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Philosophy and Computer Science Revisited

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the philosophy-goes-nicely-with-many-things dept.

Education 204

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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204 comments

Reading two and a half year old slashdot? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25710961)

While reading the two and a half year old Slashdot post

Get out much?

Logic is programming (4, Interesting)

mschuyler (197441) | more than 5 years ago | (#25710997)

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:Logic is programming (1, Interesting)

teknognome (910243) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711185)

Symbolic logic, while it developed out of philosophy and is in some places taught by philosophy departments, isn't philosophy. It's either mathematics or theoretical computer science. It is however, very useful for people in programming or computer science.

Re:Logic is programming (5, Informative)

Hellcom (1041714) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711289)

What are you talking about? Logic is a branch of philosophy, and has been for millenniums and formally founded by Plato and Aristotle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_logic [wikipedia.org]

Re:Logic is programming (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25712769)

Logic, as defined by the ancient greeks is a tool (organon). It serves a purpose, its not a purpose per se. It helps you reason, deduct, infer, prove, etc. Hence its connection with philosophy. When philosophy tries to prove something it users logic, not sentiments or afinities.
It later developed into a fool blown science, because, well, there will always be people that study the tool instead of using it. Not that that's bad or anything :)

it's both (4, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711397)

Or, slightly more specifically, it depends on what parts of symbolic logic you focus on. Given a specific system of symbolic logic, working out its technical implications is yes, essentially mathematics or theoretical computer science. Using it to implement automated reasoners is artificial intelligence (a branch of computer science).

Designing logics can go either way, though. You could do it purely as a technical matter: you want a logic with a particular property, so you design one that has that property. Most logics are designed from a more philosophical perspective, though: logic basically as a way of formalizing statements and ways of reasoning about statements. From Aristotle through the middle ages people had catalogued valid and fallacious methods of reasoning; a system of logic encompasses a formalization of such a system. It also has ontological implications, depending on what you decide to make representable in the logic, and what you view as the implications of doing so. For example, W.V.O. Quine's works on logic, while they contain technical results as well, are mainly philosophical in nature. Bertrand Russell's research program in logic, while it contained a lot of technical results, was also primarily philosophical in nature.

Re:Logic is programming (2, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711247)

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

Re:Logic is programming (4, Interesting)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711571)

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 seen, because I can pick and choose from the skills I do have to fix random problems as they come up. I usually have success. But, the neat thing about problem solving is that it's a universal skill that you can always get better at it. For example, once you learn a programming language, you know the language, the problem you encounter in becoming 'better' at that language is figuring out how to deal with problems and flush out theories, which takes critical problem solving skills that are better developed in philosophical study.

Anyway. That's my opinion. Science and Philosophy are very related, they just attract two diffrent types of people who don't always overlap.

=Smidge=

Re:Logic is programming (4, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711807)

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.

I just shat a big turd (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25711277)

Do you want to eat it?

I flushed it but I can save the next one for you.

Re:I just shat a big turd (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25711579)

Only on slashdot is this +1 Insightful.

Re:Logic is programming (2, Insightful)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711339)

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 careful establishment of the question has become to determining the right answer. Validate the question first, then the answer follows more easily. Semantics are easier that way. So, now, we're developing a segment of the world's population who are being trained in logical -- and rational -- thinking. That, by itself, can only be good.

Programming is Logic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25712187)

Shouldn't it be the other way around?
i.e., Programming is Logic.

Logic is big and consists of more things than programming.

Programming though, fundamentally, is logic.

Everyone should study some philosophy (5, Insightful)

davidwr (791652) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711083)

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.

Re:Everyone should study some philosophy (3, Interesting)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711445)

Just FYI: I worked my way through school as a programmer and chose philosophy on purpose because I found that's where the logic courses were.

(I also took a lot of physics and math which no doubt helps, but the degree is philosophy) I feel the study of various logical abstractions helped widen my perspective. Not to mention you are trained to diagram any set of concept/relationships, which is also quite useful. My diagrams have consistent grammer, and I'm sure this is because I was trained how to create a legend that maps directly to real concepts (e.g. an arrow means something, and is only used for truly identical relationships. Of course, the arrow might mean different things in different diagrams, but within a given diagram: consistency). I'm not sure all Philosophy programs are so rigerous about logic... but it is the one thing, the only thing, that philosophers have any agreement over.

