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Habermas and Open Source

Modern Philosophy

What do a German philosopher/ sociologist and an information sharing and programming codex have in common? In theory, one could be the brain child of the other. Even though that is not true, both share a core belief: reasoning through discussion.

Habermas was born in 1929 is one of the most famous – if not the most famous – sociologist researching in the area of communication interactions within societies. I remember one of his core research outcomes distinctively because I had to present it as undergraduate student in front of my political philosophy class. It might be the only thing I still remember from that class. Amongst other things, Habermas argues that the best solution to a problem can be found by involving different stakeholders. It differs from a simple participatory approach which involve everyone who is affected – or their representatives. Habermas’ approach argues that by getting different opinions and consequently discuss it, the outcome will be better than all other solutions taken individually. To sum it up: You put a couple of experts together in a room with food, drinks, Internet and beds and after quite some time they will leave the room with the perfect solution for the given problem. The choice of people is equally important, but will be disregarded for now.

Open source is the basis for a lot of software. Open source basically refers to the source code of a software being openly available – most likely on the Internet. This source code then can be tinkered with and those who change or improve it, upload it again. If a lot of people do that for the same project – take for example the operating system Ubuntu Linux – you can call it an ‘open source community’. Open source software can be obtained for free and the most common lincesing model it is called OSI – Open Source Initiative. The open source ideology started in the late 90’s. Open source as a term is now also used in intelligence for example. OSINT, open source intelligence refers to information freely available on the Internet or in a dumpster nearby (#dumpsterdiving). That shall do it for now. You are more than welcome to do some research on open source because – in my opinion – it is a great idea. Unfortunately, there is not enough space here to further elaborate on pro’s, con’s and contemporary discussions on when can it be called ‘open source’ (#knittygrittylegalstuff).

Habermas says: Discuss and find the best solution.

Open Source says: Exchange your codes and find the most stable and effective solution.

For me that sounds very similar. In both examples, a group of people who are experts in the topic they are dealing with, discuss a problem. They exchange their opinions and knowledge. They debate which solution is the best, try to demonstrate it and tinker with the solutions other experts offered. The difference is that with open source, there will be a steady process of tinkering and adapting. New versions of operating systems are releasing every couple of months. Patches every couple of weeks. Due to new developments in hard- and software, these open source projects will go on indefinitely. Until there is now community anymore to support it. The beauty hereby is, that the operating systems can already be used during further deliberations. They will just get updated every now and then. If the Habermas-led group of experts discusses an infrastructure issue, they have a deadline. They have to meet the deadline and come up with a solution. The solution might not be the best because the deadline stoped their discussion before the perfect solution could be found. After the trucks started building the new roads, major revisions are impossible. The roads cannot just be ‘updated’ like the operating systems. The Habermasian deliberations have a natural end.

For all open source goes, that there is also a disadvantage to it: ‘One of the dark sides of open source [media] is that they are equally available to criminals, terrorists, and other enemies, who may use them to find ‘how to’ guides for building bombs, making chemical and biological weapons, and computer hacking’ (Denning, 2000)

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