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Philosophy and Computer Science Revisited 204

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the philosophy-goes-nicely-with-many-things dept.
Soren Kierkegaard writes "While reading the two-and-a-half-year-old Slashdot post on Does Philosophy have a role in Computer Science, it occurred to me that over these past few years Philosophy has a more prominent role in Computer Science then ever before. Cognitive Science and Computer Ethics are more established disciplines in universities, and the numbers of philosophy graduates double majoring in computer science and information systems are climbing. Is a merger of Philosophy, a discipline steeped in history and intelligent thought, and Computer Science, a discipline that looks to the future, the best of both worlds?"
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Philosophy and Computer Science Revisited

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:04PM (#25710961)

    While reading the two and a half year old Slashdot post

    Get out much?

  • Logic is programming (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mschuyler (197441) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:06PM (#25710997) Homepage Journal

    Actually, a course in the philosophy department on logic got me into computers. Years later I took a programming course and discovered it was the same thing as symbolic logic, mostly. The rest is history. It made my career. :-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by SatanicPuppy (611928) *

      That's how I got my start as well. Symbolic logic is vastly more relevant to programming than most people realize.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Smidge207 (1278042)

        I am not in college now, but, if I were, I'd major in philosophy. See, I've been working in IT for 10 years now, can code in many languages, can sys admin, can pretty much do anything I need to do from a practical standpoint. The thing is, those skills are nearly worthless in a lot of small/medium IT departments. The skill that keeps me employed is my ability to solve problems, very quickly and without major fallout.

        It keeps me employable even if I'm not the best programmer/sysadmin/etc the world has ever s

        • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:48PM (#25711807) Journal

          The best "science" course I ever had was a philosophy course on the philosophy of science...Never, ever had a foundational course in science that really hit the heart of the scientific method in the same way.

          It's real easy to miss the forest for the trees. Having a good course on the why gives you an amazing depth of perception on the how.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            Philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.
            ~Richard Feynman
    • by Edward Kmett (123105) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:23PM (#25711329) Homepage

      We usually call this notion the Curry Howard correspondence.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curry-Howard_correspondence [wikipedia.org]

      It is an idea used a lot by programmers in languages like Haskell.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Considering that much of philosophy involves establishing a framework for reality, it's interesting how we seem to have developed this corroborating mechanistic analogue for the logical principles established so long ago. What I find intriguing is how the drift in philosophy echoed George Boole and his joining of mathematics with stepwise logic, rather than the more difficult (yet apparently easier) inferential path followed by the classic philosophers.

      Put another way, it's interesting how important the ca

  • Principa Cybernetica (Score:5, Informative)

    by Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:08PM (#25711041)

    This [vub.ac.be] is one of the first websites I discovered when I first started getting on the internet back in the early to mid 90s.

    • by beh (4759) *

      Yes, it's one of the earliest (if not the earliest) -- but it's also one of the countless sites on computer ethics that doesn't deal with the number of unemployed people our profession creates.

      Sure, it creates (or created) lots of jobs in IT, but there are lots of people for which IT is not a viable future - nor is nuclear physics, brain surgery, biochemistry, ...

      These are very highly skilled jobs, and not suitable for everyone.

      Somehow we should also put our mind to looking at the other side of the medal -

  • by davidwr (791652) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:10PM (#25711083) Homepage Journal

    Now, whether that's in a formal course like "Philosophy 101" or whether it's embedded in other courses, like ethics course content spread throughout an engineering curriculum or programming philosophies spread throughout programming courses, isn't all that important.

    What is important is that by the time you graduate, you understand both why there are so many different world views for "big picture" things like the responsibilities of citizens, the rights of individuals vs. the rights of the collective or state, etc. as well as why there are different views on "details" like different coding standards and different standards of business ethics.

    By knowing many of these views and by understanding why different people have different views, you will be better prepared to know why you adopt the views you adopt, and be able to explain your reasons to others. You will also be better equipped to understand why your boss or coworker may have a different view, and whether that difference is a reason for you to re-evaluate your views, agree to disagree, or circulate your resume.

    This is why philosophy should be taught in school. Graduates should also continue a lifetime of self-study.

    • What is important is that by the time you graduate, you understand both why there are so many different world views for "big picture" things like the responsibilities of citizens, the rights of individuals vs. the rights of the collective or state, etc. as well as why there are different views on "details" like different coding standards and different standards of business ethics. By knowing many of these views and by understanding why different people have different views, you will be better prepared to

      • by servognome (738846) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:53PM (#25711887)

        If you need formal education for that - let alone higher education - God help you. Where I come from, that sort of thing was generally considered "not being an asshole", not a complicated subject that required in-depth study.