=Smidge=

Re:Everyone should study some philosophy (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711453)

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.

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.

There's understanding, and there's understanding (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711547)

Yes, by the time you graduate 12th grade or even 1st grade you have some level of understanding of these concepts.

Formal training in philosophy carries it to the next level.

An "educated" person, someone who has a 4-year degree, should have the brains and training to think at that next level.

Re:Everyone should study some philosophy (3, Insightful)

servognome (738846) | more than 5 years ago | (#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."

Re:Everyone should study some philosophy (1)

smallfries (601545) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712825)

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 various moral and ethical frameworks that have been proposed.

So, purely from the basis of "not being an asshole", what are the pros and cons of a Moral War? The standard ethical objections to such a war, and the ethical arguments based on corner cases used to establish that such objections cannot represent an absolutist moral viewpoint.

Finally, just to show that it's not all academic wanking for the sake of it: how does this apply to current US foreign policy in Iraq, and the viewpoints of Americans who either support, or disapprove of that policy?

Now, is it possible that the GP had a point that study of viewpoints, and the reasoning behind them is worthy of scholastic study, and provides something beyond "not being an asshole" as taught to children? I'm just going from long distant memory, as I only did one semester of Philosophy as it looked interested during my undergraduate degree in CS, nearly ten years ago. Yet from my experience, that one semester taught me to think more deeply about some central issues in reasoning than anyone I've met since then without a similar background in philosophy.

Certainly a subject that should be taught in schools. It seems wise to make students think, before you try and teach them to think about X.

Re:Everyone should study some philosophy (1)

Dystopian Rebel (714995) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711533)

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

Re:Everyone should study some philosophy (1)

howlinmonkey (548055) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712327)

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.

Hasn't anybody read (4, Insightful)

srussia (884021) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711087)

Hofstader's GEB:EGB?

Re:Hasn't anybody read (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711141)

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.

Re:Hasn't anybody read (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711411)

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:Hasn't anybody read (2, Insightful)

digitig (1056110) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712893)

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).

Yes. (0)

Estanislao Martínez (203477) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712569)

It gives you the warm and fuzzy feeling that you feel when you think you understand something. Hopefully, you later grow up, seriously read a lot more stuff (and by "seriously" I mean "charitably"), and realize that it's not a very good book after all.

Data Modelling (2, Interesting)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Data Modelling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25712131)

Why is the parent modded interesting? It's obviously a joke.

I Think You're Reaching There (4, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711103)

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?

Re:I Think You're Reaching There (1, Insightful)

chromatic (9471) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711393)

[Where] has a major application of Philosophy developed in Computer Science in the last 2.5 years?

Sometimes I like to think of roles [oreillynet.com] (or Smalltalk traits [unibe.ch] ) as an exploration of Platonic ideals and Kantian noumena, in the idea that our means of interaction between objects depends solely on our understanding of their phenomena.

Oh, not this. (1)

Estanislao Martínez (203477) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712663)

So roles are basically interfaces, but with type-checking whether an object satifies the interfaces deferred until runtime. That's a good idea; I've personally actually wanted very long to have something like this in Java. But it's basically a small improvement on interface specifications, which comes down to type systems.

Why do you Perl folk like to talk about every simple thing as if it was the product of your profound knowledge of something else that's only tenuously related to computer science? For example, Larry Wall is pretty insignificant as a linguist, yet him and a bunch of other Perlfolk keep attributing all sorts of hare-brained ideas to the supposed fact that he's a linguist, and therefore supposedly has some great insight into how natural languages work and how people think. Um, no.

Re:I Think You're Reaching There (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25711451)

I don't know every time I read about the latest, greatest programming language it start me thinking about Plato's Forms; whether or not we are simply chasing an illusion for the sake of a purely intellectual pursuit.

more in research than in development (4, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

There were these guys, Godel and Turing (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25712079)

They both studied philosophy. If you don't understand what they have to do with your every day job, then you don't really understand what you are doing every day.

Re:I Think You're Reaching There (3, Interesting)

Flwyd (607088) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712173)

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:I Think You're Reaching There (2, Insightful)

Philosinfinity (726949) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712347)

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 to read more effectively, think more logically, and analyze data from multiple levels.

