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Computer science

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q014-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

At first sight, computers would seem to be of minimal philosophical importance; mere symbol manipulators that do the sort of things that we can do anyway, only faster and more conveniently. Nevertheless, computers are being used to illuminate the cognitive abilities of the human and animal mind, explore the organizational principles of life, and open up new approaches to modelling nature. Furthermore, the study of computation has changed our conception of the limits and methodology of scientific knowledge.

Computers have been able to do all this for two reasons. The first is that material computing power (accuracy, storage and speed) permits the development and exploration of models of physical (and mental) systems that combine structural complexity with mathematical intransigence. Through simulation, computational power allows exploration where mathematical analysis falters. The second reason is that a computer is not merely a concrete device, but also can be studied as an abstract object whose rules of operation can be specified with mathematical precision; consequently, its strengths and limitations can be systematically investigated, exploited and appreciated. Herein lies that area of computer science of most interest to philosophers: the theory of computation and algorithms. It is here where we have learned what computers can and cannot do in principle.

Citing this article:
Winnie, John. Computer science, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q014-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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