Communication Philosophy of Communication
François Cooren, Nicolas Bencherki
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0123


Writing a bibliographical article on the topic of the philosophy of communication is not an easy task. The works that have been written under that umbrella range from critical assessments of media to discussions of public debate. “Philosophy of communication” combines two ambiguous disciplines, philosophy and communication. Communication is commonly said to be at the “crossroads” of many disciplines. Marshall McLuhan is taken for granted by many communication scholars, but he was a professor of English literature. What should one—or a theory—be or do to be said to fall within the “communication” umbrella? Tackling philosophy is not any easier. Many sociologists, anthropologists, semioticians, and linguists, as well as communication theorists, have been philosophers at some point in their career. For example, Ferdinand de Saussure’s contribution to semiotics is no lesser than C. S. Peirce’s, and yet the latter is called a philosopher while the first is a linguist. Should we, in this entry on the “philosophy of communication” include Peirce and leave aside Saussure? With so many ambiguities regarding communication and philosophy separately, how can one decide, then, what philosophy of communication (together) should be? When reading communication studies articles, philosophical references range from Aristotle and Arendt to Kierkegaard or Levinas, along with some more “obviously” communication or language thinkers such as Habermas or Wittgenstein. There is therefore an important element of decision on our part in assessing the contributions of some authors to the study of communication and in deciding whether it is “philosophical” in nature. We chose to look at where communication studies literature has drawn the line between what constitutes philosophy or not. Furthermore, there are few journals devoted to philosophy of communication proper, perhaps with the exception of Empedocles: European Journal for the Philosophy of Communication (published by Intellect Books) and the International Communication Association’s Communication, Culture & Critique. This scarcity makes it harder to identify a well-established set of interests, theories, and methods. That is why this article is divided mainly according to the types of works discussed, rather than attempting to find coherence where there is in fact little. The Classical and Major Texts section, for its part, is further subdivided according to the general theoretical families of authors. Gratitude is extended to Joëlle Basque, Mathieu Chaput, and Alexandre Laurin for their assistance and contributions.

Textbooks and Encyclopedias

Philosophy of communication is fragmented among different streams, some focusing on language, others on communication proper, and yet some others on a relatively new effort to formalize a “philosophy of information.” Regarding this last trend, Adriaans and van Benthem 2008 acknowledges, much like Floridi 2004, that philosophy of information is still a nascent discipline and that, therefore, the essays collected aim not so much at describing an established field as to establish it performatively, especially by distinguishing it from its immediate neighbors, such as philosophy of language. Arneson 2007, for its part, is a good representation of the work being currently done in philosophy of communication as such. The word “concise” in the title of the encyclopedia Barber and Stainton 2010 is misleading: its 836 pages cover everything one needs to know in the philosophy of linguistics, from “A Priori Knowledge” (G. Lavers) to “Verificationism” (M. Beaney), and includes entries as varied as “Description and Prescription” (G. Nelson), “Presupposition” (P. A. M. Seuren), and “Systematicity” (P. Robbins). Giving a broader perspective, Chang and Butchart 2012 answers an important demand in teaching philosophy of communication: the editors put together some of the most important foundational texts of the field in a single book. As the editors remark in their introduction, some people may feel that the volume’s title, Philosophy of Communication, projects a coherence in what is in fact a collection of unrelated texts—how would, for example, Deleuze feel to be included in a communication anthology? As discussed in the Introduction, choosing what constitutes communication, philosophy, and a fortiori is no easy task. The genius of Chang and Butchart lies in having made the exercise explicit, and the very selection of texts reflects the variety of takes at the issue. Mangion 2011 also offers a compelling review of the major authors of philosophy of communication, and each author’s core concepts are explicated within his or her thought (for example, Peirce’s existential graphs are well situated within his logic and semiotics).

