I was trying to figure out what the word "data" means. The dictionary even provides a special entry for philosophy:

things known or assumed as facts, making the basis of reasoning or calculation.

Can you give an example of what counts as "data" in your field?

Do you use the concept of "information" as distinct from "data"?


  • As far as I know both terms are horribly under- and over-defined at the same time and there is no consistent usage. In my experience usually you use the term if you want to avoid being specific. For example "Sense-data" means "Not perception! Think of the retina. And stuff the optical nerve does. And part of the brain maybe. Maybe shapes and colors." Sometimes it doesn't matter what exactly you mean. And sometimes "data" is just a perfect place to hide a weakness in you argumentation.
    – Einer
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 14:03

2 Answers 2


Information is not a term that appears often in philosophy. It would tend to only occur in some contemporary niches and has little if any historical provenance.

Data emphasizes that something is just the raw given before it is processed in some way shape or form. Philosophers here are operating from the sense in which datum is the past perfect participle of the verb "to give." Data is thus normally contrasted with something like perception or possibly knowledge.

There's no universal consensus on what data would be among philosophers. Instead, that is a point of contention with some dismissive that such a thing exists apart from perceptions and others asserting that it is what perception acts on. Mostly these debates are going to be in epistemology. At least for me, key thinkers I can think of who are in the debate about data are going to be Locke, Berekely, Hume, and Kant. There's probably a contemporary analytic literature on this problem as well.

Addendum: I think information is used in contemporary philosophy of mind in forms that are like neuroscience as a technical term, but I am not sufficiently versed in that area to comment on where specifically it fits into the whole epistemological framework.


Data is what information in encoded in as symbols on the tape of a universal Turing machine for model in which the Universe runs on a Turing machine.

Information would be the location and velocity of all particles in the Universe as well as any knowledge derived from that.

Data is uninterpreted encryption of that information.


It was not my understanding that philosophy functioned on meaningful different (rather just more specific) definitions than general language on this issue. The definitions of each per Google here:

facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.


facts provided or learned about something or someone.

Google does have a separate philosophy definition for data which I didn't find meaningful different, again, it simply adopts language used more often within philosophical paradigm.

I introduced the model of TM because it is helpful considerations of information theory (which I would consider this to be).

I'll depart from the notation of facts/statistics and just refer to these as bitstrings for that reason.

So then, provisional definitions for discussion:

Data: bitstrings for analysis


Information: bitstrings of analysis

I believe that follows reasonably from the model used here and definitions.

  • Could you add some context for these definitions, where they are actually used in philosophy and why?
    – DBK
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 17:52
  • @DBK I've attempted to respond more directly in the main body of your question, let me know if that wasn't what you were looking for.
    – Calvin
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 18:53

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