Really, philosophy puts you in a position to have sharply honed skills that can be utilized in any possible profession. If marketed correctly, if could mean the difference between your promotion over a coworker or even your ability to negotiate a better salary. Greater than that, also... what happens if you get tired of being a code monkey? What if one day you lose the passion you once had for the things you do on a daily basis? A strong philosophical background provides an excellent basis for a career move to nearly any field you want.

Re:I Think You're Reaching There (2, Informative)

spiffyman (949476) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712395)

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 thought - which includes CS. Neural networks are now regularly discussed in undergraduate philosophy courses. In no other liberal arts major will you find students so familiar with the work of Kripke, Goedel, Turing, or Frege. Hell, I know CS majors who can't go toe-to-toe with a good philosophy major when it comes to theory.

And when you ask us to set aside "logic, predicate calculus and the philosophy of mathematics," you're asking us to ignore the foundation of the philosophy of language, a field of study that's enormously popular today and overlaps into linguistics, semantic modeling, etc.

That's not to mention whole subfields of metaphysics, such as ontology.

I'm not saying there's some "killer app" for philosophy here. But the fields are more closely bound than you make them seem.

I for one... (3, Funny)

chill (34294) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711121)

...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! (1, Troll)

motek (179836) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711157)

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! (3, Insightful)

kitsunewarlock (971818) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711775)

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.

Re:Obviously! (1)

Bender0x7D1 (536254) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712903)

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.

Now more than ever (1)

Mentifex (187202) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711211)

Speaking as someone who majored in ancient Greek and Latin as both an undergraduate and in graduate school at U Cal Berkeley, IMHO computer science is now at the cutting edge of philosophy.

Now that AI has been solved [google.com] , the philosophy of mind has switched from theory-mode to practicum-mode, just as AstroNomy switched from theory-mode and observation-mode to practicum-mode when ManKind ventured into SpaceTravel in the nineteen-sixties.

Even NeuroScience is moving into computer science, as a Theory of Mind [sourceforge.net] for artificial intelligence gets implemented in Open-Source AI SoftWare.

AI Funding [advogato.org] is now available for philosophers-turned-computer-scientiosts.

No (2, Funny)

JCSoRocks (1142053) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711213)

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]

Re:No (1)

SputnikPanic (927985) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711359)

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:No (1)

bluesky74656 (625291) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712541)

I'm a philosophy major, so my view may be a bit biased. I've found that it's much easier to answer the practical questions accurately if you've got a good grasp of the theoretical questions.

So, to use your example, asking whether or not all viewpoints are valid is asking more fundamentally whether or not all viewpoints are true. If truth is defined as being in conformity with reality, then it would really help to have at some point asked what reality is.

In my mind, Metaphysics is the fundamental question of philosophy, with Anthropology running a close second. Everything else flows naturally from a proper understanding of those two fields.

Re:No (2, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711513)

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), and I took a couple of fluffy 18th century philosophy courses, but the vast majority of what I studied was very modern.

And when I picked up CS people looked at my indifferent math grades and predicted I wouldn't be able to handle programming because my background was in a froofy liberal art. I didn't have a single class where my programming scores weren't in the top 5% of my class. In principles of programming languages; 8 languages in 16 weeks, my average score was 40 points over the fucking curve.

I don't keep up much with philosophy these days...A book every now and then, and that's about it. But there isn't a day that I'm not thankful for the the tools I developed in studying it.

Re:No (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712253)

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? (3, Insightful)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711229)

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.

Re:does it matter? (1)

obliv!on (1160633) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711371)

Yeah instead of worrying about merging philosophy and computer science I think the real deal is that computer science is splitting into the informatics and engineering portion on end of the spectra and the theoretical components that while bearing some philosophical relevance is simply a throw back to the CS birth in mathematics.

So applied CS is all the more pushing out towards informatics and software engineering while theoretical is merging more and more with the philosophy of mathematics and other mathematical fields.

Re:does it matter? (0)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711613)

The mods need to lay off the crack-pipe.

I'm not sure I agree with your conclusion, but your premise is interesting. And I say this as one who has a Comp Sci degree. i.e. School never teaches you about:

- office politics is more important then the tech
- communication with people is the best skill a programmer can develop
- almost everybody ships with code "hacks"
- businesses for the most don't care about the quality of code, only does it work. And if it works, how long until you can "ship it"?
- Universities tend to be more theoretical, Tech Schools need to be more applied.

What were some of your suggestions for how it be taught different / better?

--
Artificial Ignorance will never reach Artifial Intelligence until Consciousness is first understood.

