Signifying Nothing: Nihilism, Information, and Signs

Open Philosophy 6 (1):147-57 (2023)
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Abstract

This article explores the theme of nihilism from the perspective of post-continental philosophy by focusing on semiotics and information theory and the question of “meaning” at stake between them. Nihilism is characterised here as an avatar of the counter-Enlightenment tradition. Post-continental philosophy is defined by a positive revaluation of reason, science, and technology, which were critiqued for their nihilistic effects by key continental philosophers. Rather than critiquing nihilism, then, post-continental philosophers have tended to affirm it. This article argues that, despite appearances, such developments in fact allow a deepened response to nihilism, considered as an existential problem. It does so by using Lyotard’s critique of semiotics to show how the kind of linguistic and cultural meaning associated with continental philosophy is itself a kind of nihilism. It then examines Meillassoux’s theory of the meaningless sign and Laruelle’s idea of the secret truth of Hermes to argue that this new paradigm of post-continental philosophy allows a response to nihilism by offering an alternative to semiotic meaning. Thus freed, this new paradigm allows the embrace of information theory as a plural articulation of meanings grounded in meaningless data, which enables a superior response to nihilism in the information age.

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Ashley Woodward
Dundee University

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References found in this work

A Mathematical Theory of Communication.Claude Elwood Shannon - 1948 - Bell System Technical Journal 27 (April 1924):379–423.
Semantic information.Yehoshua Bar-Hillel & Rudolf Carnap - 1953 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 4 (14):147-157.
Precis of knowledge and the flow of information.Fred I. Dretske - 1983 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 6 (1):55-90.

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