1st Edition

Information and the History of Philosophy

Edited By Chris Meyns Copyright 2021
    392 Pages 32 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    392 Pages 32 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In recent years the philosophy of information has emerged as an important area of research in philosophy. However, until now information’s philosophical history has been largely overlooked.

    Information and the History of Philosophy is the first comprehensive investigation of the history of philosophical questions around information, including work from before the Common Era to the twenty-first century. It covers scientific and technology-centred notions of information, views of human information processing, as well as socio-political topics such as the control and use of information in societies.

    Organised into five parts, 19 chapters by an international team of contributors cover the following topics and more:

    • Information before 500 CE, including ancient Chinese, Greek and Roman approaches to information;
    • Early theories of information processing, sources of information and cognition;
    • Information and computation in Leibniz, visualised scientific information, copyright and social reform;
    • The nineteenth century, including biological information, knowledge economies and information’s role in empire and eugenics;
    • Recent and contemporary philosophy of information, including racialised information, Shannon information and the very idea of an information revolution.

    Information and the History of Philosophy is a landmark publication in this emerging field. As such, it is essential reading for students and researchers in the history of philosophy, philosophy of science and technology, and library and information studies. It is also a valuable resource for those working in subjects such as the history of science, media and communication studies and intellectual history.

    Introduction Chris Meyns

    Part 1: Information before 500 CE: Natures

    1. Yinyang information: Order, know-how and a relation based paradigm Robin R. Wang

    2. Plato on the act of informing: Speaking meaningfully and education Tamsin de Waal

    3. On information in Aristotle: Nature, perception, knowledge Miira Tuominen

    4. Information and history of psychiatry: The case of the disease phrenitis Chiara Thumiger

    Part 2: Information 500–1500: Access

    5. Vācaspati on aboutness and decomposition Nilanjan Das

    6. Seeing and recognition in the Arabian Nights and Islamic Alexander legends Anna Ayse Akasoy

    7. Avicenna on information processing and abstraction Luis Xavier López-Farjeat

    8. Thomas Aquinas on cognition as information Cecilia Trifogli

    Part 3: Information 1500–1800: Control

    9. Leibniz as a precursor to Chaitin’s Algorithmic Information Theory Richard T. W. Arthur

    10. Information visualisation in the Philosophical Transactions Chris Meyns

    11. ‘Dwindled into Confusion and Nonsense’: Information in a copyright perspective from the Statute of Anne to Google Books Stina Teilmann-Lock

    12. Information in the pursuit of social reform Lynn McDonald

    Part 4: Information in the nineteenth century: (Dangerous) systems

    13. The nineteenth-century information revolution and world peace Edward Beasley

    14. Charles Babbage’s economy of knowledge Renee Prendergast

    15. Mendel on developmental information Yafeng Shan

    16. Information and eugenics: Francis Galton Debbie Challis and Subhadra Das

    Part 5: Information after 1900: Insurgencies

    17. The racialization of information: W.E.B. Du Bois, early intersectionality, and social information Reiland Rabaka

    18. The many faces of Shannon information Olimpia Lombardi and Cristian López

    19. Computers and system(s) science—the kingpins of modern technology: Lotfi Zadeh’s glimpses into the future of the information revolution Rudolf Seising.



    Chris Meyns is a poet, developer and architectural conservationist based in Uppsala, Sweden. They have published on the history of data, on Anton Wilhelm Amo’s philosophy of mind, and their book The Philosophers’ Library: Books that Shaped the World (with Adam Ferner) will appear in 2021. Their current research focuses on vulnerability in information sharing ecosystems.

    "This book provides a rich and timely philosophical reflection on how thinkers from antiquity onwards have grappled with the nature of information, in its various forms, and with its socio-political consequences. In the midst of an information revolution, where new technology is transforming society in ways we have yet to grasp, it is urgent that we study the epistemic and ethical consequences of how information is stored and spread. This volume is the place to start." Åsa Wikforss, Stockholm University and The Swedish Academy