Jaakko Hintikka and Information in Philosophy

Though not something that I deliberately worked towards, I realise that much of the work I have done or am doing is in areas either initiated or influenced by Jaakko Hintikka.

  • My honours thesis looked at game-theoretical semantics and independence-friendly logic, which Hintikka is the main architect of.
  • I also work with epistemic logic quite a bit, of which Hintikka’s Knowledge and Belief: An Introduction to the Logic of the Two Notions is a seminal text.
  • I am currently using Hintikka’s approach to analysing questions as requests for information in terms of epistemic modal logic for some research on informational relevance.
  • The approaches to truthlikeness that I am using for information quantification make use of Hintikka’s distributive normal forms.
  • The work by Bar-Hillel/Carnap on quantifying semantic information was extended by Hintikka.

I came to work on the Philosophy of Information via the work of Luciano Floridi, who officially initiated the field and coined the name relatively recently. It was not long after my preliminary investigation into the literature that I came to be aware of Hintikka’s work on information and its use in the field. Two of his works that I have recently looked at really do emphasise his relatively early investigation of information and the importance he attaches to placing it within philosophy.

Firstly, his paper ‘Some Varieties of Information’ sums up some of his work on measures of semantic information. Secondly, and more importantly, are some of the chapters and passages in his book Socratic Epistemology; Explorations of Knowledge-Seeking by Questioning. Take this exemplary passage from the chapter ‘Who Has Kidnapped the Notion of Information?’:

In this day and age, the notion of information should be everybody’s concern. Ours is supposed to be the information age, and we all share, in different degrees, the problem of coping with a deluge of information flooding over us. … Hence it is important for each of us to master this concept intellectually and to have ways of gaining an overview over the different kinds of information we receive.

To exaggerate but a little, almost everybody has in fact gotten into the act of discussing what they call “information”, except for philosophers. [“Information” is invoked across a range of disciplines]. It is far from clear, however, what (if anything) is meant by these different “informations” and whether they are the same notion – or whether they are related to each other at all. These questions seem to mark a most urgent challenge to philosophical analysis.

In conclusion, three points concerning Hintikka’s work on information:

  • His treatment of information as a fundamental concept in philosophy. Including his position that information, rather than knowledge or belief should be the fundamental concept of epistemology.
  • His account of the information content of logical truths and the surface information / depth information distinction
  • His elaboration of Bar-Hillel/Carnap’s account of semantic information

Here is a bibliography of some of this work:

  • The chapters ‘On Semantic Information’ and ‘Surface Information and Depth Information’ in Information and Inference
  • The chapter ‘Information, Deduction, and the a priori’ in Logic, Language Games and Information
  • The chapters ‘Epistemology without Knowledge and without Belief’ and ‘Who Has Kidnapped the Notion of Information?’ in Socratic Epistemology: Explorations of Knowledge-Seeking by Questioning

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