        If you want to paint the world as black and white that's true.
        Philosophy helps one to ask the right questions and have intelligent discussions on things like if a society actually benefits from a fraction of people who are "assholes."

      • If you need formal education for that - let alone higher education - God help you. Where I come from, that sort of thing was generally considered "not being an asshole", not a complicated subject that required in-depth study.

        Wow. You come from a very unusual area, probably unlike 99% of this planet. So I'm curious, one of the "big picture" things, like the list that the GP mentions, is the concept of a Moral Wat. A standard topic in every first year philosophy course, as it is an easy way to introduce the v

    • You need to study philosophy so you can understand why...

      - fewer and fewer people want to pay for buggy software

      - 10 smart guys in a meeting room can't agree on anything, even when they write it down

      - 100 smart guys agree to work triple-time for 1.5 the salary for the next 8-12 months, while the senior executives work a little, get huge bonuses, and then send 75 of those jobs to Bangalore

    • Graduates should also continue a lifetime of self-study.

      That is a great idea, but most college grads crack less than one book a year. If more people would put down the mouse and the remote and read a &#$%%! book, our society would be much better off.

    • I don't know how it is at most universities, but at the one I went to, for (nearly) any course under the 300 level that you were interested in but didn't need for graduation, you'd be better off reading one or two good books on the subject. It'd take less time, and you'd learn more, unless you're someone who has trouble learning from books, I guess.

      For philosophy, I'd recommend Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy. It's widely available, fairly cheap, thorough and a bit long but still small en

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Admiral Ag (829695)

        Russell's book is also wildly outdated and heavily biased in favour of his own ideas. It's simply not possible to gain anything other than a superficial understanding of the subject from a book like that.

        When people say they are interested in philosophy, they often mean different things, since it is such a diverse subject that is only unified by its tools and methods.

        People who are interested in philosophy are better off approaching it through the questions that interest them. For example, are the theories

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by wigle (676212)

          that is only unified by its tools and methods.

          Even that might be a stretch. In my experience methodological differences divide philosophers as much as they unite them via syllogistic reasoning. The philosopher that rejects metaphysics will reason much differently than those that don't. He will focus on linguistic analysis rather than the study of objects and properties. This is a pretty divisive methodological difference IMHO.

        • I'm just saying, if you're going to take one low-numbered intro class, you're probably better off reading a book or two, and I happen to think that Russell's is exceptionally approachable without dumbing down the material too much, and gives a good overview many major ideas that you're likely to see in other material outside the field of philosophy proper.

          As for the biases: yeah, he's got them, most notably with Nietzsche. In that case, he flat-out says that he finds Nietzsche's philosophy and ethics "unsa

  • by srussia (884021) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:10PM (#25711087)
    Hofstader's GEB:EGB?
    • I read about half of it. Couldn't make it much further than that.

      Read the dialogues from the rest of the book, though.

      It's a great book.

      • Yep half-way through with me, then I began to struggle a bit with the predicate calculus, which is boring. But you can get through it if you mind your P's and Q's.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by digitig (1056110)

          the predicate calculus, which is boring.

          Speak for yourself! I love predicate calculus (which is probably why I also enjoy formal methods and specialise in system safety).

        • But you can get through it if you mind your P's and Q's.

          ...

          I hate you.

  • Data Modelling (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Foofoobar (318279) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:11PM (#25711099)
    Understanding how to model real life objects into a database taught me alot about what an object truly is. It also taught me alot about relationships between entities, parent and child and 'many to many' relationships. I made leaps and bounds in development just by understanding data modeling.
    • "1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things." --Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

      That's the best short description of relational modeling I've ever found, for somebody used to object-oriented modeling. Basically, it's a change of ontology: the OO modeler tends to think of the world as being made up of things, each of which has some repertoire of properties; the world is a big set of things, related by a few universal laws. The relational modeler, on the other hand, conceives

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:11PM (#25711103) Journal
    I'm going to refer back to this comment [slashdot.org] from that story with this statement:

    Having worked as a developer for 5 years since finishing grad school, I've been discouraged to find that the points of contact between philosophy and CS are VERY few and far between. Studying philosophy will definitely sharpen your reading, writing, and analytical skills, all of which are (or should be, if you're doing your job right) useful for programmers. But those are all general skills; my knowledge of philosophical theories or history or personalities are, frankly, never a part of my work life.

    I think that still holds true in all but rare cases. It's unfortunate but I made a reference to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason a few months ago at work. Someone had just read The Blind Watchmaker by Dawkins and I asked them if he was referring to Kant's "Prime Mover" or "Watch Maker" ... and everyone promptly drew a blank. My actual work is even further from it.

