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The linguistic philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein

updated over 7 years ago; latest suggestion over 7 years ago

As programmers, we think a lot about language; its syntax, using language - both of the natural and programming varieties - to communicate ideas, and the meanings of words. Unsurprisingly, there is a large body of philosophical thought on the topic, as well. This is a talk about one of the most interesting 20th Century thinkers about language, Ludwig Wittgenstein. It will cover both his major works, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophus and the Philosophical Investigations, with an eye to their historical context and the development of his thinking over time.

Topics covered will include: "what is truth?"; "what is the meaning of a word?"; "language as games".

While the talk will be of interest to programmers in that it concerns the philosophical underpinnings of logic and language, I won't be aiming to contrive any links back to our day jobs. That'd be corny.


  • C004d67820a114e24ccf6f2ddaf5b236 Richard Livsey suggests over 7 years ago

    I'd certainly be interested in this, the impact of naming in programming has a huge impact.

    Sometimes coming up with a better name for concept triggers a wave of productivity as things fall into place, previous thinking being hampered by a badly named class or method.

  • D72b1e5724b5c20a36d78730b50d8f7b Glenn Gillen suggests over 7 years ago

    I've been thinking about similar things lately, and how it impacts my design decisions and user experience. I've found it particularly interesting when my presumptions around what truth or meaning accidentally manifest in what I allow a user to do, constraints/validations I put on data, etc.

    Sometimes those constraints aren't required for any reason beyond making others conform to my world view. Others may find it interesting to explore how these concepts affect their own code.

  • The proposal author responds over 7 years ago

    James: that's something I'm thinking about. I'd certainly hope to tailor the material to the audience and ground it somehow, while avoiding contrived links. I don't know concretely how I would do that because planning of the talk hasn't gone beyond "hey, that's a fun idea" yet.

  • 2f46d76f0e5db4dc318b03be07ebaac4 Tom Ward suggests over 7 years ago

    This sounds great. I don't really know anything about philosophy but I'm really interested. I hope you can make it pretty accessible to people like me.

  • Acd62030df551952268e84c8fff26a5b James Adam suggests over 7 years ago

    Are you planning on including any kind of Ruby- (or even development-) related hook that the audience will be able to use to ground the concepts that you'd discuss?

    An example of a good hook is the use of the trivial "Fizz Buzz" program in Tom Stuart's Programming with Nothing; while it has little to do with the ideas that the presentation was about, it helped the audience orient themselves at each stage of the argument he proposed.

  • 11364e09c2ea04444314e94eead06e98 Roland Swingler suggests over 7 years ago

    Lovely. Definitely interested in this. From memory, there was an argument in Philosophical Investigations that you could never truly grasp whether someone else had understood "a rule" or not (i.e. addition: just because people give correct answers to questions like 5 + 3 doesn't mean they would give answers consistent with your beliefs at 50000 + 3). Think there might be something interesting there as a reflection on the Tests vs Proof/Compilers verification of programs to explore.