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Mentefacts as a missing level in theory of information science

Claudio Gnoli (Science and Technology Library, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 13 August 2018

Issue publication date: 24 August 2018




The current debate between two theoretical approaches in library and information science and knowledge organization (KO), the cognitive one and the sociological one, is addressed in view of their possible integration in a more general model. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


Personal knowledge of individual users, as focused in the cognitive approach, and social production and use of knowledge, as focused in the sociological approach, are reconnected to the theory of levels of reality, particularly in the versions of Nicolai Hartmann and Karl R. Popper (three worlds). The notions of artefact and mentefact, as proposed in anthropological literature and applied in some KO systems, are also examined as further contributions to the generalized framework. Some criticisms to these models are reviewed and discussed.


Both the cognitive approach and the sociological approach, if taken in isolation, prove to be cases of philosophical monism as they emphasize a single level over the others. On the other hand, each of them can be considered as a component of a pluralist ontology and epistemology, where individual minds and social communities are but two successive levels in knowledge production and use, and are followed by a further level of “objectivated spirit”; this can in turn be analyzed into artefacts and mentefacts. While all these levels are relevant to information science, mentefacts and their properties are its most peculiar objects of study, which make it distinct from such other disciplines as psychology and sociology.


This analysis shows how existing approaches can benefit from additional notions contributed by levels theory, to develop more complete and accurate models of information and knowledge phenomena.



The author is grateful to Tom Dousa (The University of Chicago Library) for discussing the idea of objectivated spirit and contributing the specific example of levels coexistence in Kunst der Fuge, and to Roberto Poli (University of Trento) for further clarifications on Harmann’s strata.


Gnoli, C. (2018), "Mentefacts as a missing level in theory of information science", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 74 No. 6, pp. 1226-1242.



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