    Although that is primarily the 'classic' idea of philosophy and I'm well aware of increasing fields related to computer science like information law (or whatever they call it) and AI. I became disheartened as I tried implementing some rudimentary NLP/AI programs ... even in C that stuff is resource intensive.

    Is a merger of Philosophy, a discipline steeped in history and intelligent thought, and Computer Science, a discipline that looks to the future, the best of both worlds?

    No offense but you just took two positive sentences about two arbitrary majors and tried to pull them together for reasons unknown to me. The same could probably be said about any two majors:

    Is a merger of Home Economics, a discipline steeped in making home life better and easier, and Mathematics, a discipline of rigorous proofs, the best way to improve the common man's life?

    Yeah, it's romantic. But aside from logic, predicate calculus and the philosophy of mathematics, could you help me out in how this is supposed to meld with my Java monkey job?

    Don't get me wrong, I love to read AI papers on arxiv and tinker with a local copy of Wikipedia at home but ... where has a major application of Philosophy developed in Computer Science in the last 2.5 years?

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... org minus author> on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:35PM (#25711551)

      It's particularly relevant in areas of CS research with significant philosophical implications, like AI. In some cases knowing relevant philosophical problems can point out likely technical problems and potential approaches to solving them.

      For example, machine learning repeatedly bangs its head against the age-old philosophical problem of induction, and in my view (as an AI academic), the people who know about that and the relevant literature are more likely to make non-naive technical contributions.

      Reinforcement learning (a specific branch dealing with learning how to act in an environment) bangs its head against issues like the relationship between something we might call "the real world", the data from your senses, and how to infer between them. Specific technical proposals have largely recapitulated some of the philosophical debate: for example, there was a semi-recent and somewhat influential proposal to replace a priori "states", which represent a view of the "real" states in an environment, with phenomenological state, constructed on the fly from sequences of sensor values clustered based on their ability to predict future sensor values (Predictive State Representations, or PSRs). This is essentially recapitulating the empiricists' "sense-data" view of the early 20th century, which they proposed as a replacement for metaphysical ontologies of the world.

    • by Flwyd (607088) on Monday November 10, 2008 @06:10PM (#25712173) Homepage

      But those are all general skills; my knowledge of philosophical theories or history or personalities are, frankly, never a part of my work life.

      You could say the same thing about physics. I use neither theories of gravity and electromagnetism nor knowledge of famous physicists as part of my daily programming. But in the process of learning those things, I learned valuable lessons about experimentation and scientific thinking. Physics problems are well suited to the scientific method, philosophy problems are well suited to philosophical methods (well, sometimes).

      Writing computer programs and writing analytical philosophy papers are more or less the same thing except computer programs are easier to test and may have better documented assumptions (APIs).

      There are also striking personality correlations between computer scientists and philosophers. So if a CS major takes some philosophy courses, he may make some interesting new friends. But there's certainly no reason to merge the departments (unless they're also joined with the math department).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I think you've got this a bit wrong. You're looking at the subject matter of philosophy and missing the bigger picture. As a philosophy graduate who works in IT, I can tell you that Philosophy may teach aspects like ethical theory and metaphysics, but the real utility is a greater understanding of how to learn and assimilate information. After several years of in depth philosophical study, you begin to learn that all information, regardless of subject matter, is similarly able to be processed. You learn

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by spiffyman (949476)

      Like many others here, it was logic that led me to CS. My degree is in philosophy, but my career is in software development. So maybe I'm a bit biased.

      I can't really point to applications in the last 2.5 years, but I think you're overstating the case. I'm quite familiar with work done by people here [utexas.edu] (Nick Asher, mentioned on that page, was chair of UT's philosophy dept. for some time). Paul and Patricia Churchland have done a great deal to bring the philosophy of mind in line with contemporary scientific th

  • by chill (34294) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:12PM (#25711121) Journal

    ...wonder whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of welcoming our new AI overlords or not; that is the question.

  • Obviously! (Score:2, Troll)

    by motek (179836)

    Philosophy is indispensible to all science. Even though calling computing a science is a tad of a stretch, the need for philosophy still applies. Perhaps even more so.

