Philosophy of Communication: What Does It Have to Do with Philosophy of Social Sciences

By Robillard, Jean | Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Philosophy of Communication: What Does It Have to Do with Philosophy of Social Sciences


Robillard, Jean, Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy


ABSTRACT: As concepts, communication and information are very closely related, but they also designate more than their usual conceptual meaning when they are called upon in social theories as well as in philosophical theories about the reality and the truth of social life; information and communication are then designating physical events or event like objects of the observable reality, which will be hereafter described as a procedural ontologization of information. Why do they have this role and how do they play it in contemporary social sciences and philosophy of social sciences? This article questions the scientificity of these concepts in these theoretical contexts. It wants to propose a framework for an epistemology of communication and information that is critical about the cybernetician paradigm in the social sciences. It presents this paradigm's main features: informational ontology and probabilistic sociality. It offers a critique of this paradigm's epistemological and methodological pretensions. It finally exposes the basis of an alternative philosophical theory of communication that wants to support the thesis that the cybernetician paradigmatic communication theory is not scientifically productive; and that it cannot be used in social scientific theoretical contexts without being dramatically redesigned and reoriented towards new goals.

KEYWORDS: Epistemology; Communication; Information; Social Science; Ontology

INTRODUCTION

Is "communication" a sufficiently well defined concept that it can undoubtedly be an object of philosophical investigation? To be sure, the word has been in usage for quite a while now, but not so much in philosophy (1) where it has been used mostly to designate a commonly accepted known fact of social life, following which human beings communicate amongst themselves, like other primates as well as other mammals for that matter, but they do so with more precise devices such as human languages and technologies of different sorts--which characterize Homo communicans. This way of seeing communicational observable facts in human societies has a lot to do with a well known anthropological posture inherited from social scientists of the mid 1950s of which many were active members of what since has been called the "Cybernetics Group". (2) This posture has gradually been shaped as a Kuhnian paradigm by social scientists as well as by philosophers. Hence, it is never surprising to read that communication theory can serve as a set of postulates in cultural surveys, nor is it less unusual to hear about many social action types in terms of the information they supposedly embrace. As concepts, communication and information are very closely related, but they also designate more than their usual conceptual meaning when they are called upon in social theories as well as in philosophical theories about the reality and the truth of social life; information and communication are then designating physical events or event like objects of the observable reality.

Why are these concepts playing such a role? Why is it that criticizing their paradigmatic usages and the epistemological trends to which they belong, always or almost all the time sounds odd? What makes this cybernetician paradigm so strong?

This article is about possible answers to these questions. It is aimed at proposing a framework for an epistemology of communication and information that is critical about the cybernetician paradigm in the social sciences. I will first present this paradigm's main features. Secondly, I will criticize its epistemological and methodological pretensions. Thirdly, I will conclude by exposing the basis of an alternative philosophical theory of communication that will, I hope, correctly support my thesis that that paradigmatic communication theory is not scientifically productive; nor is it true that it can be used in social scientific theoretical contexts without being dramatically redesigned and reoriented towards new goals. …

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