Platonic information technology - Reading Plato: cultural influences
and philosophical reflection on information and technology

Kristo Ivanov
Umeå University, Department of Informatics

SE-901 87 UMEÅ (Sweden)
Pre-publication version of "Platonic information technology. Reading Plato: Cultural influences and philosophical reflection on information and technology"; Proc. of ISTAS 2000, IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Symposium on Technology and Society, 6-8 September 2000, Rome

Abstract-The essence of technology has been well studied, but its newer forms of bio-technology and information technology (IT) are far less discussed. Plato and Aristotle as representatives of our heritage from the Greek thought are proposed as an alternative to the confusing plurality of later philosophical schools for understanding these new forms. This paper is based on an reading of Plato's collected works in view of their relevance for understanding information as knowledge, and for the design of social systems. A couple of selected and edited excerpts out of these works are analyzed and commented in order to show their relevance for current issues of information technology, including its definition, evaluation, and relation to the problems of stability and change. Finally, the criticism of Plato found in a postmodern or "amodern-nonmodern" approach to science studies is briefly considered in order to confirm the continuing relevance of Plato's thought.


The understanding of information technology (IT) and its spread starting from the industrial and post-industrial Western world requires an understanding of both "information" and "technology". Technology in its various historical mechanical, electrical, and nuclear physical forms has been well studied. It is far less known in its newer forms of bio-technology and information technology. Information has been studied in its various contexts of information systems, information management, artificial intelligence, and such. It has not, however, been studied in its essence which would determine also the peculiar character of information technology in its differentiation from other earlier known forms of technology. Philosophy is needed also in order to make sense of the proliferation of opinions about IT resulting from IT-theories, models, methods, conceptual frameworks, and other loosely used terms in what appears to be a relativistic pluralism which also may be a symptom of crisis of disparate Western philosophical currents. Plato and Aristotle together with the Judaeo-Christian thought, may be used as a more unified source of inspiration. The two sections of this paper that follow this introduction consist of two samples out of an ongoing study which starts from an integral reading of Plato's collected works [1] and present slightly edited excerpts out of these works. They are completed with an analysis in the form of comments which show the relevance of the texts for the definition and evaluation of information as it is found in information technology, and its relation to the problems of stability and change. In the subsequent section the criticism of Plato in a recent study of science is briefly considered in order to confirm the continuing relevance of Plato's thought.


Plato writes (ed. from Crat. 388a-391a, 432a-433b, 439a-d)

The name of a thing is an instrument. When we name we give information to one another and distinguish things according to their nature. Then a name is an instrument of teaching and of distinguishing natures, as the shuttle is of distinguishing the threads of a web. The weaver is the one who uses the shuttle well. When the weaver uses the shuttle he will be using well the work of the skilled carpenter. In an analogue way the teacher who uses the name will use the work of the maker of names, that is the legislator. When the carpenter makes shuttles he will look to that which is naturally fitted to act as a shuttle. And whatever shuttles are wanted, for the manufacture of garments, thin or thick, of flaxen, woollen or other material, all of them ought to have the true form of the shuttle, whatever is the shuttle best adapted to each kind of work, that ought to be the form that the maker produces in each case. And the same holds of other instruments. When a man has discovered the instrument which is naturally adapted to each work, he must express this natural form, and not others which fancies, in the material, whatever it may be, which he employs. The one who is to determine whether the proper form is given to the shuttle, whatever sort of wood may be used, is not the carpenter who makes, but the weaver who is to use it. In an analogue way he who will be best to direct the legislator in his work will be the user, and this is he who knows how to ask questions, that is a dialectician. The work of the legislator is to give names, and the dialectician must be his director if the names are to be rightly given. Things have names by nature, and not every man is an artificer of names, but he only who looks to the name that each thing by nature has, and is able to express the true forms of things in letters and syllables, that is the natural fitness of names.
What is true about numbers, which must be just what they are, or not be at all, does not apply to that which is qualitative or to anything which is represented under an image. We must find some other principle of truth in images, and also in names, and not insist that an image is no longer an image [depiction, description] when something is added or subtracted. Images are very far from having qualities which are the exact counterpart of the realities which they represent. The effect of names on things would be ridiculous if they were exactly the same with them. For they would be the doubles of them, and no one would be able to determine which were the names and which the realities. Have the courage to admit that one name may be correctly and another incorrectly given, and acknowledge that the thing may be named, and described, so long as the general character of the thing which you are describing is retained. We must find some new notion of correctness of names or representations of things.
The nobler and clearer way to learn things is not to learn of the images, but to learn of the truth. How real existence is to be studied or discovered is, we suspect, beyond us, but we admit so much, that the knowledge of things is not to be derived from names. They must be investigated in themselves. Let us not be imposed upon by the appearance of a multitude of names given under the mistaken opinion of the idea that all things are in motion and flux. Having fallen into a kind of whirlpool themselves, the givers of names are carried round and want to drag us in after them. Then let us seek the true beauty, not asking whether a face is fair, or anything of that sort, for all such things appear to be in flux, but let us ask whether the true beauty is not always beautiful.