    • Re:Obviously! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kitsunewarlock (971818) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:47PM (#25711775) Journal
      Philosophy is indispensable to all branches of life. Every person, from a construction worker to a CEO; from a scientist to an engineer; from a social worker to a policeman. They should all be taught the basic fundamentals of logic, ethics, rhetorical debate and the history of some of the most ingenious humans to ever walk the earth. And I don't simply mean in college. Philosophy is an indispensable and critical element of the human experience and legacy--something that must be cherished and nourished in order to live a successful human life. When people stop studying philosophy and blindly accept whatever world view and logical conclusions are thrust in front of them, they become slaves. Although its historically inevitable that a large portion of society will ignore philosophy, it should still be attempted to give all people the same chances so many others have been fortunate enough to receive.

      Computer Science is no exception.
    • It isn't computing that is the science of computer science programs. It's the purpose of (proper) computer science programs to apply science to the realm of computing.

      Yes, most computer science programs should be renamed software engineering, or even "how to write code". However, there are a lot of programs that still delve into the science of computing - those researching quantum computing, for example.

  • No (Score:2, Funny)

    by JCSoRocks (1142053)
    Because we'll end up with programming examples that involve the use of methods named Cogito.Ergo.Sum() for adding two numbers together.


    Hint for those of you not forced to study such things while you were taking CS - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Descartes [wikipedia.org]
    • I wasn't forced to study such things, but as I get older, I can feel my general curiosity pulling me toward a basic look at philosophy.

      I'm not so much interested in questions like "What is reality?" -- at least not at this time -- but more practical philosophy, if you will, questions like "Are all viewpoints equally valid?"

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SatanicPuppy (611928) *

      The thing, and you talked about this in your post, that pisses me off most is the people who decide that all philosophy is about long dead philosophers, and fuzzy-headed problems without real solutions. The cogito is shit. It's a linguistic oddity, and it has nothing to do with the world.

      I majored in philosophy, and the logic classes I had were brain-crushingly difficult. The theory classes I had were very heavy on the theory of cognition, perception, semantics. I took some ethics (because it interested me)

    • Cogito.Ergo.Sum()

      Cogito? I thought the whole porcelain/plumbing thing went out of fashion and everyone used straight git. And whenever you use git (which you do if you use the cogito frontend), there's of course a sha1sum.

      So indeed Descartes was right: Cogito implies sum; if you use cogito, there's a sum. It's all adding up now...

  • does it matter? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:17PM (#25711229) Homepage

    Computer Science needs to go. 95% of the students majoring in Computer Science should actually be majoring in Software Engineering.

    It's a sad mistake of history than CompSci is the major most widely available in a world that needs software engineers, not more academics arguing about p=np.

    There is nothing wrong with Computer Science, it's just being applied incorrectly in the education system today.

  • by Alaren (682568) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:20PM (#25711269)

    Is a merger of Philosophy, a discipline steeped in history and intelligent thought, and Computer Science, a discipline that looks to the future, the best of both worlds?

    Fair warning and full disclosure: I majored in philosophy as an undergraduate and, when I finish Law School in April, will be enrolling in a Ph.D. program in philosophy.

    I don't want this to sound pretentious or exclusionary, but you need to understand that philosophy is not "steeped in history and intelligent thought." Philosophy encapsulates the history of intelligent thought. Every field of study... that is, every single field of study... was once a branch of philosophy, or a branch off a branch of philosophy, et cetera. With the notable exception of advanced degrees at Harvard, most fields of study terminate at a "Doctor of Philosophy" degree for this very reason.

    What you are observing is the first step on a road that took me from the potentially lucrative study of Electrical Engineering into the much less lucrative study of something I love deeply: wisdom. It speaks well of computer science that it attracts the same sort of people as philosophy, but ultimately one must choose between practical application of known, and further inquiry into the knowable.

    I would encourage anyone of any major to seriously consider the study of philosophy, whether as a major, a minor, or an elective. Few other courses have so much potential to improve your life, to say nothing of your ability to think. But computer science has no greater monopoly on "looking to the future" than any other field, philosophy included (including history and archaeology, which often look to the past to help us understand the future).

    What I'm trying to say without sounding too self-absorbed is that philosophy makes everything better! d^_^b Computer science is just one good, geek-centric example.

    • May I add:

      What is science, if not applied philosophy?

    • What I'm trying to say without sounding too self-absorbed is that philosophy makes everything better!

      and I refute it thus: If philosophy makes everything better then where are the philosopher kings [wikipedia.org] that Plato spoke of and if they are not here yet then how have things gotten any better since the time of Plato?

      • by Alaren (682568)

        That's a short question with a highly involved answer, but you may want to begin by studying the differences between Athenian Democracy and the Republican Democracy we currently practice. We may not have "philosopher kings," but we do ostensibly select our best and brightest to "rule."

        As for whether things have gotten any better... how do you mean? Personally I'm of the opinion that modern technology has made a lot of things better... though arguably some thing have become worse. You're going to have t

        • but we do ostensibly select our best and brightest to "rule."

