[Edu-sig] Python for Philosophers

Edward Cherlin echerlin at gmail.com
Thu Oct 29 06:07:01 CET 2009

My degree is in Math and Philosophy. Most of the Foundations of
Mathematics courses were in the Philosophy department back then,
including a lot of what turned into Computer Science.

On Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 11:25, kirby urner <kirby.urner at gmail.com> wrote:
> I've been seeing some conversations aimed at expanding the Python
> community (the community of Python users) beyond the world of computer
> science and IT, into the Liberal Arts more generally.[0]  Of course
> this is music to my ears.

The Two Cultures prejudice is one of the worst ever.

> Parallel to this notion that ordinary math learning would be enhanced
> through mastery of an "executable math notation" (aka a programming
> language) [K. Iverson], is the idea that contemporary academic
> philosophy curricula should take these languages more seriously.
> What's closer to fulfilling the Leibnizian dream of automating
> thinking, modal logic or Python?  Not that it's either/or of course.
> I've been looking at this one of the Wittgenstein lists.[1]

We're doing quite well at Artificial Stupidity, I hear. ;->

> Speaking of philosophy, old timers here know I've poked at this issue
> of "objectification" i.e. in some corners "to objectify" is a bad
> thing to do, means you're at best being a cold fish, at worst being
> inhumane to your fellow humans.

Reification is also a problem. Most people imagine a world made of
things. Wittgenstein tried to imagine a world made of facts. Some
scientists have noticed that this is a world of a) we don't know what
and b) we don't know how to think about it. Mathematically, the world
could just as well (or as poorly) be composed of relations or

> I've flagged this as a PR issue we
> need to address.  Along those lines, I've buried a comment for
> feedback, probably won't get any (too buried).[2]
> Wev'e got James Bennett in the Django tribe, yakking about the
> relevance of a philosophy background to his work with Python.[3]
> Imagine a four-year philosophy program that actually featured some
> programming.

As I said, I did that--Turing machines and several of the
Church-equivalent systems, modal and combinatorial logic, recursive
function theory, non-standard arithmetic and analysis...

> How would we connect Python to a philosophy of mind
> thread?  I try my hand at forging that link on said Wittgenstein list
> (concluding paragraphs).[4]
> Kirby
> [0] http://archives.free.net.ph/message/20090831.140043.d7465e01.en.html
> [1] http://www.freelists.org/post/wittrsamr/More-on-meaning-as-use-reply-to-Josh,1
> [2] http://theangryblackwoman.com/2009/10/01/the-dos-and-donts-of-being-a-good-ally/#comment-26523
> [3] Excerpt from
> http://uswaretech.com/blog/2008/04/interview-with-james-bennett-django-release-manager/
> James: Well, I wouldn’t say there’s anything specific necessarily. But
> I think there’s a big place for people with liberal-arts backgrounds
> to come to programming, and I think philosophy’s a good path to do
> that. If you look at a typical philosophy program, you’re doing a lot
> of logic, a lot of critical analysis, a lot of abstract reasoning. You
> have to get comfortable sooner or later with all sorts of formalisms
> that don’t necessarily have any practical meaning, and that’s very
> similar in a lot of ways to programming :) And when you get right down
> to it, as programmers, about 90% of what we’re paid to do is think:
> our job is to take a problem, analyze it, break it down into pieces
> and solve them. And that’s not terribly different from what you spend
> four years doing in a philosophy program. I’ve actually joked about
> that a bit with some of my former professors, that I still get to
> argue as much as when I was doing philosophy, but the programming pays
> a lot better. I do think, though, that there’s a big need for that
> sort of thing; we don’t really teach critical thinking anymore, and
> while it’s a vital skill to have no matter what you do for a living,
> it’s absolutely crucial to programming. So if you can get a good
> liberal-arts background where you’ve been taught how to look at things
> and pick them apart and analyze them, you can definitely do well as a
> programmer. Though it’d also be a good idea to take at least a few
> elective math courses…
> [4] http://www.freelists.org/post/wittrsamr/More-on-meaning-as-use
> Computer languages were far less evolved when
> Wittgenstein was writing, however they today provide a
> clear exhibit of meaning as use, as the language games
> have everything to do with driving machinery, making
> things happen, more like those "orders in battle" he
> was talking about (indeed, we speak of "imperative
> languages" sometimes, of expressions as
> "commands").
> In the Python language, one tends to use the word
> "self" a lot, and indeed it plays an analogous role to
> "self" in ordinary speech, in that every object has one,
> and because of this "self", each object is "personalized"
> i.e. rendered distinct from every other, even if it
> arises from the same blueprint or class definition.
> Academic logicians may have no training in such a language,
> as analytic philosophy hasn't upgraded very quickly.  If we
> ever get to a point where contemporary high level
> computer languages get into the philosophical literature,
> post-Wittgensteinian especially, we may find we're blessed
> with yet another tool for dislodging outmoded ways of
> conceiving of "meaning".
> [ Speaking of Python, we also have a strong nominalist
> model in that everything is an object and every object
> has its names (note use of the plural).  Yes, that's right,
> the very same object may have lots and lots of names,
> all pointing to the very same thing.  It's only when a
> thing ceases to have any names at all that it's
> automatically "garbage collected", meaning the memory
> it occupied is now free to hold other things instead
> (this memory is called "the heap"). ]
> So in computer languages we have language games in
> which "self" has plenty of meaning.  It would also be quite
> permissible to use the word "mind" in place of "self" (the
> Python interpreter would not fuss at this).  Yet no one
> imagines that this use of "self" or "mind" is with reference
> to some spooky mental phenomenon that we can't quite
> put our hands on.  There's far less superstition about what
> it takes for these words to be meaningful.
> For this reason alone I would urge anyone wishing to
> understand the later Wittgenstein to pay some attention
> to computer languages.
> Kirby
> _______________________________________________
> Edu-sig mailing list
> Edu-sig at python.org
> http://mail.python.org/mailman/listinfo/edu-sig

Edward Mokurai (默雷/धर्ममेघशब्दगर्ज/دھرممیگھشبدگر ج) Cherlin
Silent Thunder is my name, and Children are my nation.
The Cosmos is my dwelling place, the Truth my destination.

More information about the Edu-sig mailing list