Analytical comments of Plato's text

Information technology seen as an instrument is closer to the instrumentality of names, of giving information, rather than the instrumentality of conventional technology as expressed in, say, the shuttle for the weaver. The maker of names is the legislator but the user who must direct his work is the dialectician who knows how to ask questions. In the IT-field the maker or "carpenter" of names is the designer who knows the relation between form and material and knows how to express the form in the material, but the determiner of the natural form adapted to the particular work will be the educated dialectical philosopher-user who knows how to ask questions. The blurring of information with other techniques and of the different roles under the name of designer, combined with a distrust if not outright rejection of philosophy in design amounts to a turning of systems philosopher into either uneducated users who do not know how to ask questions socially, relying rather on their own unchallenged intuition, or into maker technicians who assume that the forms have been rightly determined. The integration of dialectics in the design of information systems was shown in dialectical inquiring systems [2, chap. 7-8], but its disregard in the more recent trend of IT-research indicates a regress into the subjectivist thinking of variants of empiricism and romanticism [2, chap. 5, 7, 3]
The discussion that follows, concerning the nature of representations, textual or visual, recalls the question of names or words, and images. The apparent rigor of mathematical or "depictive" representations is rejected in favor of textual and qualitative representations which, in any case, are necessary but are not to be confused with the truth of the thing. The requirement that we must find some new notion of correctness of names or representations of things seems to be a prelude to our newly discovered aesthetic dimension in, for instance, virtual reality. The difference, of course, is that the importance of this sort of representation does not obfuscate the severe requirement of distinguishing between virtual and real, or, we could say with Singer, between ideal and real [2, chap. 9], in the name of multiple perspectives which claim to substitute the Kantian "thing in itself". The final appeal to investigate the things in themselves seems to be a welcomed humble recognition of the problematic "reality" and of the need for some sort of phenomenology. The humility of the expectation, contrary to contemporary brands of phenomenology or so called nonmodernism is, however, expressed in the statement that "how real existence is to be studied or discovered is, we suspect, beyond us", without renouncing to the concept of truth.
The text above goes further in remarking that too many of our present-day philosophers in their search after the nature of things, get dizzy from constantly going round and round, imagining that the world is going round and round and moving in all directions, and that this appearance, which arises out of their own internal condition, they suppose to be a reality of nature. "Having fallen into a kind of whirlpool themselves, the givers of names are carried round and want to drag us in after them": this would be an apt description of the paradox of our postmodern-nonmodern trends towards pluralist politics, flexibility and change in the development and use of IT, where IT has often proved to be inimical to necessary change and, yet, is hoped to enable us to cope with change.


Plato writes (ed. from Epis. VII 342a-344c)

