Philosophy of computer science

Last updated

The philosophy of computer science is concerned with the philosophical questions that arise with the study of computer science, which is understood to mean not just programming but the whole study of concepts and methods that assist in the development and maintenance of computer systems. [1] There is still no common understanding of the content, aim, focus, or topic of the philosophy of computer science, [2] despite some attempts to develop a philosophy of computer science like the philosophy of physics or the philosophy of mathematics.

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Computer science Study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation

Computer science is the study of processes that interact with data and that can be represented as data in the form of programs. It enables the use of algorithms to manipulate, store, and communicate digital information. A computer scientist studies the theory of computation and the practice of designing software systems.

Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.

Computer programming Process that leads from an original formulation of a computing problem to executable computer programs

Computer programming is the process of designing and building an executable computer program for accomplishing a specific computing task. Programming involves tasks such as: analysis, generating algorithms, profiling algorithms' accuracy and resource consumption, and the implementation of algorithms in a chosen programming language. The source code of a program is written in one or more languages that are intelligible to programmers, rather than machine code, which is directly executed by the central processing unit. The purpose of programming is to find a sequence of instructions that will automate the performance of a task on a computer, often for solving a given problem. The process of programming thus often requires expertise in several different subjects, including knowledge of the application domain, specialized algorithms, and formal logic.


The philosophy of computer science as such deals with the meta-activity that is associated with the development of the concepts and methodologies that implement and analyze the computational systems. [3]

See also

Artificial intelligence has close connections with philosophy because both share several concepts and these include intelligence, action, consciousness, epistemology, and even free will. Furthermore, the technology is concerned with the creation of artificial animals or artificial people so the discipline is of considerable interest to philosophers. These factors contributed to the emergence of the philosophy of artificial intelligence. Some scholars argue that the AI community's dismissal of philosophy is detrimental.

The philosophy of information (PI) is a branch of philosophy that studies topics relevant to computer science, information science and information technology.

The philosophy of mathematics is the branch of philosophy that studies the assumptions, foundations, and implications of mathematics, and purports to provide a viewpoint of the nature and methodology of mathematics, and to understand the place of mathematics in people's lives. The logical and structural nature of mathematics itself makes this study both broad and unique among its philosophical counterparts.

Related Research Articles

In computability theory, the Church–Turing thesis is a hypothesis about the nature of computable functions. It states that a function on the natural numbers can be calculated by an effective method, if and only if it is computable by a Turing machine. The thesis is named after American mathematician Alonzo Church and the British mathematician Alan Turing. Before the precise definition of computable function, mathematicians often used the informal term effectively calculable to describe functions that are computable by paper-and-pencil methods. In the 1930s, several independent attempts were made to formalize the notion of computability:

Theory of computation subfield of computer science

In theoretical computer science and mathematics, the theory of computation is the branch that deals with how efficiently problems can be solved on a model of computation, using an algorithm. The field is divided into three major branches: automata theory and languages, computability theory, and computational complexity theory, which are linked by the question: "What are the fundamental capabilities and limitations of computers?".

In physics and cosmology, digital physics is a collection of theoretical perspectives based on the premise that the universe is describable by information. It is a form of digital ontology about the physical reality. According to this theory, the universe can be conceived of as either the output of a deterministic or probabilistic computer program, a vast, digital computation device, or mathematically isomorphic to such a device.

Ray Solomonoff's theory of universal inductive inference is a theory of prediction based on logical observations, such as predicting the next symbol based upon a given series of symbols. The only assumption that the theory makes is that the environment follows some unknown but computable probability distribution. It is a mathematical formalization of Occam's razor and the Principle of Multiple Explanations.

Computer ethics is a part of practical philosophy concerned with how computing professionals should make decisions regarding professional and social conduct. Margaret Anne Pierce, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computers at Georgia Southern University has categorized the ethical decisions related to computer technology and usage into three primary influences:

  1. The individual's own personal code.
  2. Any informal code of ethical conduct that exists in the work place.
  3. Exposure to formal codes of ethics.

Neurophilosophy or philosophy of neuroscience is the interdisciplinary study of neuroscience and philosophy that explores the relevance of neuroscientific studies to the arguments traditionally categorized as philosophy of mind. The philosophy of neuroscience attempts to clarify neuroscientific methods and results using the conceptual rigor and methods of philosophy of science.

Algorithmic information theory is a subfield of information theory and computer science that concerns itself with the relationship between computation and information. According to Gregory Chaitin, it is "the result of putting Shannon's information theory and Turing's computability theory into a cocktail shaker and shaking vigorously."

