The Department of Computer Science & Engineering
CSE/PHI 484/584:
Spring 2010


This is a living document; the latest version will always be available on the Web at:

Last Update: 21 April 2010, 11:22 A.M.

Note: NEW or UPDATED material is highlighted

Index: Other Relevant Links:
  • Course Description
  • CSE/PHI 484/584 homepage
  • Prerequisites
  • Directory of Documents
  • Staff
  • Email Archive
  • Class Meetings
  • Texts
  • Important Dates & Tentative Schedule
  • Reading
  • Attendance, Homeworks, Assignments, Exams, Listserv
  • How to Study
  • Grading
  • Incompletes
  • Academic Integrity
  • Classroom Disruptions


    We will investigate proposed answers to the following questions:

    1. What is philosophy?

        And, in particular, what is "the philosophy of X"
        (where X = things like: science, psychology, history, etc.)?

    2. What is computer science?

        To answer this, we'll need to consider questions such as: What is science? Is computer science a science? If so, what is it a science of? Is it a science of computers? What is a computer? Is it a science of computation? What is computation? Computations are said to be algorithms, so what is an algorithm? Algorithms are said to be procedures, or recipes, so what is a procedure? What is a recipe? What are Church's and Turing's "theses"? What is "hypercomputation"?

    3. What is a computer program?

        What is the relation of a program to that which it models or simulates? What is simulation? Are programs (scientific) theories? Algorithms are said to be implemented in computer programs, so what is a computer program, and what is an implementation? What is software? Can computer programs be copyrighted, or patented? Can computer programs be verified?

    4. What is the philosophy of artificial intelligence?

        What is AI? What is the relation of computation to cognition? Can computers think? What are the Turing Test and the Chinese Room Argument?

    5. What is computer ethics?

        Should we trust decisions made by computers? Should we build "intelligent" computers?





    There are no good texts for this course.
    Each of the following recommended texts overlaps to some extent the topics we will cover.
    Most of the assigned readings, however, will be made available on the Web.

    1. Colburn, Timothy R. (2000), Philosophy and Computer Science (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe); ISBN 1-56324-991-X.

    2. Floridi, Luciano (1999), Philosophy and Computing: An Introduction (London: Routledge); ISBN 0-415-18025-2.

    3. Floridi, Luciano (2004), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Computing and Information (Malden, MA: Blackwell); ISBN 0-631-22919-1.

    4. Petzold, Charles (2008), The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine (Indianpolis: Wiley) ISBN 978-0-470-22905-7.

    5. Shieber, Stuart (ed.) (2004), The Turing Test: Verbal Behavior as the Hallmark of Intelligence (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press) ISBN 0-262-69293-7.

    6. Weston, Anthony (2009), A Rulebook for Arguments, 4th edition (Indianapolis: Hackett) ISBN 978-0-87220-954-1.


    Note: I have adjusted some of the dates and assignments below to reflect what we actually did in class, rather than on what I had planned or hoped to do :-)


    "Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself." — Chinese Proverb

    "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." — American Proverb

    "You can lead a horse to water, but you must convince him it is water before there is any chance he will drink." — Albert Goldfain

    "Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire" — William Butler Yeats

    "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." — Sir Richard Steele


    "The more you read, the more intelligent you are. It's really that simple." — Ethan Hawke


    "To read critically is to read skeptically. The reader [should] ask…not only, ‘Do I understand what this means?’ but ‘Do I buy it?’" — Kenneth S. Goodman

    1. There are a lot of topics to cover, and not nearly as many lectures as there are topics.
      Consequently, in lectures, I will only be able to skim the surface of the issues.
      But I will assign a lot of reading, which I will expect you all to do.

      No matter how far we stray from the tentative schedule, if you do the readings at the assigned times,
      you will be able to finish everything by the end of the semester.

    2. Reading Journal:

      To help you keep track of your reading and the ideas you have while reading, it will be useful for you to keep a "Reading Journal", because:

      For each item you read,

      • copy interesting quotes (or at least full references to them)
      • and—most importantly—include your comments on them and on the issues raised in each item you read.

      (For suggestions on how to do this, see the "Keep a Notebook" section of my "How to Study" guide on the Web.)

      An alternative is to write a 1-paragraph commentary on each reading:

      I will collect these Journals at random times during the semester and will include them in the grade calculation.