For everything that exists there are three classes of objects through which knowledge about it must come; the knowledge itself is a fourth, and we must put as a fifth entity the actual object of knowledge which is true reality. We have then, (1) a name, (2) a description composed of nouns and verbal expressions like in a definition, (3) an image, and (4) a knowledge and understanding and correct opinion of the object. There is something for instance called a circle, the name of which is the very word I just now uttered. In the second place there is a description of it which is composed of nouns and verbal expressions. For example the description of that which is named round and circumference and circle would run as follows: the thing which has everywhere equal distances between its extremities and its center. In the third place there is a class of object which is drawn and erased and turned on the lathe and destroyed - processes which do not affect the real circle to which all these other circles are all related, because it is different from them. In the fourth place there are knowledge and understanding and correct opinion concerning them, all of which we must set down as one thing more that is found not in sounds nor in shapes of bodies, but in minds, whereby it evidently differs in its nature from the real circle and the aforementioned three. Of all these four, understanding approaches nearest in affinity and likeness to the fifth entity, while the others are more remote from it.
The same doctrine holds good in regard to shapes and surfaces, in regard to the good and the beautiful and the just, in regard to all bodies artificial and natural, in regard to every animal and in regard to every quality of character, and in respect to all states active and passive. For if in the case of any of these a man does not somehow or other get hold of the first four, he will never gain a complete understanding of the fifth. Furthermore these four [names, descriptions, bodily forms, and concepts] do as much to illustrate the particular quality of any object as they do to illustrate its essential reality because of the inadequacy of language. Hence no intelligent man will ever be so bold as to put into language those things which his reason has contemplated, especially not into a form that is unalterable. The important thing is that there are two things, the essential reality and the particular quality, and when the mind is in the quest not of the particular but of the essential, each of the four confronts the mind with the unsought particular, whether in verbal or in bodily form. Each of the four makes the reality that is expressed in words, or illustrated in objects liable to easy refutation by the evidence of the senses. The result of this is to make practically every man a prey to complete perplexity and uncertainty.
Now in cases where as a result of bad training we are not even accustomed to look for the real essence of anything but are satisfied to accept what confronts us in the phenomenal presentations, we are not rendered by each other–the examined by the examiners who have the ability to handle the four with dexterity and to subject them to examinations. In those cases, however, where we demand answers and proofs in regard to the fifth entity, anyone who pleases among those who have the skill of confutation gains the victory and makes most of the audience think that the man who was first to speak of write or answer has no acquaintance with the matters of which he attempts to write or speak. Sometimes they are unaware that it is not the mind of the writer or speaker that fails in the test, but rather the character of the four–since that is naturally defective. Natural intelligence and a good memory are equally powerless to aid the man who has not an inborn affinity with the subject. The study of virtue and vice must be accompanied by an inquiry into what is false and true of existence in general and must be carried on by constant practice throughout a long period. Hardly after practicing detailed comparisons of names and definitions and visual and other sense perceptions, after scrutinizing them in benevolent disputation by the use of question and answer without jealousy, at last in a flash understanding blazes up, and the mind, as it exerts all its powers to the limit of human capacity, is flooded with light. For this reason no serious man will ever think of writing about serious realities for the general public so as to make them a prey to envy and perplexity.

Analytical comments of Plato's text

So much for the "essence" of information. Until the advent of the latest forms of IT as multimedia and virtual reality, the class # 3, "image" aspect of information was not duly considered and taken into account. Chinese Confucian philosophy as represented by the I Ching or Book of Changes [4] was similar to Plato's conception in this respect. When Plato in the text above writes about "at last in a flash understanding blazes up, and the mind, as it exerts all its powers to the limit of human capacity, is flooded with light" there is a clear parallel to the importance given by the I Ching to the element of chance and its practical results. Its method, however is not for the frivolous-minded and immature as little as it is for intellectualists and rationalists because of the dangers of limitless and uncritical speculation, floating in the thin air of unproven possibilities. The method is built upon a specific concept of information based to begin with on a broken and unbroken line, akin to the "yes" and "no" of computer science's Boolean logic or binary arithmetic system. The possible combinations of these two lines in groups of three lines form then eight trigrams which were conceived as images of all that happens in heaven and on earth. The eight images came to have manifold meanings. They represented certain processes in nature and they also represented social reality in terms of family relationships in a family consisting of father, mother, three sons and three daughters which were not to be seen as objective entities but, rather, as functions. For example, a symbol of three unbroken lines could have the (1) name of "The Creative", the (2) attribute of "Strong", the (3) image of "Heaven", and the (4) family relationship of "Father". In order to achieve still greater multiplicity, these eight images were combined with one another whereby a total of sixty-four signs were obtained, each one consisting of six lines. They represented life's basic possible situations changing into one another. In addition of giving the laws of change and the images of the states of change, they gave consideration to the particular appropriate course of action, lifting the I Ching above the level of ordinary book of soothsaying and fortune telling that lacks moral significance.
It is easy to see a certain parallelism between the Platonic and Confucian concept of information, where Platonic knowledge and understanding corresponds to the laws of change and possible courses of action, with due consideration for the particularity of the situation when eventually "in a flash understanding blazes up". The political dimension is present in Plato's "comparisons of names and definitions and visual and other sense perceptions, after scrutinizing them in benevolent disputation by the use of question and answer without jealousy" and in I Ching's intuited changes between situations along the social dimensions of family relationships. Our hypothesis is that present atheoretical expectations of advantages of IT imaging and communications are often a postmodern misunderstanding of later Kantian account of "aesthetics" as related to science in his Third Critique, of Judgment.
Research question can also be pursued with regard to the class # 4 which for Plato was probably related to the theorems of geometry. The system of theorems of geometry, in terms of present theories of information systems is proposed to correspond to the formal structure of the software or to the architecture of "Leibnizian" contingent truths knit by relations of implications in fact-nets [2, chap. 2]. And finally, there is the question of the place of items #1, and #2 above in today's theorizing in IT. There is a tendency in later "postmodern" academic work to play down with the help of ad-hoc buzzwords the need for definitions in science and research. This requires from us a re-evaluation of the need to know "essence" that tends to be considered to be an unpractical philosophical question but it does this square with the needs of a public scientific debate, or for standardization of terms as in databases and electronic data interchange, or for standards and protocols in IT theory and practice.


