The Philosophies of Software

The Philosophies of Software

Lindsay Grace (University of Illinois and Illinois Institute of Art, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-352-4.ch019
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Software is philosophical. Software is designed by people who have been influenced by a specific understanding of the way objects, people and systems work. These concepts are then transferred to the user, who manipulates that software within the parameters set by the software designer. The use of these rules by the designer reinforces an understanding of the world that is supported by the software they use. The designer then produces works that mimic these same philosophies instead of departing from them. The three axes of these philosophies are analogy, reductivism, and transferred agency. The effects on computer-based artistic expression, the training in digital art production, and the critique of art are evaluated in this chapter. Tensions between the dominant scientific approaches and the dominant artistic approaches are also defined as destructive and constructive practice respectively. The conclusion is a new critical perspective through which one may evaluate computer integrated creative practice and inspire fresh creative composition.
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There is a simple logical proof that describes software’s relationship to philosophy. Software is designed. Design prescribes philosophies. Since software is designed, it must also dictate philosophy. The existence of these philosophies, their sociological effects, and the need to critique these philosophies is the focus of this writing. This writing does not seek to define ontologies of philosophies, nor does it seek be an exhaustive examination of the many philosophies that have been institutionalized into the practices of developing and using software. Instead, this article seeks to highlight the existence of a few important philosophies in an effort to encourage practitioners to critically examine their relationship to software and its effects on their practice. In particular, critical assessment of software philosophies engenders fresh approaches to universal, original and effective design.

There are several existing areas where philosophy exerts an influence on software. Each of these areas is not only affected by inherent philosophies, but each area inspires the growth of their individual philosophies by the design and use of their systems. In some cases, the philosophy intersects to create a fulcrum on which multiple assumptions about the construction of the world express themselves. The following sections attempt to outline a few of the major philosophical undertones of common software applications as they relate to the Design of User Interfaces, Avatars, and the use of object orientation.

Careful examination of software decants the following key philosophical elements:

  • The heavy use of analogy

  • The application of reductivism

  • An emphasis on transferred agency

Each of these elements directs users toward specific modes of operation, problem solving and creative efforts. This chapter concerns itself with the identification and evaluation of the philosophies resulting from the use, either successful or unsuccessful, of software built with these elements. The final section of this writing highlights how these philosophies instruct software users.



For some, Philosophy is a term that should not be paired with software. Within this subset, philosophy is abstract, whereas computer software design is science. Granted that there are scientific underpinnings to software, it is important to recognize that software is used in increasingly abstract ways. It is used to create art, it is used to communicate, and it is used as an integral part of daily work that involves abstract thinking.

The philosophy of software is a topic of research and rhetoric in many disciplines. Although not always considered a philosophical examination, practitioners of law, education, commerce and nearly every software-effected discipline have discussed a kind of philosophy of software. These concerns include intellectual property rights, electronic learning, and the design of systems. The philosophical and commercial work of the Free Software Foundation, for example, is directed toward the specific effect software production philosophies have on the quality of software produced. Theirs’ is largely an examination of how software production is practiced, not an examination of how software effects production. This writing seeks to expose the effects of philosophies so ingrained in the production of software that they are seemingly transparent. In the oft-used paraphrase of Marshal Mcluhan, we shape our tools and then our tools shape us (1994).

It is important to note that this discussion excludes an examination of hardware’s role. This is because hardware finds design from the realities of physical sciences, where software finds design from logic. The critical evaluation of this logic decants priorities, ideologies, and value systems. Simply stated, it influences the foundations of existing philosophies. Those philosophies are encoded in the language and structure of software, and interpreted by the user.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Finite State Machine: A model for the construction of computer programs that defines solutions using a discrete set that may be reduced to a finite set of configurations.

Software Philosophy: The collection of values, ideologies, and perspectives made apparent in the design of a specific software solution.

Metaphorical Design: A design approach employing analogy in the design of software solutions.

Reductivism: Defines both an historical art movement and the practice, in software design, of simplifying complicated relationships in order to encode them into computer science terms.

Human Computer Interaction: The discipline considered with optimizing the dialogue between human being and computer.

Avatars: A digital representation of a user in a virtual environment.

Object Orientation: An extremely popular software design approach employing classes to encapsulate specific entities into logical, modular units. Object orientation encourages code reuse.