Hard Not to Sound Pretentious (5, Insightful)

Alaren (682568) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Hard Not to Sound Pretentious (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25711585)

How could you possibly go from electrical engineering, where you might actually create something useful, to a lawyer and philosopher?

What philosophy use to be, and what philosophy amounts to today, are very different animals.

What has philosophy taught you if I may ask?

Re:Hard Not to Sound Pretentious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25711703)

Define 'useful'. The mundane work of most EEs I know drive them to insanity, bitterness, and over-specialization. Ugh. Philosophy any day. I'm not the OP either. I have my own question for the OP. Did you plan on getting a a Ph.D. before you started law school, or did you change your mind in law school, and decide to finish anyway?

Finances (1)

Alaren (682568) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711925)

Actually, I wanted to do a Ph.D. originally, but the four-five years followed by job instability wasn't economically feasible, as I am married with three children. After reading too many stories about copyright on /. I decided maybe I could make a contribution as a lawyer (I was managing a desktop support department at the time), which fit nicely (but unintentionally) with my undergraduate education and satisfied my financial needs.

Meanwhile, my wife [aprilynnepike.com] wrote some young adult fiction which was purchased by HarperCollins (HarperTeen imprint). Her advance on royalties was not exorbitant, but it was sufficient to convince me to reconsider the Ph.D., which I still preferred over the J.D. I will likely take the bar and practice appellate work on the side, especially in copyright and Internet law, but philosophy remains my passion. Long term, I'd like to be a judge and professor in tandem... or a politician, but that will depend on whether the advance on royalties turns into more significant wealth through massive sales. d^_^b

Re:Finances (1)

bluesky74656 (625291) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712607)

A politician with a sound concept of Metaphysics, Anthropology, and Ethics would be a valuable addition to society. We need more of your kind.

Re:Hard Not to Sound Pretentious (1)

kitsunewarlock (971818) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711809)

Philosophy teaches you how to think and learn in ways previously unimaginable. It "teaches" (or allows for the learning of/encourages the learning of, I guess I'd say) wisdom.

Re:Hard Not to Sound Pretentious (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712679)

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?

Re:Hard Not to Sound Pretentious (1)

Alaren (682568) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712873)

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 to be more specific here.

Re:Hard Not to Sound Pretentious (1)

ignavus (213578) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712691)

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.

Re:Hard Not to Sound Pretentious (1)

Alaren (682568) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712817)

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.

Isn't this backwards? (2, Interesting)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Zen and the Art Of Computer Programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25711291)

I have a philosophy degree and I am a DBA and I have recently been rereading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and I personally think it should be required reading for any first year Computer science students.

Re:Zen and the Art Of Computer Programming (2, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711919)

Sure, because a fuzzy blend of eastern thought and western existentialism is valuable for anyone.

Fine. Decent book. But it's got zip to do with CS, or even much with logic, and that's the exact sort of statement that lets demagogues dismiss philosophy as nothing but intellectual fluff.

Writing as somebody who likes philosophy... (1, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711303)

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'm not sold on the ethics connection, either. Ethics is a very interesting philosophical field; but I'm not at all sure that it is relevant to the vast majority of situations where unethical behavior is a problem. Virtually nobody is dissuaded from bad behavior by the Kantian imperative or any other theoretical device, and virtually nobody falls into bad behavior because of ignorance of such a device. Ethics is a fascinating way to work on curious edge cases; but it doesn't have much to say about real world "ethical" problems, which are mostly about people doing things they know are bad, not doing things they know are good, or rationalizing things one way or the other. Psychology and social systems stuff are really what you want there.

Re:Writing as somebody who likes philosophy... (2, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711713)

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, but at least he was trying.

Re:Writing as somebody who likes philosophy... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712143)

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 CS itself); but in modern terms, the two are separate departments. In retrospect my wording on that really sucked, though.

As for ethics, I'm not sure the situation has ever really been any better. Sure, there is a fair bit of trendy pop relativism around the edges; but that dreck isn't any worse than the trendy pop absolutism that used to be popular. The problem is, ultimately, that nobody has found a truly defensible axiom set to hang the discipline on in 2500 years of trying.

