Philosophy of Computer Science

What Is Computer Science?

Last Update: 4 October 2011

Note: NEW or UPDATED material is highlighted

Significant items are in boldface; items are listed in chronological order.

(Many items that do not have links may be available online from the UB Libraries Electronic Journal holdings.)


 "The Holy Grail of computer science is to capture the messy complexity of the natural world and express it algorithmically." 

Teresa Marrin Nakra,
     quoted on p.66 of
     Justin Davidson (2006),
      "Measure for Measure: Exploring the Mysteries of Conducting"
     The New Yorker (21 August): 60-69.  


  1. Newell, Allen; Perlis, Alan J.; & Simon, Herbert A. (1967), "Computer Science", Science 157(3795) (22 September): 1373-1374.

  2. NEW
    Forsythe, George F. (1967), "A University's Educational Program in Computer Science", Communications of the ACM 10(1) (January): 3–8.

  3. NEW
    Hamming, R.W. (1969), "One Man's View of Computer Science", Journal of the ACM 16(1) (January): 3–12.

  4. Knuth, Donald (1974), "Computer Science and Its Relation to Mathematics", American Mathematical Monthly 81(4) (April): 323-343.

  5. Newell, Allen, & Simon, Herbert A. (1976), "Computer Science as Empirical Inquiry: Symbols and Search", Communications of the ACM 19(3) (March): 113-126.

  6. Arden, Bruce W. (1980), "COSERS Overview" [PDF], in Bruce W. Arden (ed.), What Can Be Automated? The Computer Science and Engineering Research Study (COSERS) (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), Ch. 1, pp. 1-31.

    On Microscopy vs. CS

  7. Boorstin, Daniel J. (1983), The Discoverers (New York: Random House), Ch. 49: "The Microscope of Nature":

    • "The hero of this story, Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694), was a great scientist whose work had no dogmatic unity. He was one of the first of a new breed of explorers who defined their mission neither by the doctrine of their master nor by the subject that they studied. They were no longer "Aristotelians" or "Galenists." Their eponym, their mechanical godparent, was some device that extended their senses and widened their vistas. What gave his researches coherence was a new instrument. Malpighi was to be a "microscopist," and his science was "microscopy," a word first noted in English in Pepys' Diary in 1664. His scientific career was held together not by what he was trying to confirm or to prove, but by the vehicle which carried him on his voyages of observation." (p. 376.)

    Compare this quote (emphasis added):

    Of possibly related interest:

    1. McBride, Neil (2007), "The Death of Computing".

    2. Mander, Keith (2007), "Demise of Computer Science Exaggerated"

      • A reply to McBride 2007.

  8. Krantz, Steven G. (1984), Letter to the Editor about the relation of computer science to mathematics, American Mathematical Monthly 91(9) (November): 598-600.

  9. Denning's view of CS:

    1. Denning, Peter J. (1985), "What Is Computer Science?" American Scientist 73 (January-February): 16-19.

    2. Denning, Peter J.; Comer, Douglas E.; Gries, David; Mulder, Michael C.; Tucker, Allen; Turner, A. Joe; & Young, Paul R. (1989), "Computing as a Discipline", Communications of the ACM 32(1) (January): 9-23.

      • "A Taxonomy of Subfields in CS&E:

        • Algorithms and data structures
        • Programming languages
        • Computer architecture
        • Numeric and symbolic computation
        • Operating systems
        • Software engineering
        • Databases and information retrieval
        • Artificial intelligence and robotics
        • Human-computer interaction"

    3. Denning, Peter J. (1995), "Can There Be a Science of Information?", ACM Computing Surveys 27(1) (March): 23-25.

    4. Denning, Peter J. (1999), "Computer Science: The Discipline", in Anthony Ralston & David Hemmindinger (eds.) (2000), Encyclopedia of Computer Science.

    5. Denning, Peter J. (2005), "Is Computer Science Science?", Communications of the ACM 48(4) (April): 27-31.

    6. Denning, Peter J. (2007), "Computing Is a Natural Science", Communications of the ACM 50(7) (July): 13-18.

    7. Denning, Peter J., "Great Principles of Computing"

    8. Denning, Peter J. (2009), "Beyond Computational Thinking", Communications of the ACM 52(6) (June): 28-30.

    9. Denning, Peter J.; & Rosenbloom, Paul S. (2009), "Computing: The Fourth Great Domain of Science", Communications of the ACM 52(9) (September): 27–29.

    10. Denning, Peter J.; & Freeman, Peter A. (2009), "Computing's Paradigm", Communications of the ACM 52(12) (December): 28–30.

      • "Trying to categorize computing as engineering, science, or math is fruitless; we have our own paradigm."

