If you read prefaces, it is even possible that you read author biographies as well. Mine notes that I came out of college with a degree in philosophy. The path from philosophy to Java programming is of course not a very common one; I nevertheless honestly believe that philosophy provides a very solid grounding for programming logic and object-oriented systems development.
During the first JavaOne conference, I attended an address given by Dr. John Gage of Sun. In that speech, he quoted a modern philosopher of language and metaphysics, Dr. Donald Davidson. If you do not have a background in philosophy, chances are that you do not recognize his name. I was so amazed at hearing his name mentioned, I went up and spoke to Dr. Gage after the address. We got into a discussion of philosophy and computing during which he suggested I work philosophy quotes into this book. I have taken his advice and started each chapter with a quote from a major philosopher.
I have tried to choose quotes that have direct relevance to the topic at hand. In some cases, however, the quotes are only indirectly relevant. The philosophers, in order of appearance in the book, are:
Immanuel Kant may be the most influential philosopher of the second millennium. He was a German philosopher who lived from 1724 until 1804. He emphasized a rational approach to all philosophical pursuits. This rationalism has had its greatest impact in the area of ethics, where moral principles are, according to Kant, derived entirely from reason.
Derrida is a 20th century French philosopher born in Algeria in 1930. His most famous contribution to philosophy is the school of Deconstruction. Deconstruction is a way of examining meaning and being that seeks to “undo” the thing being examined, and, as a result, removes the myth of an essential nature of that thing.
Though he lived from 1596 until 1650, Descartes’ writings mark the beginning of modern philosophy. He was a French philosopher who emphasized a solipsistic approach to epistemology. He is the author of the famous quote “Cogito, ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.”
Born in 1928, Noam Chomsky is perhaps the most famous living philosopher. While often known for his political activism—especially during the Vietnam era—his greatest contributions to philosophy lie in the philosophy of language.
Dennett, who teaches at Tufts University, is probably my favorite philosopher. His books are actually well written, which is a rare quality among philosophy texts. His works run the spectrum of philosophy, but his greatest influence lies in the philosophies of mind and science. If you want a fun philosophy book to read that does not require you to be a philosopher, pick up his book Elbow Room. If you are looking for something more weighty, but equally accessible, read Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.
Nietzsche, who lived in Germany from 1844 until 1900, is likely the most controversial “serious” philosopher. His writings have influenced nearly every kind of philosophy, but have had their greatest impact—both positive and negative—in the area of ethics.
Ludwig Wittgenstein was a German philosopher who lived from 1889 until 1951. His primary contributions to philosophy were in the philosophy of language. He once wrote that “philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”
Heidegger, another 20th century German philosopher, made popular the movement started by Edmund Husserl known as Phenomenology. Phenomenology attempts to understand things as they present themselves rather than attempt to appeal to some sort of essential nature hidden from us. This movement eventually led to the most popularly known philosophical movement, Existentialism.
Sartre was a novelist, a philosopher, and a member of the French Resistance during World War II. As a philosopher, he is best known as the force behind the Existentialism movement. Existentialism goes beyond Phenomenology in its claims about the essential nature of things. While Phenomenology claims that we should not appeal to an essential nature of a thing in order to understand it, Existentialism says that no such essential nature exists. A thing is exactly as it presents itself.