CSE/PHI 4/584, Spring 2007
Position Paper #1:
What Is Computer Science?
Last Update: 5 February 2007
material is highlighted
The purpose of this position paper is to give you an opportunity to
clarify your beliefs about what computer science is, so that as
we continue to discuss the topic in class and as you continue to read
about it, you'll know where you standwhat your beliefs
Later, when your beliefs have been "contaminated" by further
readings and by our discussions, you may wish to revise your
beliefs. But you can't revise a belief that you don't have (you can
only acquire new beliefs). So, here I am forcing you to
discover, clarify, and defend the beliefs that you
now have, by turning them into words and putting them on paper.
Imagine that you are the newly-appointed Dean of the School of Science at the
University of Aix (pronounced like the letter "X"). In an attempt to
build up the rival School of Engineering, the newly-appointed Dean of
Engineering has proposed to the Provost (the Deans' boss) that the
Department of Computer Science be movedlock,
stock, and computer, so to speakto Engineering, on the following
- Science is the systematic observation, description, experimental
investigation, and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena.
- Computer science is the study of computers and related phenomena.
- Therefore, computer science is not a science.
(The Dean of Engineering has not yet argued that computer science
is an engineering discipline; that may come later.)
How do you respond to the Dean of Engineering's argument?
You may agree with it, or not (but there are several ways that might
happen; see below).
You should ignore political considerations:
You may suppose that the move from Science to Engineering involves no
loss of money, prestige, or anything else, and it is to be done, if at all,
only on strictly intellectual grounds.
The Provost is eagerly awaiting your reply, and will abide by your
decision...if, that is, you give a well-argued defense of your
To formulate and defend your position, you should:
It's also possible that you might neither agree nor disagree with (3); alternatively, you might
both agree and disagree with it. For example, you might believe
that computer science is both a science and an engineering
discipline (or, alternatively, that it is neither). If so, then please
give your reasons for this. And, if you are unsure, try to be very
precise about why you are unsure and what further information
would help you decide.
- Say whether you agree with premise (1), and why you do or don't.
- Say whether you agree with premise (2), and why you do or don't.
- Say whether you agree that conclusion (3) logically
follows from premises (1) and (2) (whether or not you agree with (1) and
(2)), and why you think it follows or doesn't.
- If you think that it doesn't follow, is there
some (interesting, non-trivial) missing premise (i.e., a
"missing link" between the premises and conclusion) that would make it follow? (If so,
do you agree with that missing premise? Why (not)?)
- If you think that the argument is logically invalid, you might still
agree or disagree with statement (3) independently of the reasons given
for it by premises (1) and (2) (and any missing premises). If so, state
whether you agree with (3), and why.
You might not agree with any of these ways to respond. However, I believe
that any other response can, perhaps with a bit of force, be seen to
fall under one of the above responses. But if you really feel that your
position is not exactly characterized by any of the above responses,
then please say what your position is, why you believe it, and why you
think it is not one of the above.
Your answer should honestly reflect your beliefs (not
what you think the fictional
Provost or Dean of Engineering want to hear!).
If you resort to a dictionary, textbook, article, website, etc., be sure
to say which one. Give as much detailed information as you can that
would assist someone else to locate the item by themselves. (See the
"How to Handle Citations"
section of my
"How to Write"
for the proper way to do this.)
Your position paper should be approximately
(not including any bibliographic citations).
to lecture on the due date and
to recitation that week.
At the top of the page, please put all and only the following
- the title "Position Paper #1"
- your name
course you are enrolled in (CSE 484, CSE 584, or PHI 584)
- the recitation section that you normally attend (Mon or
- the due date.
For general assistance with writing (including my preferred method of
paper preparation and format, as well as advice on grammar), see my
website "How to Write".
DUE AT THE BEGINNING OF LECTURE, MONDAY, FEBRARY 12
Copyright © 2004-2007 by
William J. Rapaport