Re:Writing as somebody who likes philosophy... (1)

melikamp (631205) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712687)

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:Writing as somebody who likes philosophy... (2, Informative)

Estanislao Martínez (203477) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712771)

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 to a lot of work that started out in the foundations of mathematics bin, but the work in question tends to be constructive mathematics à la Brouwer and similar folk, and not the logicist mathematics espoused by Russell (big exception: type theory, but type theory is often constructivized). This is because constructive mathematics tends to be computable, and constructive proofs can be mechanically translated into computer programs that solve mathematical problems.

ignorance is bliss (3, Informative)

johnrpenner (40054) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711459)

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 of a native Chinese speaker and still not understand Chinese, regardless of how it was programmed. The Turing test is typical of the tradition in being unashamedly behaviouristic and operationalistic, and I believe that if AI workers totally repudiated behaviourism and operationalism much of the confusion between simulation and duplication would be eliminated.

THIRD, THIS RESIDUAL OPERATIONALISM IS JOINED TO A RESIDUAL FORM OF DUALISM; INDEED STRONG AI ONLY MAKES SENSE GIVEN THE DUALISTIC ASSUMPTION THAT, WHERE THE MIND IS CONCERNED, THE BRAIN DOESN'T MATTER. In strong AI (and in functionalism, as well) what matters are programs, and programs are independent of their realization in machines; indeed, as far as AI is concerned, the same program could be realized by an electronic machine, a Cartesian mental substance, or a Hegelian world spirit. The single most surprising discovery that I have made in discussing these issues is that many AI workers are quite shocked by my idea that actual human mental phenomena might be dependent on actual physical/chemical properties of actual human brains.

But if you think about it a minute you can see that I should not have been surprised; for UNLESS YOU ACCEPT SOME FORM OF DUALISM, THE STRONG AI PROJECT HASN'T GOT A CHANCE. THE PROJECT IS TO REPRODUCE AND EXPLAIN THE MENTAL BY DESIGNING PROGRAMS, BUT UNLESS THE MIND IS NOT ONLY CONCEPTUALLY BUT EMPIRICALLY INDEPENDENT OF THE BRAIN YOU COULDN'T CARRY OUT THE PROJECT, FOR THE PROGRAM IS COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT OF ANY REALIZATION. UNLESS YOU BELIEVE THAT THE MIND IS SEPARABLE FROM THE BRAIN BOTH CONCEPTUALLY AND EMPIRICALLY -- DUALISM IN A STRONG FORM -- YOU CANNOT HOPE TO REPRODUCE THE MENTAL BY WRITING AND RUNNING PROGRAMS SINCE PROGRAMS MUST BE INDEPENDENT OF BRAINS OR ANY OTHER PARTICULAR FORMS OF INSTANTIATION. IF MENTAL OPERATIONS CONSIST IN COMPUTATIONAL OPERATIONS ON FORMAL SYMBOLS, THEN IT FOLLOWS THAT THEY HAVE NO INTERESTING CONNECTION WITH THE BRAIN; THE ONLY CONNECTION WOULD BE THAT THE BRAIN JUST HAPPENS TO BE ONE OF THE INDEFINITELY MANY TYPES OF MACHINES CAPABLE OF INSTANTIATING THE PROGRAM.

THIS FORM OF DUALISM IS NOT THE TRADITIONAL CARTESIAN VARIETY THAT CLAIMS THERE ARE TWO SORTS OF SUBSTANCES, BUT IT IS CARTESIAN IN THE SENSE THAT IT INSISTS THAT WHAT IS SPECIFICALLY MENTAL ABOUT THE MIND HAS NO INTRINSIC CONNECTION WITH THE ACTUAL PROPERTIES OF THE BRAIN. THIS UNDERLYING DUALISM IS MASKED FROM US BY THE FACT THAT AI LITERATURE CONTAINS FREQUENT FULMINATIONS AGAINST "DUALISM'-; WHAT THE AUTHORS SEEM TO BE UNAWARE OF IS THAT THEIR POSITION PRESUPPOSES A STRONG VERSION OF DUALISM.

"Could a machine think?" My own view is that only a machine could think, and indeed only very special kinds of machines, namely brains and machines that had the same causal powers as brains. And that is the main reason strong AI has had little to tell us about thinking, since it has nothing to tell us about machines. By its own definition, it is about programs, and programs are not machines. Whatever else intentionality is, it is a biological phenomenon, and it is as likely to be as causally dependent on the specific biochemistry of its origins as lactation, photosynthesis, or any other biological phenomena. No one would suppose that we could produce milk and sugar by running a computer simulation of the formal sequences in lactation and photosynthesis, but where the mind is concerned many people are willing to believe in such a miracle because of a deep and abiding dualism: the mind they suppose is a matter of formal processes and is independent of quite specific material causes in the way that milk and sugar are not.