It is legitimate to question the possible fruitfulness of paying attention to old Greek philosophy when addressing issues of modern information technology. A dissatisfaction for not being able to make sense, and even less to plan or foresee the development and impact of information technology as related to the needs of product development, business strategy and society has led some researchers to reject the main intellectual heritage of the West, based on Greek philosophy and Christian thought.
The Greek heritage in the theory and practice of Western science and society, however, has apparently been judged to be so powerful that an author in the field of so called science studies (hereafter referred to as "the author") dedicates a chapter of a recent book [5] to explain away Plato's and the post-Socratic philosophy in favour of a supposedly better "nonmodernism". Plato's philosophy and two thousand years of subsequent Western thought influenced by it are denounced there as polluting the current Western conception of scientific method and truth. This section of the paper, without endorsing modernism, will explore where such a rejection can lead.
The book advocates a notion of information that is said to be based on a so called model of political translation, that is, affected by subtle and multiple transformations along its way. This notion is opposed there to the idea of a diffusionist transportation model of information, that is, information that will travel slavishly unadulterated, without discussion or deformation. The author's "information theory", however, will appear trivial to those who happen to have followed the scientific and philosophical discussion of the nature of information as related to computer science several decades ago when the concept of information was related to the history of Western philosophy, politics, and ethics, including Greek and Christian thought [2]. In that early work the two latecomers, simplified "ideal types" of information such as transportation and translation are superseded by the much more refined five types namely fact nets (roughly: Leibnizian logic programming), consensus (Lockean data base empiricism), representation (Kantian data types), conflict (Hegelian dialectical transformation and translation), and progress (Pragmatist political and social translation). Let's explore the philosophical background, or the lack of it, which leads the author to his trivial observations about the essence of information.
We resume our reading and see what happens when the author reads Plato's Gorgias neglecting all delicate issues of literary interpretation of such a type of text, well known to careful scholars [6]. Our critic of Plato seems to identify himself in a Rousseau-like sentimental way with the oppressed masses of a monolithic, mythical and silent "people" he finds in the dialogue. Like a self-appointed commissar he accuses Plato's Socrates of ruthless truth-elitism since the superior philosopher-king together with the ruthless elitist dictator-type Callicles, one in the name of power of reason and truth and the other in the name of power by superior birth, want to oppress the unruly inimical mob, the despised crowd composed of slaves, women, children, animals, and all kinds of inferior stupid common people who are denied democratic rights and are to be disciplined. Leading politicians and financiers of research grants are later opportunely included among the people since they are said to be despised by the arrogant professors in the academy of reason (on which, however, the author happens to build his authority). It becomes obvious that this rhetorical operation fosters both the inattentive readers' (and influential politicians') sympathy for the author as a defendant of the dignity of people, and of politically correct democracy. At the same time Socrates is repeatedly accused of discouraging democratic discussion (despite of the two thousand years of discussions raised by Plato's dialogues, including those in the author's book). The author then proposes that instead of Plato's dramatic opposition between force and (the force of) reason in his dialogue, we should include also the force of the people, the "ten thousand average citizens", in a trilogue. And, obviously, both the author and the inattentive reader will find themselves on the side of the people, a fact which by itself should raise the suspicion of a critical reader who happens to be aware of the kind of psychosocial group phenomena, already denounced by Carl Jung, that the author apparently ignores and seems to be a victim of [7, 8].
What happens next is that the political process involving the people which would be the author's contribution is never really addressed except in verbose terms which are never explained. They remind us of the current IT-dreams of a sort of chaotic but supposedly self-regulating, diffused, and distributed intelligence building up the Internet democracy, combined with corridor politics. The author likes to refer repeatedly to "subtle". So, he refers to the "subtle skills of politics" invented to deal with "peculiar situations of number, urgency, and priority". There are also references to unspecified felicitous political decisions that require a "disseminated knowledge as multifarious as the multitude itself", or "distributed indispensable knowledge of the members of the Body Politic", "extraordinary subtle skills", "distributed knowledge of the whole", "a very specific form of attention to the whole Body by the whole Body itself", "the great invention of a rhetoric adapted to the subtle conditions of that other great invention, democracy", "the whole dealing with the whole under the incredibly tough constraints of the agora must decide in the dark and will be led by people as blind as themselves, without the benefit of proof, of hindsight, of foresight, of repetitive experiment, of progressive scaling up...There is never knowledge of causes and consequences", the "specific form of rationality" of the Body Politic - "this unique circulating virtue, which is like its blood". And the text continues mixing true common sense observations of political reality known by anybody who has left his parental home with its claims like the need of reliance upon "rumours, condensations, displacements, accumulations, simplifications, detours, transformations - a highly complex chemistry that makes one stand for the whole, and another chemistry, equally complex, that (sometimes) makes the whole obey one".
