Floridi, Luciano. The logic of information: a theory of philosophy as conceptual design. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. xxii, 240 p. ISBN 978-0-19-883363-5. £30.00.
Luciano Floridi's book The logic of information has naturally attracted attention of philosophers, but also of information scientists who have organized a book symposium in the Journal of Documentation. Interested readers may check the arguments and opinions exchange by the participants about different issues addressed by the book. Nine library and information science scholars addressed several issues discussed in the book and that are important for research and information science. Luciano Floridi also gets involved in the discussion and presents his comments to the opinions of other participants. So, it is worthwhile to get acquainted with this text (Gorichanaz et al., 2020). I will present here the book itself and some comments that may help you make up your mind whether to read it or not.
The logic of information is a volume in a series to which the other two books The philosophy of information and The ethics of information belong. Though closely connected, each book can be read separately. All three of them, including the last, are not easy reads and prior knowledge of philosophy or logic of semantics, or at least some formal logic, would be a great help in reading this volume. Though far from easy, the text is quite manageable, as the author puts in significant effort to help less philosophically minded readers understand his main ideas by providing everyday examples, extensive explanations and illustrations. My own philosophical education is rather ancient, biased and little, but I managed most of the text without major problems, except Chapter 6 with its short historical excursion to the development of epistemology and extensive argument for moderate informational scepticism. This one demanded more effort because of all the references to philosophical texts that were not known to me.
The book discusses mainly epistemological issues and presents the idea of conceptual design as a source of knowledge in contrast to representational modes of knowledge acquisition: perception and testimony. Perception deals with information derived from sensual perception, while testimony rests on the messages received from other agents who may have direct sensual experience or not. The content is divided into two parts. The first one explains the philosophy of open questions in three chapters. The second deals with the philosophy as conceptual design. The aim of the first part is to help a reader in understanding constructionist philosophy as non-naturalistic. This understanding leads the reader to conceptual design as a way of deriving information through constructing systems and models in the second part of the book. This is the main part, which consists of ten chapters, arguing for the central role of conceptual design in philosophy in different but mutually interdependent ways.
There are several ideas in the book that would be useful for any researcher and also for an information professional:
- the concept of philosophy as an art of conceptual design of open questions and answers;
- the concept of philosophical questions as open to rational, informed and honest disagreement regardless of the amount of factual information furnished to answer them;
- the notion of the level of abstraction is important for asking the right question;
- knowing as constructive activity through which we create informational models (semantic artefacts) proactively and actively interacting with phenomena (p. 54);
- notion of 'human agents as natural-born data hackers' (p. 71) deriving non-natural meanings from them;
- bi-categorical assessment of information quality as fit for the purpose(s) of production and for the purposes of consumption;
- moderate informational scepticism as a driver for refinement and updating of information.
I am sure that anyone reading the book will find different concepts and aspects worth adding to this list or drawing it in a completely different way than I did it. Those that I have selected for this list (not an easy task from such a rich text) are those that have answered some of the my own questions or doubts accumulated over a long period of professional and scholarly life.
Of course, any information professional will be interested in the concept of information used in the book. It rests on two pillars: a modulate signal sending a message as in Shannon and Weaver, but even more so on semantic content as in Pierce's logic of signs and symbols reference to their objects (see, for example Peirce, 1876). Thus, information is semantic, new (in the technical sense of reducing the uncertainty), consistent, true account of the system's state. I think that chapter 1 provides interesting treatment of information as a resource for answering questions and in Chapter 10 the author explores the information manufacturing process as semantic information modelling or designing.
The main thesis of the book rests on two concepts of knowledge: maker's knowledge and user's knowledge. Floridi traces the pre-eminence of the latter since Plato and over further developments in philosophy. The maker's knowledge is presented as being neglected in favour of user's knowledge in philosophy. The arguments in favour of makers knowledge are also the arguments for constructionist approach and the logic of design as a source of knowledge. These are strong arguments and, as far as I have understood them, pragmatic and useful. But pragmatically we know that maker's knowledge has as many faults as user's knowledge. All the influential sciences mentioned by Floridi on p. 205 (architecture, computer science, economics, engineering or jurisprudence) have been guilty at times coupling requirements only with systems, not with users or their contexts. This tendency has resulted in some very unfortunate designs and sometimes dangerous consequences. Overlooking dialectic contradiction between maker's and user's knowledge may not be the wisest direction in philosophy.
The logic of information is an important text for library and information science, which I would add to the designing and constructionist areas. It has been constructing mental models and designing systems for at least over two hundred years if not longer. There is an abrupt turn to modelling information users' behaviour since 1980s, which has produced quite many different models. But these are very seldom used in design of requirements for information systems in and for libraries. Maybe philosophical discussions about maker's and user's knowledge could help in turning over to the makers what we know about users.
The book is already finding its audience mainly among researchers interested in the nature of our knowledge. It will be a useful reading for doctoral students in many areas, especially, in those related to any kind of design.
- Gorichanaz, T., Furner, J., Ma, L., Robinson, L. Dixon, D., Herold, K., Soe, S.O., Vander veer Martens, B. and Floridi, L. (2020). Information and design: book symposium on Luciano Floridi's The Logic of information. Journal of Documentation, 76(2), 586-616.
- Pierce C.S. (1876). Upon logical comprehension and extension. Pierce Edition Project, Indiana University.
University of Borås
How to cite this review
Maceviciute, E. (2020). Review of: Floridi, Luciano. The logic of information: A theory of philosophy as conceptual design. Oxford University Press, 2019. Information Research, 25(2), review no. R690 [Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs690.html]
Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.