotics, etc. Practically the notion is often taken for granted and used naively in an unclarified and philosophically unreflected manner, whilst philosophical attempts at clarifying ‘information’ have not yet found much consensus within the science-philosophical community. One particularly notorious example of this lack of consensus is the recent Fetzer-Floridi dispute about what is ‘information’—a dispute which has remained basically unsettled until today in spite of a sequence of follow-up publications on this topic. In this chapter our philosophical analysis reveals with reference to Gottlob Frege’s classical semiotics that the above-mentioned Fetzer-Floridi dispute cannot come to any solution at all, because the two competing notions of ‘information’ in that dispute are basically synonyms of what Frege had called ‘sense’ (Sinn) versus what Frege had called ‘meaning’ (Bedeutung). As Frege had convincingly distinguished sense and meaning very clearly from each other, it is obvious that ‘information’ understood like ‘sense’ and ‘information’ understood like ‘meaning’ are incompatible and cannot be reconciled with each other. Moreover we also hint in this chapter at the often-forgotten pragmatic aspects of ‘information’ which is to say that ‘information’ can always only be ‘information for somebody’ with regard to a specific aim or goal or purpose. ‘Information’, such understood, is thus a teleological notion with a context-sensitive embedding into what the late Wittgenstein had called a ‘language-game’ (Sprachspiel). Shannon’s quantified notion of ‘information’, by contrast, which measures an amount of unexpected surprise and which is closely related to the number of definite yes-no-questions which must be asked in order to obtain the desired solution of a given quiz puzzle, is not the topic of this chapter—although also in Shannon’s understanding of ‘information’ the quiz puzzle scenario, within which those yes-no-questions are asked and counted, is obviously purpose-driven and Sprachspiel-dependent. We conclude our information-philosophical analysis with some remarks about which notion of ‘information’ seems particularly amenable and suitable for an autonomic mobile robotics project which one of the two co-authors is planning for future work. To separate this suitable notion of ‘information’ from other ones a new word, namely ≪enlightation≫, is coined and introduced.


Philosophy of information Data Sense Meaning Structure Purpose 



Many thanks to James Fetzer for an interesting exchange of e-mails on the topic of this chapter some time ago. Many thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive remarks before the presentation of our work at the IACAP‘2016 conference in Ferrara (Italy) in June 2016. Many thanks also to the philosophical society ‘Footnotes to Plato’ at the University of Pretoria for the opportunity to present our work to them, and for their interesting and insightful feedback.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Computer ScienceUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaRepublic of South Africa

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