At which point, the critical reader might add: yes the whole obey one, but apparently it is not opportune for the author to propose that, as history suggests, this one be Socrates, Plato, or Christ. But this does not prevent the author from going on appealing to "the very specific form of transcendence that occurs when the whole represents itself reflexively to the whole, through mediation of the one who takes upon himself (or herself) to be everyone else" and to the transcendence "which obliges the whole to deal with itself without the benefit of guaranteed information" or to the specific transcendence the people needs in order to bootstrap itself "much like the kneading of a dough - except that the demos is at once the flour, the water, the baker, the leavening ferment, and the very act of kneading". It is a fermentation that has "always been transcendent enough to make the people move and be represented.", that is to make people moral "if by morality we mean the efforts to provide the Third Estate [the people] with ways and means by which to represent themselves to themselves in order to decide what to do next in matters about which there is no definite knowledge." And, further, it is a question of "collectively making sure that the collective formed by ever vaster numbers of humans and nonhumans becomes a cosmos" or "a way of negotiating a peaceful passage between object and subject" by means of action where one is "slightly overtaken by action", always slightly surprised by what one does, action without mastery, a question of bifurcations, events, circumstances. In summary it is stated that "speaking truthfully about the world" is "a very common practice for richly vascularized societies of bodies, instruments, scientists, and institutions. We speak truthfully because the world itself is articulated, not the other way around."
The verbiage above which is not developed further must be assumed to hide the author's suggested alternative to Plato's Republic. Applied to the IT-field, as it has been in the context of IT organizational strategies, the implicit claim of similar kinds of thinking is that of being a novel approach by bricolage, improvisation and shift-drift to the design of nonmodern social information systems where systems correspond to the often mentioned wholes [9]. The attentive reader can infer from the author's few occasional references to names which are not the immediate object of his ironies or denigrations that some of his inspiration comes from figures like Jean-François Lyotard and François Jullien. The one [10] is an exponent of the more sophisticated French post-modernism "improving" upon that philosophy of Immanuel Kant. The other [11] is an exponent of the French exegesis of traditional old Chinese thought. These two intermediate sources would allow the reader to come in contact with a tenfold improved intellectual challenge compared to the "reality of science studies". Still better alternatives would be the more original sources represented by Kant's own Third Critique (of Judgment) and the Confucian I Ching with its sixtyfour hexagrams which depict the fundamental states of the world and their changes or transitions. Such sources will make the reader conscious of an intellectually demanding historical background and debate: the failure of Westerns romanticism following Kant's failure [3], and Buddhism or Confucianism [4] which does not square easily with Judaeo-Christian roots of our justice and democracy. Let's see how these roots are tackled in the book on the "reality of science studies".
Despite the avowed concern for the "people" and the political process, the author does not account for the beliefs and convictions of the people of hundreds of millions of citizens in the West who during centuries' generations have committed their personal and political lives to Judaism and Christianity (or, for that matter, to Islam, etc.). His attitude to would-be-theological or religious questions is exemplified by a series of ironic statements like deriding Socrates for making "a final appeal to the shadows of the afterworld", and for "the good guy's anchor is fastened in the ethereal afterworld of shadows and phantoms". The text continues with ironies about the tale of Socrates death: "By the end, there won't be a dry eye left in the theater". The reader may pause here and reflect upon the effect of this theological stance by nonmodern "science studies" upon those who during so many centuries happened to experience Socrates as a prefiguration of Christ or "the fifth evangelist" a man who by the bare means of his intellect almost succeeded in bridging Greek philosophy to subsequent Christian thought. This was sensed and respected at the roots of German romanticism, before the secularization of the subsequent phenomenological movement [12].
The iconoclasms by the author who claims to be an iconophile continue with ironic references to "the conveniently far-away place of the Isles of the Blessed", and "a mad flight into a fanciful afterworld in which only professors and good pupils would exist". And the text is crowned by a justifying explanation of the condemnation to death of Socrates, with the reservation of its having been "a political mistake, because it made a martyr out of a mad scientist...someone who wanted to judge naked shadows from the superior seat of eternal justice". The diatribe might as well have been aimed at Christ who, however, is opportunely passed over in silence until the author arrives to God himself, the unnecessary "supplement of the soul", that is declared dead. "In the realm of techniques no one is in command" and "the ban on theology, so important in the staging of the modernist predicament, will not be lifted by a return to the God of creation but, on the contrary by the realization that there is no master at all". Except, the reader might conclude, the nonmodern author-master who still attempts to use some sort of reason in his book for convincing the reader about the heroic formidable task that he has set in front of himself, "the task of inventing the collective".
This is apparently the road the author allows himself to take thanks to the rejection of Plato. This shows that the reader will do well to study Plato himself and to consult other excellent studies of the philosophy of science and technology which claim the opposite in what concerns the role of theology for technology [13]. There are also those who instead of divinizing an opportunistic, politically correct, superficial conception of democracy offer an insight into the possibility that a better democracy could be obtained through a better understanding of its theological aspects [14].


