Luciano Floridi is the Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, where he also holds the position of the Director of the Digital Ethics Lab of the Oxford Internet Institute. Also at Oxford, Luciano Floridi is a Distinguished Research Fellow of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy and Research Associate and Fellow in Information Policy of Department of Computer Science. Needless to say, he is keeping busy! Outside of Oxford, Luciano Floridi is a Faculty Fellow as the prestigious Alan Turing Institute and Chair of its Data Ethics Group. His areas of focus in his research include Information and Computer Ethics (aka Digital Ethics), the Philosophy of Information, and the Philosophy of Technology. With over 150 papers in these areas, as well as a plethora of published books; Luciano Floridi is a highly respected mind in his area. His most recently books include The Ethics of Information and The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality. The lifetime project of Luciano Floridi is a tetralogy on the foundation of the philosophy of information, called Principa Philosophiae Informationis. I was extremely excited to talk books with such a well respected mind, please enjoy my interview with the brilliant Luciano Floridi…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
That I am a serial thinker, if I am serious. If I wish to joke, then I tell them that I am an Oxford professor. They usually understand that I teach philosophy. It is not true, but it is socially less awkward then confessing that I philosophise for a living.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
A book I asked for Christmas to my Aunt Emma: Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans by Plutarch. I loved history. Of course I wanted to read Julius Caesar and Alexander.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
When did you fall in love with philosophy?
When I was 16. In Italy, philosophy was a compulsory subject during the last 3 years of Grammar School (Liceo Classico).
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
He would be amazed by how much more social I’ve become. He might also be a bit astonished that I lost his religious faith.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
The Odyssey by Homer. By far. In Greek with Fagles’ translation.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
Whenever I can, wherever I can. But if I can choose, at home, in the evening, in front of the fire, next to my wife, with a glass of Laphroaig.
The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant. It made me a constructionist, someone who sees knowledge as a synthesis of world’s data and mind’s interpretation, to put it very simply. Our knowledge of the world is not a representation, it is an elaboration of its raw, constraining affordances.
What advice would you give a novice, looking for an introduction to philosophy?
To read a logic book.
Who would you say are the three philosophers that continue to inspire you?
Plato, Descartes, and Kant.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, because it is one of the first and most important books I read to my wife. She taught me the art of reading books to each other, and that was my first choice.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
This depends too much on times, people, circumstances. But I have often recommended Jane Austen. Anything by her. Perhaps starting with Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I like both, but the older I get the more I prefer strong flavours, call them classics, especially in fiction.
Do you think reading is important?
Only thinking is more important.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
The Day of Judgment by Salvatore Satta. It’s a masterpiece. People do not write like that often enough.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
Real books, but I do not mind digital if I have to, and I love audio books as well.
Name a book that you feel everyone would benefit from reading and explain why.
A selection of The Bible. It’s obvious: you cannot understand western civilization without it.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
Philosophy of Logics by Susan Haack. It was translated into Italian in 1984. I studied as an undergraduate and found it fascinating. I wrote to her and we begun a correspondence (we are talking about envelops and stamps). I ended up doing my Master and PhD under her supervision at the University of Warwick in the UK a few years later. I am in Oxford with a British passport because of that book.
Too may… but I would like to mention some books that everybody talks about but few actually read: Moby Dick by Herman Melville and Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes, both totally fascinating and in some pages also terribly boring. War and Peace and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, to be read in a single year, without reading anyting else (no water in the Laphroaig). Dostoevsky. Everything. To be read at least twice. With him and Tolstoy I played the trick of reading the English translation and then the Italian translation. I wish I could read Russian. And one day Proust. I’m not old enough yet, but I’m getting there.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
More political philosophy.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
I Did It My Way.
Image Credit: Ian Scott (2016)