The Question of the Legitimacy of the Computer

An Epistemological Point of View
  • Romain Laufer


WHEN dealing with the legitimacy of computers two paths are open to us according to whether the emphasis is put on “computers” or on “legitimacy”.


Public Opinion Public Administration Individual Freedom Political Body Individual Liberty 
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Notes and Sources

  1. [1]
    Cf. paper of J. Berleur & K. Brunnstein (Recent Technical Developments: Attitudes and Paradigms) in this volume.Google Scholar
  2. [2]
    The paper of J. Ladrière (Model, Representation and Reality) develops the various ways in which models and representations are related to reality. This relationship is essential to an understanding of the computer as a “symbol-crunching machine”. It is also central to social legitimacy if we define it as a normative symbolic structure which serves as a measure of the values of things.Google Scholar
  3. [3]
    This concern with the relationship between the structure of symbolic norms and the symbolic structure of computers is at the heart of the paper by D. Pullinger (Society, Religions and Information Technology).Google Scholar
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    The theoretical foundations of the following article have been developed in R. Laufer and C. Paradeise Le Prince Bureaucrate: Machiavel au Pays du Marketing, Flammarion, Paris 1982, published in [1989] under the title Marketing Democracy: Public Opinion and Media Formation, by Transaction Books, New Brunswick (New Jersey).Google Scholar
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    Orwell, G., [ 1983 ], Nineteen-Eighty-Four, Penguin Books, London.Google Scholar
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    On unemployment and the computer, see A. Sauvy, La machine et le chômage,collection Pluriel, Paris 1980, pp. 127 to 139 and A. Mowshowitz, The Conquest of Will,Addison-Wesley, pp. 93 to 96. On the question of centralization of power, see the paper of A. Clement (Computers and Organizations). On individual liberties, see the paper of J. Michaël, Y. Poullet and W. Steinmüller (Information Technology and Civil Liberties). On the question of political democracy, see the paper of V. Mosco (Computing and Democracy) and the paper of W. Dutton (The Political Implications of Information Technology: Challenge to Power?). On the question of culture, see, for instance, the paper of N. Vitalari (Information Technology in Daily Life: An Assessment of the Full Integration Hypothesis). Other related issues are the object of similar perplexity whether they concern ethics (see the paper of H. Burkert, The Ethics of Computing?) or artificial intelligence as illustrated in the most spectacular way by the confrontation of the “pros” (H. Simon, M. Minsky, E. Feigenbaum) and the “cons” (H. Dreyfus, J. Weizenbaum). On this topic, see also J. Berleur and K. Brunnstein.Google Scholar
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    The concept of system of legitimacy is thus anthropological or, if we prefer, culture bounded. The definition given contains a set of shared values which are characteristic of the societies under consideration.Google Scholar
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    Barnard, C., [ 1958 ] The Function of the Executive, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
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    Weber, M., [ 1968 ] Economy and Society, Bedminster Pres, New York.Google Scholar
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    An example of a complete development of this argument can be found in the work of Pareto on the conditions of social optimality of the economic system.Google Scholar
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    Simon, H., [ 1971 ] The Science of the Artificial, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass.Google Scholar
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    Comte, A.: see “Cybernétique et pragmatisme” in: R. Laufer and Catherin Paradeise, Le Prince Bureaucrate,op. cit.Google Scholar
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    We are thinking of the person who acts; this can be generalized to the person who has to bear the consequences of someone else’s action. For this, we just have to consider the objection as an action.Google Scholar
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    The case where the computer is supposed to answer for itself corresponds obviously to the limit of our analysis. We shall, however, try to deal with this situation when considering below the question of artificial intelligence.Google Scholar
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    Our analysis is limited to the Western world where the rational-legal system developed. It applies to other parts of the world to the extent that they are confronted with Western rationality. Socialist countries do belong to the history of the rational-legal system; however, their evolution is specific and would have required separate treatment. For a conceptual comparison of the principles of legitimacy of capitalist and socialist societies, see Le Prince Bureaucrate,op. cit., last chapter.Google Scholar
  16. [16]
    This anthroplogical hypothesis is the central theme of The Protestant Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism by Max Weber. This central importance of political economy in the system of legitimacy explains why the legitimacy of information is as it is conceived in economic theory. On this topic, see the paper of F.-M. Bahr (Information in the Economy).Google Scholar
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    Mumford, L., [ 1947 ] Techniques and Civilisation, Routledge & Sons.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Mowshowitz, A., The Conquest of Will, op. cit.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Mowshowitz, A., The Conquest of Will, op. cit.Google Scholar
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    We may note that when a philosopher develops a psychology, like William James, his philosophy is nothing else but “pragmatism”.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Romain Laufer

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