          Then how was Bush the younger ever selected to "rule"?

          You're going to have to be more specific here.

          Lets go with your technology example, on the one hand you believe that it has made things better but some things, probably connected with technology, are arguably still worse or have been made worse. If philosophy is a necessary, although perhaps not a sufficient, condition for modern technology AND modern technology does not always make things better, even in the aggregate, then how can philosophy always make everything better?

          • by Alaren (682568)

            but we do ostensibly select our best and brightest to "rule."

            Then how was Bush the younger ever selected to "rule"?

            Well, I did specify ostensibly, after all. Despite the popular perceptions of politicians as corrupt and incompetent, I think the two together represent, at worst, a large minority of our elected leaders. While Plato's specific vision in Republic has not been borne out, our real Republic bears at least as much resemblance to Plato's dream as to the reality of Athenian democracy.

            As to the ot

      • by bug1 (96678)

        If philosophy makes everything better then where are the philosopher kings [wikipedia.org] that Plato spoke of and if they are not here yet then how have things gotten any better since the time of Plato?

        Has the thing that makes us human has gotten any better, can it ?

        A leader cant make his followers "better", he can show them a path of self improvement.

        But if you are just being superficial, then yes. Im sure you have lots of stuff, and having lots of stuff makes you better than people in Plato's time....

    • by ignavus (213578)

      With the notable exception of advanced degrees at Harvard, most fields of study terminate at a "Doctor of Philosophy" degree for this very reason.

      Um, I think you will find that lots of universities around the world have higher doctorates, not just Harvard. *All* the Australian universities I attended or have even looked at - major and regional - had PhDs but also had the higher degrees of DLitt, DSc, etc which are only awarded to scholars with extensive and outstanding research publications in their field.

      • by Alaren (682568)
        Sorry, American-centric here. It's true that the Ed.D. is common in American universities, and of course the J.D., M.D., and D.D.M./D.D.S., but the other degrees you describe are much more common in other countries. Harvard is the only American university I'm familiar with that grants other non-Ph.D. styled degrees in significant number, though.
    • by raddan (519638)

      Every field of study... that is, every single field of study... was once a branch of philosophy, or a branch off a branch of philosophy, et cetera.

      Actually-- this is untrue. There are plenty of fields whose genesis was in practice, and the refinement of that practice became the study, including many scientific fields. Metallurgy, engineering, chemistry, to name a few. To use [abused] philosophical terminology: certain things cannot be known a priori, therefore knowledge of them must be gained through experience. Modern scientific thought borrows Hegel's dialectic ("thesis, antithesis, synthesis") from philosophy, but it is not solely derived from

      • My expectation would be that someone with a philosophy degree would know a bit more about the history of philosophy... or, for that matter, the history of metallurgy, engineering, and chemistry... to name a few.

        Philosophy is not always at odds with practicality; indeed, it is often the point at which practicality overwhelms theory that a given area of inquiry spins off into its own discipline. Chemistry, for example, comes to us from alchemy, which was as much a philosophy as a practice--they didn't call

  • by A nonymous Coward (7548) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:20PM (#25711279)

    it occurred to me that over these past few years Philosophy has a more prominent role in Computer Science then ever before

    Maybe computers have a more prominent role in philosophy than ever before. Not in the physical sense of typing up long winded papers, but in the sense of creating models to simulate ... stuff.

    Just asking.

  • I can understand why studying both might be quite popular(many philosophers have also been involved in mathematics, and CS gives you hope of getting paid that philosophy generally doesn't); but I don't think that the two fields have all that much to do with each other. There are some results in CS that are philosophically relevant(the halting problem qualifies as epistemology); but they don't really grow out of philosophy in any particular way, nor does progress seem to be impeded by lack of interaction.

    I
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SatanicPuppy (611928) *

      Say rather that all mathematics stems from philosophy and you'll be more correct. The foundation of modern mathematical thought was a philosophical work called the Principia Mathematica [wikipedia.org]. Deductive logic is pretty much the foundation of all programming languages, its relevant to chip architecture, everything.

      As far as ethics go, I'm more ambivalent. There is no great ethical theory out there these days, it's just varying forms of crappy, intellectually bankrupt relativism. Kant may have had his problems, b

      • I completely agree about the foundational importance of philosophy. Pretty much everything that isn't mud farming or animism is ultimately a branch of philosophy. In the context of TFA, though, I would argue that CS's philosophically relevant results grow out of CS(the department/curriculum) more than they do philosophy(the department/curriculum) with some stuff, like logic, more or less evenly shared. This doesn't mean that philosophy is unimportant, or that it isn't the basis of those results(as well as C
      • by melikamp (631205)

        Say rather that all mathematics stems from philosophy and you'll be more correct.