Unified Modeling Language: A formal standard specification, visualization, construction, and documentation of software.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Gabriele Meiselwitz
James Braman, Giovanni Vincenti, Goran Trajkovski
James Braman, Giovanni Vincenti, Goran Trajkovski
Chapter 1
Adérito Fernandes Marcos, Pedro Branco, João Álvaro Carvalho
Art objects might be described as symbolic objects that aim at stimulating emotions. They reach us through our senses (visual, auditory, tactile, or... Sample PDF
The Computer Medium in Digital Art's Creative Process
Chapter 2
Salah Uddin Ahmed, Letizia Jaccheri, Guttorm Sindre, Anna Trifonova
The interaction between art and technology, especially computing technology, is an increasing trend in the recent years. The context of this... Sample PDF
Conceptual Framework for the Intersection of Software and Art
Chapter 3
Joseph William Pruitt
The purpose of this chapter is to define the roles of engineering and design within the product development cycle looking at both the scientific and... Sample PDF
The Design of Engineering
Chapter 4
Jim Bizzocchi, Belgacem Ben Youssef
The chapter describes the synergistic integration of distinct research and creation agendas, each firmly grounded in its own set of practices and... Sample PDF
Ambient Video, Slow-Motion, and Convergent Domains of Practice
Chapter 5
Ethan Ham
Randomness is a slippery term that conveys different meanings in different disciplines. In mathematics, an individual number is random when there is... Sample PDF
Randomness, Chance, & Art
Chapter 6
Holography: Re-Defined  (pages 103-112)
Martin Richardson, Paul Scattergood
When writing this chapter it became apparent that we were not only exponents of digital holography, but also the critics. This is a problem when it... Sample PDF
Holography: Re-Defined
Chapter 7
Lorenzo Picinali
What is the real potential of computer science when applied to music? It is possible to synthesize a “real” guitar using physical modelling... Sample PDF
3D Sound Simulation over Headphones
Chapter 8
Raphael DiLuzio
This is a guide for working with a visual art form using a digital time-based medium. This chapter will provide an overview of the necessary... Sample PDF
Broken Cinema: The Eye and Hand in a Time-Based Art
Chapter 9
Ambivalent Interplay  (pages 146-161)
Heejoo Kim
The human vision, the most ubiquitous receptor of the human senses, has been the prevailing sensory organ for a noticeable manifestation of visual... Sample PDF
Ambivalent Interplay
Chapter 10
Yueh Hsiu Giffen Cheng
The development of net art originates from the rising of net media generally. During the past two decades, Net art has overthrown the standards of... Sample PDF
The Aesthetics of Net dot Art
Chapter 11
Nicola Quinn, Annette Aboulafia
People have used tools for artistic expression for millennia. Relatively recent is the use of digital technology to afford the creation of art.... Sample PDF
A Graphics Tablet as a Fine Art Tool
Chapter 12
Greg J. Smith
This text seeks to contextualize the history of and discourse surrounding information visualization. It positions visualization in relation to... Sample PDF
Information Visualization and Interface Culture
Chapter 13
Benjamin David Robert Bogart
“Memory Association Machine” (also known as “Self-Other Organizing Structure #1”) is the first prototype in a series of site-specific responsive... Sample PDF
Memory Association Machine
Chapter 14
Stefano De Luca, Eugenia Benelli, Francesco Altarocca, Dario Dussoni
Designing good and sound architectural projects is a hard job. Generally these kinds of projects involve many stakeholders, everyone with his/her... Sample PDF
EVO-PARK: Designing Better Architecture Projects Using Participated and Interactive Genetic Algorithms
Chapter 15
Sergiy Rakov, Viktor Gorokh, Kirill Osenkov
The chapter discusses the possibilities modern IT opens for Mathematics and its applications to real life, in particular to Art – by an example of... Sample PDF
Mathematics, Computer Mathematical Systems, Creativity, Art
Chapter 16
Jim Barta, Ron Eglash
Students who may typically view mathematics as a sterile and disjointed subject are learning new skills and concepts using a suite of virtual design... Sample PDF
Teaching Artful Expressions of Mathematical Beauty: Virtually Creating Native American Beadwork and Rug Weaving
Chapter 17
Mia Kalish
One visualization in Diné philosophy is four small dots arranged in a circular sequence at 90°, 0°, 270°, and 180°. Each position is associated with... Sample PDF
Visual Analytics and Conceptual Blending Theory
Chapter 18
Lindsay Grace
Enculturation is the act of passing cultural ideologies from one person to the other. It is what breeds innovation instead of new creation. It is... Sample PDF
The Challenge of Enculturation on Art
Chapter 19
Lindsay Grace
Software is philosophical. Software is designed by people who have been influenced by a specific understanding of the way objects, people and... Sample PDF
The Philosophies of Software
Chapter 20
Technological Social-ism  (pages 343-374)
Judson Wright
Culture is a byproduct of our brains. Moreover, we’ll look at ways culture also employs ritual (from shamanistic practices to grocery shopping) to... Sample PDF
Technological Social-ism
Chapter 21
Stephen A. Schrum
As creative people inhabit virtual worlds, they bring their ideas for art and performance with them into these brave new worlds. While at first... Sample PDF
Theatre in Second Life® Holds the VR Mirror up to Nature
Chapter 22
Machinima in Second Life  (pages 396-416)
Stephany Filimon
This chapter provides a brief history of machinima, films created by computer users within virtual worlds, and focuses on machinima produced within... Sample PDF
Machinima in Second Life
Chapter 23
Andrew Jinman
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Player Motivation and Understanding Game Dynamics
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