The history of computer science began long before our modern discipline of computer science usually appearing in forms like mathematics or physics. Developments in previous centuries alluded to the discipline that we now know as computer science. This progression, from mechanical inventions and mathematical theories towards modern computer concepts and machines, led to the development of a major academic field, massive technological advancement across Western Society, and the basis of a massive worldwide trade and culture.

Ethnocomputing is the study of the interactions between computing and culture. It is carried out through theoretical analysis, empirical investigation, and design implementation. It includes research on the impact of computing on society, as well as the reverse: how cultural, historical, personal, and societal origins and surroundings cause and affect the innovation, development, diffusion, maintenance, and appropriation of computational artifacts or ideas. From the ethnocomputing perspective, no computational technology is culturally "neutral," and no cultural practice is a computational void. Instead of considering culture to be a hindrance for software engineering, culture should be seen as a resource for innovation and design.

In philosophy, the computational theory of mind (CTM) refers to a family of views that hold that the human mind is an information processing system and that cognition and consciousness together are a form of computation. Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts (1943) were the first to suggest that neural activity is computational. They argued that neural computations explain cognition. The theory was proposed in its modern form by Hilary Putnam in 1967, and developed by his PhD student, philosopher and cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Despite being vigorously disputed in analytic philosophy in the 1990s due to work by Putnam himself, John Searle, and others, the view is common in modern cognitive psychology and is presumed by many theorists of evolutionary psychology. In the 2000s and 2010s the view has resurfaced in analytic philosophy.

Luciano Floridi Italian philosopher

Luciano Floridi is currently Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information and Director of the Digital Ethics Lab, at the University of Oxford, Oxford Internet Institute, Professorial Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, Senior Member of the Faculty of Philosophy, Research Associate and Fellow in Information Policy at the Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford, and Distinguished Research Fellow of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. He is also Adjunct Professor, Department of Economics, American University, Washington D.C. He is Turing Fellow and Chair of the Data Ethics Group (DEG) of the Alan Turing Institute

The International Association for Computing and Philosophy (IACAP) is a professional, philosophical association emerging from a history of conferences that began in 1986. Adopting its mission from these conferences, the IACAP exists in order to promote scholarly dialogue on all aspects of the computational/informational turn and the use of computers in the service of philosophy.

Jack Copeland philosopher, logician, historian of science

Brian Jack Copeland is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, and author of books on the computing pioneer Alan Turing.

The Barwise prize was established in 2002 by the American Philosophical Association, in conjunction with the APA Committee on Philosophy and Computers, on the basis of a proposal from the International Association for Computing and Philosophy for significant and sustained contributions to areas relevant to philosophy and computing.

In computability theory, super-recursive algorithms are a generalization of ordinary algorithms that are more powerful, that is, compute more than Turing machines. The term was introduced by Mark Burgin, whose book "Super-recursive algorithms" develops their theory and presents several mathematical models. Turing machines and other mathematical models of conventional algorithms allow researchers to find properties of recursive algorithms and their computations. In a similar way, mathematical models of super-recursive algorithms, such as inductive Turing machines, allow researchers to find properties of super-recursive algorithms and their computations.

Information that which informs; the answer to a question of some kind; that from which data and knowledge can be derived

Information is the resolution of uncertainty; it is that which answers the question of "what an entity is" and thus defines both its essence and nature of its characteristics. Information relates to both data and knowledge, as data represents values attributed to parameters, and knowledge signifies understanding of a concept. Information is uncoupled from an observer, which is an entity that can access information and thus discern what it specifies; information may exist beyond an event horizon, for example. In the case of knowledge, the information itself requires a cognitive observer to be obtained.

Jan van Leeuwen is a Dutch computer scientist and Emeritus professor of computer science at the Department of Information and Computing Sciences at Utrecht University.

The Covey Award was established in 2008 by the International Association for Computing and Philosophy, to recognise "accomplished innovative research, and possibly teaching that flows from that research, in the field of computing and philosophy broadly conceived".


  1. Turner
  2. Tedre, Matti (2014). The Science of Computing: Shaping a Discipline. Chapman Hall.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-02-18. Retrieved 2009-04-17.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

Further reading

PhilPapers is an international, interactive academic database of journal articles for professionals and students in philosophy. It is maintained by the Centre for Digital Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario.

William J. Rapaport is an associate professor at the University at Buffalo.