        More correct could still be a far cry from correct.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        The foundation of modern mathematical thought was a philosophical work called the Principia Mathematica.

        Um, no, not really. Rather, foundationalist philosophers of mathematics, and a few philosophically oriented mathematicians used to claim that mathematics was founded on logic and/or set theory. There were always philosophers who disagreed with the whole foundationalist project for mathematics, and over time those folks have gotten more and more influential.

        Computer science has given a hell of a boost

  • ignorance is bliss (Score:4, Informative)

    by johnrpenner (40054) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:30PM (#25711459) Homepage

    There is a lot in computer science that has long ago been worked out in philosophy, but for which most computer scientists have but a fuzzy grasp.

    Computer Science operates under certain philosophical assumptions which have consequences -- but if you don't even know that you're operating under a DUALISTIC ASSUMPTIONS -- you will not be able to deal with those.

    For example, Cognitive Scientists are often are not very precise in their use of the words 'knowledge' and 'understanding', as John Searle so brilliantly explains:

    (Exerpted from 'Minds Brains and Programs')

    "First I want to block some common misunderstandings about 'understanding': in many of these discussions one finds a lot of fancy footwork about the word "understanding." My critics point out that there are many different degrees of understanding; that "understanding" is not a simple two-place predicate; that there are even different kinds and levels of understanding, and often the law of excluded middle doesn-t even apply in a straightforward way to statements of the form "x understands y; that in many cases it is a matter for decision and not a simple matter of fact whether x understands y; and so on. To all of these points I want to say: of course, of course. But they have nothing to do with the points at issue. There are clear cases in which "understanding' literally applies and clear cases in which it does not apply; and these two sorts of cases are all I need for this argument 2 I understand stories in English; to a lesser degree I can understand stories in French; to a still lesser degree, stories in German; and in Chinese, not at all. My car and my adding machine, on the other hand, understand nothing: they are not in that line of business. We often attribute "under standing" and other cognitive predicates by metaphor and analogy to cars, adding machines, and other artifacts, but nothing is proved by such attributions. We say, "The door knows when to open because of its photoelectric cell," "The adding machine knows how) (understands how to, is able) to do addition and subtraction but not division," and "The thermostat perceives chances in the temperature."

    The reason we make these attributions is quite interesting, and it has to do with the fact that in artifacts we extend our own intentionality;3 our tools are extensions of our purposes, and so we find it natural to make metaphorical attributions of intentionality to them; but I take it no philosophical ice is cut by such examples. The sense in which an automatic door "understands instructions" from its photoelectric cell is not at all the sense in which I understand English. If the sense in which Schank's programmed computers understand stories is supposed to be the metaphorical sense in which the door understands, and not the sense in which I understand English, the issue would not be worth discussing. But Newell and Simon (1963) write that the kind of cognition they claim for computers is exactly the same as for human beings. I like the straightforwardness of this claim, and it is the sort of claim I will be considering. I will argue that in the literal sense the programmed computer understands what the car and the adding machine understand, namely, exactly nothing. The computer understanding is not just (like my understanding of German) partial or incomplete; it is zero.

    [This has certain consequences...]

    IN MUCH OF AI THERE IS A RESIDUAL BEHAVIOURISM OR OPERATIONALISM. Since appropriately programmed computers can have input-output patterns similar to those of human beings, we are tempted to postulate mental states in the computer similar to human mental states. But once we see that it is both conceptually and empirically possible for a system to have human capacities in some realm without having any intentionality at all, we should be able to overcome this impulse. My desk adding machine has calculating capacities, but no intentionality, and in this paper I have tried to show that a system could have input and output capabilities that duplicated those

    • John Searle is rubbish. His argument simply isn't cogent. Lets look at it this way. Obviously your brain has a vast array of capabilities, it is highly complex. Furthermore it performs a function (assisting your biological survival and reproduction) which is an ongoing constant task, it never ends, and it does not break down into any one closed set of sub goals.

      Now, lets consider your calculator. It is quite simple and performs only a few specific functions. Furthermore its function is quite limited, it per

    • Let me summarize the paper.

      In the first section: If somebody can write a strong AI program, I can construct a system of me, an instruction book, and some pieces of paper such that I can take in sentences in Chinese, manipulate them, and put out sentences in Chinese. This is the "Chinese Room". I certainly don't understand Chinese, the pieces of paper don't, and the instruction book doesn't. Therefore, since I don't know how to spell "emergnet porperties", the Chinese Room cannot understand.

