How to Account for Information

How to Account for Information

Luciano Floridi (University of Oxford, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-014-2.ch001
OnDemand PDF Download:
$30.00
List Price: $37.50

Abstract

In Floridi (2005), I argued that a definition of semantic information in terms of alethically-neutral content – that is, strings of well-formed and meaningful data that can be additionally qualified as true or untrue (false, for the classicists among us), depending on supervening evaluations – provides only necessary but insufficient conditions: if some content is to qualify as semantic information, it must also be true. One speaks of false information in the same way as one qualifies someone as a false friend, i.e. not a friend at all. According to it, semantic information is, strictly speaking, inherently truth-constituted and not a contingent truth-bearer, exactly like knowledge but unlike propositions or beliefs, for example, which are what they are independently of their truth values and then, because of their truth-aptness, may be further qualified alethically.
Chapter Preview
Top

Introduction

In Floridi (2005), I argued that a definition of semantic information in terms of alethically-neutral content–that is, strings of well-formed and meaningful data that can be additionally qualified as true or untrue (false, for the classicists among us), depending on supervening evaluations–provides only necessary but insufficient conditions: if some content is to qualify as semantic information, it must also be true. One speaks of false information in the same way as one qualifies someone as a false friend, (i.e. not a friend at all). This leads to a refinement of the initial definition into:

[Def]: p qualifies as semantic information if and only if p is (constituted by) well-formed, meaningful and veridical data.

[Def] captures the general consensus reached by the debate and mentioned at the outset of this section. According to it, semantic information is, strictly speaking, inherently truth-constituted and not a contingent truth-bearer, exactly like knowledge but unlike propositions or beliefs, for example, which are what they are independently of their truth values and then, because of their truth-aptness, may be further qualified alethically.

Top

The Nature Of The Upgrading Problem: Mutual Independence

[Def] nests semantic information into knowledge so tightly that one is naturally led to wonder whether anything else might be missing, in order to upgrade from the weaker to the stronger phenomenon, and hence between their corresponding concepts. Indeed, the threshold can be so fine that one may often overlook it, and thus fail to distinguish between the two propositional attitudes, treating “Mary is informed that the water in the electric kettle is boiling” and “Mary knows that the water in the electric kettle is boiling” as if they were always interchangeable without loss. In everyday life, this might be the norm and the conflation is usually harmless: it can hardly matter whether the bus driver is informed or knows that the traffic light is red. Philosophically, however, the distinction captures an important difference, and hence it is important to be more accurate. It takes only a moment of reflection to see that one may be informed (hold the information) that p without actually knowing that p. Not only because holding the information that p does not have to be a reflective state (although it is not necessarily the case that IapIIap, one may also object that KapKKap is notoriously controversial as well) but also because, even when it is, it might still arguably be opaque and certainly aleatoric (epistemic luck), whereas knowledge cannot.

Consider opaqueness first. It is open to reasonable debate whether a messenger carrying (in her memory, in her hand on in a pocket, it does not matter) an encrypted message p that she does not understand–even if she is informed that she carries p–may be said to hold the information that p. On the one hand, one may argue that she is not genuinely informed that p. On the other hand, one may retort that, if she can deliver the information that p (and we are assuming that she can) then she can legitimately be said to be informed that p or hold that information. The interesting point here is not to solve the dispute, but to note that the dispute itself is reasonable, whereas, if the same messenger knows that p, there can be no doubt that she must also understand the information carried by p. It might be open to debate whether holding the information that p is necessarily a non-opaque state, but such a dispute would be pointless in the case of knowing that p.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Reset