The Mirror of Information in Early Modern England

John Wilkins and the Universal Character

  • James Dougal Fleming

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiii
  2. James Dougal Fleming
    Pages 31-74
  3. James Dougal Fleming
    Pages 169-225
  4. James Dougal Fleming
    Pages 227-274
  5. Back Matter
    Pages 275-292

About this book


This book examines the seventeenth-century project for a "real" or "universal" character: a scientific and objective code. Focusing on the Essay towards a real character, and a philosophical language (1668) of the polymath John Wilkins, Fleming provides a detailed explanation of how a real character actually was supposed to work. He argues that the period movement should not be understood as a curious episode in the history of language, but as an illuminating avatar of information technology. A non-oral code, supposedly amounting to a script of things, the character was to support scientific discourse through a universal database, in alignment with cosmic truths. In all these ways, J.D. Fleming argues, the world of the character bears phenomenological comparison to the world of modern digital information—what has been called the infosphere. 


computing historians John Wilkins Seventeenth-century European intellectuals artificial language information theory Hans-Georg Gadamer intellectual history universal character hermeneutics phenomenology

Authors and affiliations

  • James Dougal Fleming
    • 1
  1. 1.Simon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

Bibliographic information

  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
  • eBook Packages History History (R0)
  • Print ISBN 978-3-319-40300-7
  • Online ISBN 978-3-319-40301-4
  • Buy this book on publisher's site