In defense of this dualism the hope is often expressed that the brain is a digital computer (early computers, by the way, were often called "electronic brains"). But that is no help. Of course the brain is a digital computer. Since everything is a digital computer, brains are too. The point is that the brain's causal capacity to produce intentionality cannot consist in its instantiating a computer program, since for any program you like it is possible for something to instantiate that program and still not have any mental states. Whatever it is that the brain does to produce intentionality, it cannot consist in instantiating a program since no program, by itself, is sufficient for intentionality.

(Searle, John. R. (1980) Minds, brains, and programs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences [bbsonline.org] )

Re:ignorance is bliss (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712457)

I don't necessarily agree with the arguments of Searle who seems to think the brain is a special substance. On the evidence it's at best equivocal with the possibility that (i) the brain is simply much more complex than was assumed in previous generations (ii) brains are embodied, bodies are only causally effective in an environment that is also causally effective. A computer program is only a simulation of an arbitrarily separated process.

Now, Searle isn't only arguing that the brain is a special substance for "mental states" he's also suggesting it is a special substance for "qualia" or as Antonio Damasio calls it "the feeling of what happens". Searle is here, assuming in the absence of any solution for the "hard problem" in consciousness that an animal brain is composed of the only possible substance which satisfies this criteria, for which he has no evidence; although we could be charitable and make the more minimal claim for him that no modern electronic computer will ever satisfy those conditions, whatever they are, which is in any case beside the point as there is no evidence to solve the hard problem even in objects like human brains.

But I do agree that many projects in Artificial Intelligence presuppose faulty philosophical assumptions.

Re:ignorance is bliss (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25712473)

Posting anon since I modded on this topic already.

After having read a lot about AI and cognition and the brain and intelligence by now, I think I'm ready to, as a nominally unqualified person, respond to Searle on what you've quoted. (Though we may be getting too far off topic at this point.)

-How do you define "understanding"? You understand something if and to the extent that you can correctly predict it in advance. That's a clear definition and doesn't allow absurd paradoxes. So if a machine could correctly *predict*, consistently, what looks like a valid English reply to an English speaker, we are justified in saying it "understands" English. (This is the Turing Test.)

The single most surprising discovery that I have made in discussing these issues is that many AI workers are quite shocked by my idea that actual human mental phenomena might be dependent on actual physical/chemical properties of actual human brains.

But if you think about it a minute you can see that I should not have been surprised; for UNLESS YOU ACCEPT SOME FORM OF DUALISM, THE STRONG AI PROJECT HASN'T GOT A CHANCE. THE PROJECT IS TO REPRODUCE AND EXPLAIN THE MENTAL BY DESIGNING PROGRAMS, BUT UNLESS THE MIND IS NOT ONLY CONCEPTUALLY BUT EMPIRICALLY INDEPENDENT OF THE BRAIN YOU COULDN'T CARRY OUT THE PROJECT

So? Even if human mental phenomena are dependent on chemical processes in actual brains, all that means is that your program needs to be able to simulate the results of the chemical dynamics, which is a matter of generating computations isomorphic thereto. If the brain really relies on some species of neural net, then once you understand that neural net (i.e. can predict how the system evolves), you can write a program that mimics it.

IT FOLLOWS THAT THEY HAVE NO INTERESTING CONNECTION WITH THE BRAIN; THE ONLY CONNECTION WOULD BE THAT THE BRAIN JUST HAPPENS TO BE ONE OF THE INDEFINITELY MANY TYPES OF MACHINES CAPABLE OF INSTANTIATING THE PROGRAM.

I see no problem with accepting this implication, and the "strong dualism" Searle describes. Within a brain, a certain computation is performed. To the extent that some other medium can perform all of the same computations, that medium is instantiating the brain as well. In this sense, the mind is non-material: anything capable of physically carrying out its operations, can instantiate it, so it is not defined with respect to any one physical object, even if currently, someone's mind is only in one brain.