The first half of this paper purported to show how Platos' thoughts can be used to challenge our thinking about information, technology, and information technology including the issue of information vs. objects, images, user participation, change, and comparisons of information structures in Westerns philosophy vs the Confucian Book of Changes. In the second half of the paper I spent paradoxically much space and effort in order to refer to an onslaught against Plato in a book which I do not recommend. Yet such a reading can occasionally be justified by analogy to physicians who need to "read" or come into contact with illness for diagnosing a malaise of our time.
The second half of the paper exemplified how the book's late postmodern, amodern or nonmodern speculations on (information) systems or wholes are ingrained in, or freeing themselves from, age old Platonic thought, justifying its critical revival and understanding. Similar onslaughts, but seldom in such a hateful and denigrating tone as in the book, appear all the time in works which seem to be directed to the scientific and IT-technical community. It would take much space only to list them, and it would take many lifetimes to read and comment them at the cost of leaving Plato himself and better works unread. I think that the onslaughts and the flight from philosophical reason is partly triggered by the outrage legitimately felt by many because of abuses of an uncontrolled technology in a sick society which, like the notion of information itself, is not properly understood. Computerized and networked virtual reality, virtual organizations, virtual communities, and visual imagery have fostered attempts to consider the difficult role of aesthetics, perception and intuition in the "design" of scientific and everyday artefacts. The net result, however, has been like jumps from the ashes into the fire of a well-intentioned but dubious design theory, or digital Bauhaus, or new informatics, or interpretivism, or philosophy in the flesh, or, as surveyed above, nonmodern philosophy in the people which, despite casual assurances of the contrary, share much with postmodernism. The promises of such jumps are that researchers, playfully, or aesthetically and creatively, will be able to deal with computerized networked multimedia, or parasitically portray the "intricacies of practice" of real heroes and captains of industry in the so called real world. And the promises also tell that all this can be done on the basis of aphilosophical, atheoretical, postmodern or nonmodern ad-hoc frameworks that integrate cognition with perceptions and intuitions, whatever that means, beyond political success, whatever that means. Since there is no end to play, or to the intricacies of practice in real life, there will be no end to the apparently profitable publishing (or perishing) of such research. It is, however, an unintended irony of destiny that the nonmodern author of "the reality of science studies" inadvertently confesses his own soft thinking when, for instance, he states that "it takes very little talent" to twist (as he does) one of the stories in Plato's Gorgias to Socrates' embarrassment , or that it is not his fault "if so many cherished values - from theology to the very definition of social actor, from ontology to what a mind is - have been hooked upon a theory of science that a few months of empirical enquiries are enough to put in serious doubt". Something similar might have been said also by the authors of the "philosophy in the flesh", and others.
Once again we may hear the echo of Plato's warning in that as a result of bad training we will not even get accustomed to look for the real essence of anything but will be satisfied to accept what confronts us in the phenomenal presentations. These phenomenal presentations are the "describing the intricacies of practice" mentioned above, or the progressive exploitation of given industrial technological products. The implication of all this is that IT offers a serious intellectual challenge and that certain work can profit from Plato's suggestions by simply taking his text seriously and canvass it for its relevance to IT. For instance, Plato's famous theorizing about music could be pitted against postmodern or nonmodern claims to learn political improvisation of IT-strategy and design from improvisation in musical jazz performances. Such a work and, for instance, a translation into IT-language of Homo Aestheticus or "aesthetic man" [3], would be a most welcomed extension or updating of The Design of Inquiring Systems [2] which probably still is the best standard work on IT from the perspective of information systems and artifacts. Be as it may, for these purposes the original study from which this paper is excerpted is to be made available at Or, then, we might follow Plato's additional warning that "no serious man will ever think of writing about serious realities for the general public so as to make them a prey to envy and perplexity".