  • Adriaans, Pieter, and Johan van Benthem. 2008. Philosophy of information. Handbook of the Philosophy of Science 8. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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    This book’s individual chapters address a range of issues, from the application to specific fields of study (human interaction, artificial intelligence, cognitive science) to the investigation of concepts and theories revolving around the notion of information (belief, truth, Ockam’s razor or game theory). As should be expected from a burgeoning discipline still looking for its own voice, chapters are written from the perspectives of a variety of other disciplines, and this may explain the great variety in writing style.

  • Arneson, Pat, ed. 2007. Perspectives on philosophy of communication. Philosophy/Communication. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue Univ. Press.

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    This is a very interesting collection of chapters, contributed by some renowned authors of early-21st-century philosophy of communication such as Michael J. Hyde, Ronald C. Arnett, and G. Thomas Goodnight. Sections are devoted to Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hannah Arendt, Jürgen Habermas, Emmanuel Levinas, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, each including a “biographical sketch,” a contributed essay discussing one aspect of the author’s theory, sometimes contrasting it with others, and a bibliography suggesting original texts by the author. Each section thus constitutes an interesting picture of the work and life of an author.

  • Barber, Alex, and Robert J. Stainton, eds. 2010. Concise encyclopedia of philosophy of language and linguistics. Oxford: Elsevier.

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    The entries, each consisting of several pages, comprise more than definitions and references to further readings: many present the thought of some relevant authors and, in doing so, present a specific reading of those authors. This allows stimulating discussions, but also means that entries somewhat vary in style and range from very technical writing to funny, engaging conversation. However, the volume is, overall, an excellent starting point for readers looking for a quick reference on any of the many concepts and notions it covers.

  • Chang, Briankle G., and Garnet C. Butchart, eds. 2012. Philosophy of communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    The volume’s reunion of such classics as Plato’s Phaedrus, and Derrida’s Différance, along with texts by Alfred Schutz, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Lacan, and Giorgio Agamben will make it an interesting acquisition for teachers looking for a single source for classic texts. The introduction, written by the editors, constitutes in itself an interesting reflection on philosophy of communication as a field.

  • Cook, Melissa A., and Annette M. Holba, eds. 2008. Philosophies of communication: Implications for everyday experience. New York: Peter Lang.

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    In this collection of texts, chapter authors provide examples of how philosophy may enrich the communicative study of a variety of issues. These “case studies” illustrate the contribution of Buber, Gadamer, or Schrag, among others, in understanding a diversity of topics. For example, Fadoua Loudiy’s discussion of public memory is tackled from the perspective of Ricœur’s notion of narrative identity. Ricœur’s theory is presented along with a clear exposition of its relevance to the study of Moroccan stories of suffering and their blurring of the line between victim and agent.

  • Floridi, Luciano, ed. 2004. The Blackwell guide to the philosophy of computing and information. Blackwell Philosophy Guides. Oxford: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470757017E-mail Citation »

    While G. Aldo Antonelli’s discussion on logic (chapter 20) or Donald Gillies’s application of probability to artificial intelligence may be said to pertain more closely to computer science than to communication studies (this division is of course debatable), other chapters are obviously relevant to scholars of our field. It is the case, for example, of Thierry Bardini’s review of the many attempts to define hypertext, which he relates to the construction of the personal computer user and to conceptions of time and space (chapter 19). Some chapters, such as that of Patrick Grim (chapter 26), build bridges between philosophy, computing, and communication. Grim offers a convincing argument of the possible usefulness of computer modeling for tackling philosophical questions and thus offers a creative methodological contribution to all scholars engaged in philosophical investigation.

  • Mangion, Claude. 2011. Philosophical approaches to communication. Bristol, UK: Intellect.

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    The contributions of the likes of Saussure, Peirce, Foucault, Eco, Derrida, or Gadamer (and six others) are each approached from a specific problem and are situated in early-21st-century debates in the field of communication studies. The volume, however, only addresses perspectives inside the language and semiotic family: while the choices are undeniably relevant, some may regret that Mangion does not embrace a broader understanding of communication.

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