Whatever else intentionality is, it is a biological phenomenon, and it is as likely to be as causally dependent on the specific biochemistry of its origins as lactation, photosynthesis, or any other biological phenomena. No one would suppose that we could produce milk and sugar by running a computer simulation of the formal sequences in lactation and photosynthesis, but where the mind is concerned many people are willing to believe in such a miracle because of a deep and abiding dualism: the mind they suppose is a matter of formal processes and is independent of quite specific material causes in the way that milk and sugar are not.

I see this objection a lot, and it's never impressed me. In lactation (e.g. of a cow), the result we are interested in is the physical milk, not the knowledge of the milk's chemical structure. For minds *as such*, however, the result we are interested in is purely informational. In that case, generating the information *is* the result, so anything capable of producting the result meets the definition of a mind. The analagous procedure for lactation would be to generate physical milk without using a cow.

Re:ignorance is bliss (1)

Estanislao Martínez (203477) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712917)

You understand something if and to the extent that you can correctly predict it in advance.

I'm not a great fan of Searle (I think "intentionality" is magical pixie dust), but this is precisely the behaviorist/operationalist bias that GP is alluding to. Basically, good old-fashioned AI is flawed because it frames its project in terms of conceiving of the mind as a state machine, and AI as design and implementation of similar state machines.

The basic flaw is the same as in behavioralism: the failure to understand how the "mental" complexity of the organism is intimately tied to its physical embodiment and how it enacts an ecological niche. This is basically the philosophical space occupied by approaches such as embodied cognition [wikipedia.org] , and [wikipedia.org] situated cognition [wikipedia.org] .

I did it. (4, Interesting)

Prien715 (251944) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711519)

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;))

Re:I did it. (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711845)

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 Soundtrack of The Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in class was a also a plus.

Backwards (2, Interesting)

grocer (718489) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

A few years ago I would have said yes... (1, Flamebait)

pfbram (1070364) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711631)

I have a BS in CSci, a BA in the liberal arts, and have taken a few philosophy courses.

I've become much more jaded about philosophy because it began to dawn on me after taking a grad course in philosophy that engineering/IT is about SOLVING general computational problems. We're looking for relationships between numbers, values, methods of computation, etc. which have a general purpose utility. In most cases, these pipes/algorithms are designed to be somewhat blind to the content going through them. It's a quest to solve general problems.

Philosophy, on the other hand, often "forgets" that its problems are often computational/logic, perhaps even totally unrelated to the subject being treated -- rather, there is a more general and underlying logical problem that gives rise to what appears to be a problem in ethics, a paradox in something or the other. Philosophers, in my experience, can get mired in a specific subject domain, when the problem is actually a general logic issue. I could provide many examples from the philosophy of mind, but I don't want to distract from this basic distinction between what computer science/algorithmics tends to be about -- and how philosophers tend to get mired in circular/uncomputable particulars. The last problem with philosophy is that, I think, it doesn't actually WANT to solve problems -- lest it put itself and its faculty out of business as a relic of a previous age.

Re:A few years ago I would have said yes... (1)

Merc248 (1026032) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712139)

I disagree with your last sentence. Though I do agree that philosophy does not necessarily solve problems itself, it effectively RESTRICTS the line of inquiry to a set of probable questions that we can then ask in whatever positive scientific discipline.

Symbolic Systems (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25711639)

I'm an undergrad at Stanford University and I just declared the major here that most embraces this idea: that Computer Science and Philosophy have a lot in common. It's called Symbolic Systems (or SymSys) and really is an intersection of CS, Phil, Psychology, and Linguistics. In short, our focus is that there is more to CS than designing algorithms. It's about the thought behind it - purely logical and human alike.

http://symsys.stanford.edu/ [stanford.edu]

match made in heaven (1)

skywiseguy (1347553) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711643)

as someone who suffered through two semesters of computational theory i have to say that philosophy and computer science are made for each other.

After 25 years ... No. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25711649)

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 many years of studying all 3 disciplines, I believe there's plenty in Psychology that Computer Scientists (at least, those concerned with HCI or AI, and *please* leave HCI to the pros) can benefit from melding in to their work but durn little in Philosophy that benefits C.S. The glaring exception is that I think everyone in C.S. ought to be educated in the Philosophical Foundations of Statistics (a course which is sadly often relegated to graduate programs). We work with statistics so often, but so few people seem to understand what we're *really* trying to express when we look at "1 standard deviation out" or when a particular statistic is appropriate to our computing goal.