  10. Abrahams, Paul (1987), "What Is Computer Science?", Communications of the ACM 30(6) (June): 472-473.

  11. Loui, Michael C. (1987), "Computer Science Is an Engineering Discipline" [PDF] Engineering Education.

  12. Ceruzzi, Paul (1989), "Electronics Technology and Computer Science, 1940-1975: A Coevolution", Annals of the History of Computing 10(4): 257-275.

  13. Bajcsy, Ruzena K.; Borodin, Allan B.; Liskov, Barbara H.; & Ullman, Jeffrey D. (1992), "Computer Science Statewide Review" (unpublished report).

  14. Hartmanis, Juris, & Lin, Herbert (eds.?) (1992), "What Is Computer Science and Engineering?" [PDF], in Juris Hartmanis & Herbert Lin (eds.), Computing the Future: A Broader Agenda for Computer Science and Engineering (Washington, DC: National Academy Press), Ch. 6, pp. 163-216.
  15. Hartmanis, Juris (1993), "Some Observations about the Nature of Computer Science", in R.K. Shyamasundar (ed.), Foundations of Software Technology and Theoretical Computer Science: 13th Conference, Bombay, India, December 15-17, 1993; Proceedings (Berlin: Springer-Verlag Lecture Notes in Computer Science 761): 1-12.

  16. Hartmanis, Juris (1995), "On Computational Complexity and the Nature of Computer Science" (Turing Award Lecture), ACM Computing Surveys 27(1) (March): 7-15.

  17. Fant, Karl M. (1993), "A Critical Review of the Notion of Algorithm in Computer Science", Proceedings of the 1993 ACM Annual Computer Science Conference.

  18. Abelson, Harold, & Sussman, Gerald Jay, with Sussman, Julie (1996), Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, "Preface to the First Edition":

  19. Brooks, Frederick P., Jr. (1996), "The Computer Scientist as Toolsmith II", Communications of the ACM 39(3) (March): 61-68.

  20. Gal-Ezer, Judith, & Harel, David (1998), "What (Else) Should CS Educators Know?", Communications of the ACM 41(9) (September): 77-84.

  21. Parnas, David Lorge (1998), "Software Engineering Programmes are not Computer Science Programmes", Annals of Software Engineering.

  22. Jacob, Christian (1999), "What Is Computer Science?" [PDF]

  23. Shagrir, Oron (1999), "What Is Computer Science About?" [PDF], The Monist 82(1): 131-149.

  24. Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (2001), "Fundamentals of Computer Science: Symposium" (conference program)

  25. Johnson, George (2001), "All Science Is Computer Science", The New York Times (25 March): WK1, WK5.

  26. Shapiro, Stuart C. (2001), "Computer Science: The Study of Procedures" [PDF]

  27. Foley, Jim (2002), "Computing > Computer Science".

  28. Boston University Department of Computer Science (2003), "What Is Computer Science?" [PDF]

  29. IEEE/ACM Computing Curricula Series, including:

    1. Computer Science Volume (CC2001) [240-page PDF]
    2. Computing Curricula 2005: The Overview Report [62-page PDF]

  30. Parlante, Nick (2005), "What Is Computer Science?", Inroads—The SIGCSE Bulletin 37(2) (June): 24-25.

  31. Anthes, Gary (2006), "Computer Science Looks for a Remake", Computerworld (1 May).

  32. Lohr, Steve (2006), "Computing 2016: What Won't Be Possible?", New York Times (31 October): F3

  33. Wing, Jeannette M. (2006), "Computational Thinking", Communications of the ACM 49(3) (March): 33-35.

  34. Easton, Thomas A. (2006), "Beyond the Algorithmization of the Sciences", Communications of the ACM 49(5) (May): 31-33.

  35. Naur, Peter (2007), "Computing Versus Human Thinking", Communications of the ACM 50(1) (January): 85-94.

  36. Tedre, Matti (2007), "The Philosophy of Computer Science (Winter-Spring 2007)"

  37. Department of Computing Sciences, Elon University, Elon, NC (retrieved 2/12/2007), "What Is Computer Science?"

  38. Shneiderman, Ben (2007), "Web Science: A Provocative Invitation to Computer Science", Communications of the ACM 50(6) (June): 25-27.

  39. Feitelson, Dror G. (guest ed.) (2007), Special Issue on Experimental Computer Science, Communications of the ACM 50(11) (November): 24-59.

  40. "Where physical science is commonly regarded as an analytic discipline that aims to find laws that generate or explain observed phenomena, CS is predominantly (though not exclusively) synthetic, in that formalisms and algorithms are created in order to support specific desired behaviors."

  41. Turner, Raymond (2010?), "Programming Languages as Mathematical Theories" [PDF]

  42. Summary

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