Enlightened Knowledge

Prof. Dr. Reinhold Viehoff
(Media und Communication Studies)

Prof. Dr. Gerd Antos (Applied German Linguistics)

The project raises questions, by means of philosophy, applied (German) linguistics, and media and communication studies, about the cognitive type, the forms of development and the application of a kind of knowledge which has become increasingly important since the middle of the eighteenth century. One must have command of this knowledge in order to appropriately assess the truth content and/or the practical value of information – particularly expert information – gained first, second, third hand or further through interpersonal or medial communication. The proliferation of such information – the mass diffusion of information among a boundless sphere of anonymous recipients – begins with the 'Encyclopédie' by d'Alembert and Diderot in 1751. This development has reached its temporary climax in the current stage of internet communication. Philosophical epistemology identifies the particular type of knowledge which is necessary for dealing with informational by-products of arbitrary communication in a proper, situation-appropriate, and useful manner; this is a special, practical knowledge of how to utilize elements of the human world, particularly information, for beneficial purposes. Enlightened knowledge represents the level of this special know-how at which its holder is able to satisfactorily deal with the respective elements of his or her environment according to the criteria of utility, judiciousness, politics and morality.

The British philosopher Edward Craig worked out four conditions, two of which play the key role of a 'standard of rationality' in dealing with the informational by-products of arbitrary communication:
1. The one requiring information must assess the 'degree of probability' to which communicated information is 'true';
2. The content of the information and the degree of probability of its truth must be 'sufficient' to benefit the person in need of information in achieving the respective practical goals in a concrete situation.

The questions posed, particularly those resulting from the stormy development of 'internet communication', are examined within the framework of applied (Germanic) linguistics according the patterns of communication between individual citizens, organizations, companies, institutions and scientists on medical and medicinal problems of diagnostic, therapeutic and salutogenetic nature.

The cognitive, practical, social and emotional relationships between experts and laymen, physicians and patients are to be investigated here as well as the economic implications which result from the 'marketing' of the health care system and from forms of soliciting patients. The idea that the patient, with his vital interest in 'information', is subjected to a continually increasing burden on his power of judgment and his enlightened practical knowledge forms the focus of the enquiry. The linguistic and rhetorical modes of the relevant representations of knowledge and the embedding of suggestive strategies in advertising and entertainment marks these investigations as an ideal field for applied linguistics. Through comparative research on representations of knowledge in classical literary encyclopedias the project's methodical continuity is maintained with the original century of encyclopedic proliferation of expert information.

Extending the leading question to media communication focuses on the structural problems of television communication and the treatment of the possibilities of the internet encyclopedia 'wikipedia'. One issue deals with the question of the degree to which visual and verbal presentations through television are interconnected with controllable external and internal norms, conventions and other rules, whose user-orientation can contribute to (1) the degrees of authenticity, (2) credibility, (3) the validity, and (4) the practical reliability can be controlled by information communicated both directly and indirectly.

The medium represents a key problem through its inherent tendency to intertwine factual information and expressions of opinion with entertainment and fictional staging as well as through the fact that fictional staging of scenes from the everyday life tend to undermine all four criteria. Based upon empirical research, this subproject intends to contribute to the development of 'standards of rationality' which can be mutually respected by providers and users. Research focusing on 'wikipedia' thematizes structural communication problems based upon the example of the newest electronic form of an encyclopedia claiming universal representation. In addition to all of the cognitive and informational structural problems which had been associated with all previous encyclopedias, a completely novel, highly complex change of rolls of 'encyclopediasts' appears through the technical structure of the internet: every participant can continually alternate between being expert or layman, informant or informed, and critic or criticized. A both empirically and theoretically extraordinarily demanding yet fertile 'logic of encyclopedic communication' marks the long-term goal of these investigations. Whoever has access to this logic as one aspect of his know-how in dealing with 'wikipedia' also possesses the 'enlightened knowledge' appropriate for this databank.