Precis and Abstract for Research Subproject: Natural Information Types

This theory is presented in full in my forthcoming book, and there are two associated papers in preparation and forthcoming.

Natural Information Types: A Way to Reconcile Pluralism and Unification About the Nature of Information

Even given the strong influence of classical statistical conceptions of information grounded in mathematical communication theory,  there has been wide disagreement in both science and philosophy about the nature, and even the existence, of information in nature and natural phenomena. This disagreement has given rise to an unavoidable pluralism about the nature of information. Pluralism about the nature of information is the current gold standard approach to the metaphysics of information in the philosophy of information. The overarching idea is that information exists on a different basis at various levels of abstraction (the computer science approximation of levels of explanation) across different domains of scientific and general application.

This pluralism also has a basis in the problem of the perceived lack of an account of semantic information content by classical probabilistic (entropy based) and algorithmic (complexity based) conceptions of information. It’s still further induced by the proliferation of pluralist logical treatments of information since the inception of what has been called the informational turn in logic (generally accepted to have been initiated by Jaakko Hintikka’s call to explain deductive inference in terms of information flow.) Logicism about information (just one approach to the nature of information) says that information reduces to, or exists somehow as, logic. Thus different logics taken as a basis for information also give different answers to the question of the nature of information. Interestingly, many theorists who are professed pluralists about the nature of information also attempt to devise unificatory conceptions, or what Luciano Floridi has called 'ur-concepts', of information. This is driven by the intuition, somewhat counter to pluralism, that scientists, philosophers, and folk all share that information is something that exists somehow in the world as what Fred Dretske called an objective commodity. Scientists frequently refer to information in these terms. Reconciling pluralism about the nature of information with unificatory conceptions of natural information obviously presents significant problems in terms of theoretic, logical, and conceptual coherence and consistency. In my forthcoming book, I present a theory of natural information types that provides a promising solution to this conundrum. This researh project is designed to further this aim, and forthcoming articles compactly outline the theory's premises and rationale.

Selection of Readings

Adami, C. (2016). What is information? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences.

Barbieri, M. (2016). What is information? In Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences.

Beall, J. C., & Restall, G. (2000). Logical pluralism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

Bueno, O. (2010). Structuralism and information. Metaphilosophy.

Bueno, O., & Shalkowski, S. A. (2009). Modalism and logical pluralism. In Mind.

D’Agostino, M. (2013). Semantic information and the trivialization of logic: Floridi on the scandal of deduction. Information (Switzerland).

Harms, W. F. (2006). What Is Information? Three Concepts. Biological Theory.

Hintikka, J. (1970a). Information, Deduction, and the A Priori. Noûs.

Hintikka, J. (1970b). On Semantic Information. In Physics, Logic, and History.


Hintikka, J., & Hintikka, J. (1999). The Varieties of Information and Scientific Explanation. In Inquiry as Inquiry: A Logic of Scientific Discovery.

Hintikka, J., & Hintikka, J. (2009). Who Has Kidnapped the Notion of Information? In Socratic Epistemology.

Janich, P., Hayot, E., & Pao, L. (2018). What is information? In What is Information?

Konorski, J., & Szpankowski, W. (2008). What is information? 2008 IEEE Information Theory Workshop, ITW.

Piccinini, G., & Scarantino, A. (2011). Information processing, computation, and cognition. In Journal of Biological Physics.

Rowley, J. (1998). What is information? Information Services & Use, 18(4), 243.

Sagueillo, J. M. (2014). Hintikka on Information and Deduction. TEOREMA.

Scarantino, A., & Piccinini, G. (2010). Information Without Truth. Metaphilosophy, 41(3), 313–330.

Sequoiah-Grayson, S. (2008). The scandal of deduction : Hintikka on the information yield of deductive inferences. Journal of Philosophical Logic.

Stegmann, U. (2015). Prospects for Probabilistic Theories of Natural Information. Erkenntnis, 80(4), 869–893.

Timpson, C. G. (2013). What is Information? Oxford University Press.

van Benthem, J. (2008). Logical dynamics meets logical pluralism? The Australasian Journal of Logic, 6(6), 182.