[1] Plato: The collected dialogues. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press - Böllingen, 1961. (Eds. Edith Hamilton & Huntington Cairns)
[2] C. W. Churchman, The design of inquiring systems: Basic principles of systems and organization. New York: Basic Books. Out of print, 1971.
[3] L. Ferry, Homo aestheticus : the invention of taste in the democratic age, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.
[4] The I Ching: Book of Changes. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968. (3rd edition. The Richard Wilhelm translation rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes. Foreword by C.G. Jung.)
[5] B. Latour, Pandora's hope: Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1999.
[6] T. A. Szlezák, Reading Plato. London & New York: Routledge, 1999.
[7] G. Le Bon, The crowd: A study of the popular mind. London, 1947.
[8] O. Kernberg, Internal world and external reality: Object relations theory applied. New York: Jason Aronson, 1980. (See esp. part III)
[9] K. Ivanov and C. U. Ciborra, “East and West of IS,” in Proc. of the Sixth European Conference on Information Systems ECIS'98, University of Aix-Marseille III, Aix-en-Provence, June 4-6, 1998. Vol. IV, W. R. J. Baets, Ed. Granada & Aix-en-Provence: Euro-Arab Management School & Institut d'Administration des Entreprises IAE, 1998, pp. 1740-1748.
[10] J.-F. Lyotard, Lessons on the analytic of the sublime: Kant's 'Critique of judgement' §§23-29. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1994, pp. 159-190.
[11] F. Jullien, The propensity of things: Toward a history of efficacy in China. New York: Zone Books; Cambridge: distributed by MIT Press, 1995.
[12] J. G. Hamann, Socratic Memorabilia. Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1967.
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[14] T. Lindbom, The myth of democracy. Gran Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996.