Sure areas of Philosophy such as Modal Logic are fun (what? the rules of boolean logic don't always *have* to apply? cool!) but most of the things Philosophy studies have little application to the work of Computer Science.

Depends on which branches you're talking about (2, Informative)

Morpeth (577066) | more than 5 years ago | (#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

What is Philosophy, these days? (1)

Capt.Albatross (1301561) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712095)

In Aristotle's day, it may have encompassed all of abstract knowledge and thinking, but the spin-off of Natural Philosophy into Science left a big hole. Nowadays, is there any more coherent a definition than 'that which is taught and studied in philosophy departments'?

Re:Depends on which branches you're talking about (2, Insightful)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712189)

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, humanities, and arts and the analytic tradition speaking more to linguistics, mathematics, and computer science.

My personal belief is that if computer science is to thrive and grow, it will become more of a humanities-type field and less of a hard science. Not that the programming and math is going away: only that most of the hard theoretical problems are either in mathematics or in electrical engineering now (depending on what type of hard problem it is) while we are beginning to realize that computers are a very important communication and representational media, and that this aspect of them is what is probably going to dominate for the near future.

University Leverage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25711659)

It wasn't that many years ago when I read an article that universities were pushing liberal arts majors toward taking cs courses. so this connection may be simply a result of the .com bubble.

Finally a use for my CS Applied Philosophy degree! (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711747)

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.

I'd say so (1)

sesshomaru (173381) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711771)

Philosophy is a good source for dealing with abstract ideas. The truth is Philosophy is part of all science, and computer science being more abstract and mathematics oriented than some other science is even closer to philosophy.

Consider the field of Artificial Intelligence. Computer Scientists are trying to solve a problem, which they know exists, "How do we make machines think?" However, in order to proceed to the solution to this they have to answer other questions of a philisophical nature such as "What is thought?" and "What is free will?"

Heck, I know the Rootless Root is semi-humorous, but I still find Master Foo Discourses on the Graphical User Interface [catb.org] to be a good way to explain the value of a command line to people who don't understand it.

What about Psychology? (1)

commodore73 (967172) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711801)

As someone who studied both philosophy and psychology in college, I think that psychology was more useful in the practical application of computer science. Logic is useful, but not really a philosophy IMHO (more of an interdisciplinary subject, like the scientific method). And human "logic" and computer logic are very different subjects, to the point of having almost nothing to do with each other except some concepts and syntax.

Psychology helps with understanding team dynamics, what motivates different kinds of people, dealing with interpersonal politics, how to get customer buy-in, how to influence people, how to cope with people whose roles are beyond their skills, etc. I have found developmental psychology to be especially useful in teaching others about technology.

What specifically does philosophy help with in rolling out a system? Maybe some AI stuff, but I can't think of how it's helped me get anything done in the real world. How does philosophy help me build a control system for a nuclear reactor?

Philosophy? What about religion (2, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25711873)

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)

Philosophy: Logic (1)

Rick Richardson (87058) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712107)

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!

Priceless (1)

mediis (952323) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712255)

4 years of Undergraduate Philosophy = $30K 2 years of Graduate School, Philosophy, with a GTA = $20K 8 years of Unix Sysadmins saying, "So... what can you do with a degree in Psychology" = Priceless. The double majors are growing because people need to make money. And Philosophy really isn't a money maker. Sure there is some serious overlap (logic, programming, semantics and search engines). But when it comes down to the actual use of my degree for my work? Nihil, unless you count naming my desktops after Platonic Dialogues.

Yes! The philosophy of information! (3, Interesting)

WikiTerra (883949) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Maybe the combination is where we missed! (1)

flibbidyfloo (451053) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712611)

Considering that my degree in Philosophy has done nothing to get me past working on a help desk for $20/hr, and one of my co-workers makes a bit more than that with her C.S. degree, maybe the problem is that we should have combined our degrees into some sort of super-hybrid. Then we'd really be rolling in the dough!

Minds and Computers (2, Interesting)

mattcarter (1404223) | more than 5 years ago | (#25712623)

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 cognition! [/shamelessselfpromotion]

Two and a half years? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25712645)

I couldn't get past the first sentence of the post. There are people who read two and a half year old Slashdot articles? Talk about concepts the mind can't grasp! It's bad enough to spend your day reading the current posts. Two and a half years. Jeez. I'm sorry, I have to lie down for a while.

It's a banal and inapporpriate question. (3, Insightful)

mls_ld (1404225) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

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