    3. There are 3 levels at which you can keep up with the reading assignments:

      1. Minimal: Just read the "Required" items.

      2. Medium: Read at the minimal level, plus read the "Strongly recommended" items.

      3. Maximal: Read at the medium level, plus read some or all of the "Recommended" readings

      You should include all the Required readings in your Reading Journal;
      you may include any Strongly Recommended or Recommended readings, too.



    1. You will be expected to:

      1. attend all lectures (attendance will be taken),
      2. participate in class discussions, and
      3. complete all readings and assignments on time.

    2. Your writing assignments will include:

      1. the Reading Journal,
      2. approximately 5 short position papers (about 1 page each),
      3. and an optional final exam XOR an optional term paper.

    3. The short position papers will be written in three stages:

      1. A "before" paper in which you will be asked to give your present opinions on the issues.

      2. This will be followed by class discussion ("peer-editing" sessions).

      3. After that, you will write an "after" paper in which you will significantly revise the first draft of your position paper based on:
        • your readings,
        • the peer-editing sessions,
        • and the class discussions.

      Grades on the essays will be a function of both your ideas and how well you defend and express them.
      You will have an opportunity to revise some (but not all) of these.

    4. All position papers and assignments will be announced in lecture.
      Therefore, be sure to get a classmate's phone number or email address
      (for instance, 1 or 2 people sitting next to you in class, whoever they are!)
      so that you will not miss assignments in the unlikely event that you miss a class.

      Most, but not necessarily all, assignments will also be posted to the course website or via UBLearns email.

    5. Email:

      You will automatically be placed on the UBLearns email list for the course.

        IF you do not normally read email at the email address that UB has as your official address,
          THEN please either do so for this course,
          ELSE have your mail forwarded.

      I will use this email system as my main means of communicating with you out of class.

      And you can use it to communicate with the rest of us:

        You may send questions and comments that are of general interest to the entire class using the UBlearns email list.

      You can also send email just to me, at:

      Be sure to send your mail from your account
      and include "CSE 584" in the Subject line
      so that my mailer doesn't think it's spam.

      If you send email just to me that I deem to be of general interest,
      I will remail it to the email list along with my reply, but you will remain anonymous.

      The emails will be archived at

    6. Students should notify Prof. Rapaport within the first two weeks of class if they have a disability that would make it difficult to carry out course work as outlined (requiring note-takers, readers, extended test time).


    Undergrads (in 484) and grads (in 584) will be graded on different bases.

    All graded work will receive a letter grade:

    Not all work turned in will be graded;
    however, all work turned in will be recorded.
    Missing work (and missing class) will tend to lower your grade.

    The final exam and the term paper are optional; you may not do both, however.

    The final letter grade will be a weighted average of all required work at either of two levels:

    1. Minimal:

      The maximum grade such students can receive is A– (A-minus) (if all grades on each item are A).

      attendance/participation + Reading Journal50%
      position papers50%

    2. Maximal:

      The maximum grade such students can receive is A (if all grades on each item are A).

      attendance/participation + Reading Journal50%
      position papers25%
      final exam XOR term paper25%

    Note that, even if you do all the work at any level, you might still get a grade lower than indicated above,
    if, for instance, you did not attend all lectures, or if your letter grade for the papers or exam is less than A, etc.

    I will post more information on both the mechanics of the position papers (and peer editing sessions) and the term paper later in the semester.

    For further information on my philosophy of grading, see my web document on "How to Grade"


    It is University policy that a grade of Incomplete is to be given only when a small amount of work or a single exam is missed due to circumstances beyond the student's control, and that student is otherwise doing passing work. I will follow this policy strictly! Thus, you should assume that I will not give incompletes :-)

    Any incompletes that I might give, in a lapse of judgment :-),
    will have to be made up by the end of the
    Fall 2010

    For more information on Incomplete policies, see the Graduate School web page, "Incomplete Grades".


    Although it is acceptable to discuss general approaches with your fellow students,
    the work you turn in must be your own.

    It is the policy of the CSE department that:

    If you have any problems doing the assignments, consult Prof. Rapaport.

    Please be sure to read these webpages:

    which spell out all the details of this, and related, policies.

    For some hints on how to avoid plagiarism when writing essays for courses,
    see my website "Plagiarism".


    In large classes (but surely not ours :-), students have been known to be disruptive, either to the instructor or to fellow students.

    The university's policies on this topic, both how the instructor should respond and how students should behave, may be found in the PDF document
    "Obstruction or Disruption in the Classroom".

    (*) The idea and wording for such reading-commentaries are borrowed from the assignments for Stuart M. Shieber's course "Can Machines Think". [Back to text]

    Copyright © 2010 by William J. Rapaport (