      In follow

  • I did it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Prien715 (251944) <agnosticpope@gmS ... com minus distro> on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:33PM (#25711519) Homepage Journal

    I'm almost 5 years out of school now and got degrees in both CS and Philosophy. In my humble opinion, there's a lot of intersection between the two, especially in regard to philosophy of the mind, but the really interesting part, I think, is how it helps me in my day to day work.

    No, I'm not discussing the Critique of Pure Reason, espousing empiricism, or wondering if I really am just dreaming.

    What I learned from my other major was discursive thinking: dissecting an idea to see what it means and what its ramifications are and how to deal with having more than one way to do it (TM) by choosing the best one.

    Philosophy, for me, was all about discussion, so I'd had years of practice putting ideas up on the white board, understanding them, and maybe shooting them down years before I ever joined my first programming team.

    (That, and being able to write incomprehensible comments vis a vis the English challenged folk with whom I sometimes work;))

    • While I didn't get the double major, I spent almost as much time in philosophy classes as in CS classes. I found it to be a different kind of thinking that was almost relaxing compared to a long day over a hot keyboard debugging a parser. Not, as my family insisted, because I like to argue. I agree completely with it being about discussion, and how to defend one's ideas without resorting to "Oh, yeah?", and "Sez you!"

      Oh, and getting to recite from memory the Professor of Logic from The Album of The Soundtra

  • Backwards (Score:3, Interesting)

    by grocer (718489) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:35PM (#25711555)
    Wait...computer science is the practical application of symbolic logic. Western science as we know it is rooted in Western philosophy to the point that science didn't become it's own little domain until that Renaissance thing. Philosophy has zero practical real world application except as philosophy (i.e. the study of knowledge). I say this as someone with a philosophy minor and my wife has a masters in philosophy...believe me, nobody has ever quizzed us on Kant's moral imperative in a job interview or expected anything on dualism.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    In 1983, as an undergraduate, I started at DUKE on a pair of B.S degrees in Psychology (emphasis on Human Learning) and Computer Science but later expanded my undergraduate scope to include a Philosophy degree. I was durn early in crossing these disciplines and still remember how little they used to talk to one another (during the late 80s and into the early 90s it was frustrating and amusing to watch the C.S. AI researchers painfully re-discover stuff that Psychologists had known for decades).

    After so man

  • by Morpeth (577066) on Monday November 10, 2008 @05:40PM (#25711657)
    I think the op has an interesting idea, but his use of the term 'philosophy' in this context is a bit broad. I was double philosophy/psych major in college, and currently work mainly as a web developer (e-commerce / finance)

    There's a lot of branches to philosophy, most are basically entire disciplines unto themselves. I think in terms of logic and ethics, yes there's some overlap -- as those are two branches in the field.

    But when talking about areas like phenomenology, epistemology & cosmology I don't see any real connection, or any kind of overlap (without really forcing it). Not that it's a bad thing -- it's just an apples and oranges kind of thing.

    Ethics is relevant anywhere imo, not only CS and certainly in the business world it's valuable. I would say the one place where philosophy and CS overlap the closest is in Logic, for pretty obvious reasons.

    But, there's simply too many areas of study in philosophy for the disciplines to merge entirely

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lemmy Caution (8378)

      The connection is historical, and has a name: Kant. Until Kant, the analytic and critical philosophical traditions were the same. After Kant, the analytic tradition went one way, and through Hegel, what we call the continental tradition went the other way. At times (e.g., Wittgenstein, Searle, Heidegger via Dreyfus) there are good-will ambassadors sent from one camp to the other, but generally they are now different disciplines, with the continental tradition being more important to the social sciences, hum

    • by DrFalkyn (102068)

      But when talking about areas like phenomenology, epistemology & cosmology I don't see any real connection, or any kind of overlap (without really forcing it). Not that it's a bad thing -- it's just an apples and oranges kind of thing.

      Epistemology does have some relevance in the AI field.

  • I'm not joking, that's actually what it says on my diploma. I majored in CS, minored in Philosophy. And yes, cognitive science does have a lot to do with both fields. I tried to get the two departments to get together and discuss this when I was in school, but the professors in both departments were completely uninterested in the proposition.
  • It is the only way to not turn out like the Bryyonians.
  • We've had that in IT for awhile now. Just go to your UNIX sysadmin and start reading the features list for Windows Vista-- Instant holy war. So philosophy in IT would actually be an improvement. ^_^ (grinning, ducking, running)

  • When I was in college (Computer Engineering), I needed 3 courses to finish my humanties electives.

