Chris Meyns

Publication: London, Routledge, June 2021 ↗

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Summary: 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.

Keywords: information, history, philosophy, history of science

Information and the History of Philosophy

Information and the History of Philosophy

Information is everywhere around us: from tree rings, to shopping lists and quantified selves. But what exactly is information? How is it acquired, processed, or controlled? How does it shape human lives and societies? This volume offers original studies into the philosophical history of thinking about information, addressing questions regarding its metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and socio-politics. As such, the collection provides the first sustained investigation of the notion of information in the history of philosophy.


  • 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: Meaningful speech 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