    I took Logic, Advanced Logic, and Philosophy and Logic. All thru the Philosophy Dept. They were cross-listed using Math and Computer Science, too.

    But as a Philosophy course, well, you get my drift!

  • by WikiTerra (883949) on Monday November 10, 2008 @06:25PM (#25712413)

    Are computer science and philosophy related? Yes! I have BA in philosophy, and I focused on cognitive science and artificial intelligence, where the two meet head to head. Computer science needs philosophy in order to help evaluate the status of machines in terms of whether or not they have consciousness. And philosophy needs computer science to help answer open questions in the philosophy of mind.

    Also, the two have a mutual interest in the study of information--what is it, how do you use it efficiently, how do you organize it, how do you process it, etc. If you have any interest in it, you should definitely check out Luciano Floridi [philosophy...mation.net]--he's part of/started a movement he calls The Philosophy of Information [blackwellpublishing.com] that encompasses but AI and the philosophy of computing in general, including questions in ethics.

    Currently I'm taking courses in computer science (and I work in IT), and I hope to start grad school in cognitive science next year. So yes, for me philosophy and computer science are intimately entwined.

  • Minds and Computers (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mattcarter (1404223)
    The clearest connection between Philosophy and Computer Science lies in the intersection between formal logic, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of computation - namely the field of Artificial Intelligence, understood as a sub-field of Cognitive Science. [shamelessselfpromotion] My book 'Minds and Computers' (EUP 2007) - mindsandcomputers.net - is an accessible introduction to the philosophy of artificial intelligence and gives a sustained account of the relation between philosophy, computation and cognit
  • by mls_ld (1404225) on Monday November 10, 2008 @07:01PM (#25712887)
    "Is a merger of Philosophy, a discipline steeped in history and intelligent thought, and Computer Science, a discipline that looks to the future, the best of both worlds?"

    This question is a red herring, because by answering it the way it is written it allows us to avoid the question that is taken for granted: does philosophy and computer science have little to no overlap? You have to believe that both fields don't overlap if you want to start answering the post's question as it is written.

    But consider just some of the branches and topics of philosophy: aesthetics, reality, truth, ethics(!), logic. I have yet to see anyone try and demonstrate that these topics have no relevance to certain fields. At bare minimum, the social nature of all knowledge implies that these topics will have relevance to your field, occupation, or program of study.

    Furthermore, take just one branch of philosophy: ethics. Essentially asking the question, "how then shall we live together?", the only way you could prove that a topic under consideration had little relevance to ethics is if you could prove that the topic under consideration has nothing to do with how we live our lives. I have yet to see anyone attempt to prove this about any topic.

    Maybe it was just a poorly worded question, and the poster was asking about ways to make explicit how deeply connected both fields are. I'm not certain. But it's troubling to see such a huge assumption about philosophy and computer science pop up here and have so many people agree to it without proof.

  • It is my opinion that people should read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance [wikipedia.org] to understand philosophy's role in Computer Science.
  • Philosophy as others have remarked is a pretty broad subject. Some things like symbolic logic are very similar to the methods used in Computer Science which have a lot to do with software development and problem solving (although we are definitely living in the age where formal views of program correctness are not the norm).

    Other things about philosophy like "intentionality" as a field of study are farther off, perhaps to the point of inconsequential.

    That said much of the posting is full of things you find

  • Any academic discipline that has technical terms like "raw feelies" can't be all bad.

    Sure, why not. Clear thinking will be at a premium in unraveling the mechanisms of cognition. And in AI, some people (COUGH, Kurzweil) seem to talk like sentience will spontaneously emerge if you can fill a large enough barrel with nanobots. More in the Hofstadter camp myself that building a mind is going to be a long slog through thick terrain.

  • After the very early enlightenment (late 1700s - early 1800s), philosophy was put to use to reconcile reason with religion and despotism (Hegel, Kant) or to explain why the two could not be reconciled (Nietzsche). Finally the quest ended in defeat and nihilism with the existentialists during the mid 20th century.

    This of course has nothing to do with computer science.

    There are some ignored philosophers who might tangentially be of interest to computer science like some of Von Mises's technical methodologica

  • If the following link doesn't get you there, just access the organization's home page & search for "Code of Ethics"...

      http://acs.org.au/index.cfm?action=show&conID=coe [acs.org.au]

    I'd be interested in other IT (or Engineering) societies' Codes of Ethics (or similar)...

    Kindly post links in a reply to this post, thanks.

  • depending on your point of view.

    About now, I am thinking the latter.

It's a poor workman who blames his tools.

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