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Communications of the ACM


The Work and Inspiration of the APA Newsletter on Philosophy and Computers

The APA Newsletter on Philosophy and Computers ( is one of several American Philosophical Association newsletters directed at interest groups in philosophy. Published by the Committee on Philosophy and Computers, it has a quirky history and a multi-dimensional appeal. The articles and short pieces that it offers are eclectic, yet firmly rooted in contemporary philosophical issues related to computing.

Toward the demonstration of its relevance to mainstream philosophy, Piotr Boltuć, the current editor, is leading the Newsletter into greater prominence. The established arenas of discourse in philosophy of computing share many issues with philosophy of mind and cognitive science, and also with moral and political philosophy as applied to computers and their rapid deployment. Each issue opens with a letter from the editor offering helpful remarks on the contributions therein; often this letter is followed by reflections from the Chair of the APA Committee on Computing and Philosophy.

Dr. Boltuć explains that the antiquated name of the Committee on Philosophy and Computers comes with a long history; readers may note an analogy to the name "Association for Computing Machinery." The Committee was first devoted to persuading philosophers to use computers at all, as well as to exploration of web resources. It was very closely related to the Computing and Philosophy society (CAP), sharing active members. The Newsletter, which started in 2002, inherited the name and focus. (Note that CAP matured into the International Association for Computing and Philosophy, IACAP, the subject of our post of Aug. 30.)

Generous contributor Piotr Boltuć explains the development and offers some highlights of the publication. All Newsletter issues mentioned can be found at the link given above.

An Account from Piotr Boltuć

Under its first editor Jon Dorbolo, with Robert Cavallier as the Chair of the Committee, the Newsletter had its own editorial board, with sections on web-based resources, computer ethics, and teaching in cyberspace. Initially the focus was on book reviews, but already in issue 2, we have an interviews—starting with Luciano Floridi—as well as some articles, including an important early piece by Tim van Gelder on argument mapping. In issue 3 we have an interview with Pat Suppes by Marvin Croy. In 2004, the Newsletter collaborated with Minds and Machines on a double-issue related to Dan Dennett's Barwise Prize. I joined the Committee around this time and remember being impressed by the great atmosphere—Committee members would meet at least once a year, at the Barwise Prize ceremony, and deliberate on Committee issues as well as philosophy, often in a congenial setting such as a pub. The Spring 2005 issue is notable for an article on computer generating of metaphors by Eric Steinhart, and a number of reviews of various aspects of Floridi's "The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Computing and Information." The Committee became more active than the Newsletter around 2006.

I joined the Committee primarily to promote e-learning in philosophy, in which I was actively engaged since 1999 and I published a paper on e-teaching philosophy in the fall of 2005. In the spring of 2007, I was asked to guest-edit an issue on short notice. I invited luminaries with long connections to the Committee (Bill Rapaport and Jim Moor) and to CAP (Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic), as well as Gil Harman and Keith Miller. The good fortune that all of those kind people accepted my invitation resulted in an issue that everybody on the Committee seemed to like, which in turn resulted in me being invited to take up the editorship; it also resulted in stronger focus on publishing articles. I took inspiration from the excellent Spring 2007 issue of the APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy, thinking to myself that we'll do quite well if our newsletter were nearly as good.

I am particularly happy, as the editor, that I was able to organize two major debates around work of Luciano Floridi, with excellent feedback by T. Bynum, J. Barker, and M. Fultot, among others. We were also able to publish several discussions on teaching philosophy online. My membership in the editorial board of the International Journal of Machine Consciousness, 2009-2014, gave me the opportunity to involve Stan Franklin, Bernard Baars, Igor Aleksander, Anthony Chella, Riccardo Manzotti (with his article but also unique philosophical cartoons), Stephen Thaler, Troy Kelley, and Susan Stuart. I was also thrilled when Terry Horgan came with the initiative to publish posthumously the article "Probabilities for AI" by John Pollock (2010); the motivation to publish with us was partly our relaxed attitude towards length—Pollock's paper, the longest so far, was 53 pages long (before column formatting), whereas some discussion pieces we published have been just over a page—and partly the fact that we are an open access publication affiliated with a major philosophical organization.

In terms of formal work, I was delighted when Dan Kolak facilitated the publication of two groundbreaking original articles by Jaakko Hintikka, and when J. Barker published the gist of his famous dissertation from Princeton on the inconsistency theory of truth. In the upcoming issue (Spring 2017), we have an impressive paper of the formal kind by a recent Barwise Prize laureate, Bill Rapaport. Tom Powers and Marcello Guarini, recent and current Chairs of the Committee, have cultivated a collegial atmosphere for inspired discussion of the future.

A particular boon of this newsletter is the prolonged discussions of single works, through commentaries and responses, refining and interpreting a paper's thesis. For example, an article by Lynn Rudder Baker (2008) rejects the traditional deprecation of artifacts (artificial objects) as opposed to natural objects, based on persuasive examples including engineered organisms. Three responses appeared in the next issue—Thomasson (2008) agrees by arguing that we unfairly apply natural criteria; Preston (2008) agrees but maintains that excess historical credit granted to technological intervention by humans has exaggerated intentional dependence, and Kroes and Vernaas (2008) propose a distinct category of ontology for artifacts. Commentary continues in the next issue, and the next after that, with a response from Baker in spring 2010. As a burgeoning class of artifacts born of computer technology emerges, this line of inquiry—which must be appreciated through the articles themselves, rather than through my crude account—is significant and exciting. Its sustained treatment offers a feast for the inquiring mind.

Themes that cut across conversations on individual works include the nature of information, autonomy of agents, and ontology of web-based objects, but a list of topics does not do justice to the Newsletter. The single-editor format allows for the occasional idiosyncratic contribution to appear alongside mainstream research—even a graphic novella treatment of the non-existence of intermediate entities such as images (Manzotti 2009), and news of InPhO, the Indiana Philosophy Ontology project, which provides a dynamic taxonomy of philosophical research rather than philosophical research into ontology per se ( The Newsletter even published my own appeal for a broadening of the scope of the philosophy of computer science (Hill 2016).

Its early embrace of works on how computers might support the teaching and research of philosophy places this publication at the forefront of the discourse regarding digital and online potential for education in the humanities. From that has emerged a continuous investigation into the significance of technological aids beyond teaching as well, into more general normative questions of technology, addressing, for example, accessibility and the digital divide.

Readers of this blog are invited to peruse the Newsletter and take advantage of its policy of open access to research of high quality at the crossroads of computer science and philosophy, and to note some 2017 conferences: the Annual Meeting of the International Association for Computing and Philosophy, at Stanford in June (, and the Fourth International Conference of the Commission for the History and Philosophy of Computing, in October in Brno, Czech Republic (



Baker, Lynn Rudder. 2008. "The Shrinking Difference Between Artifacts and Natural Objects." APA Newsletter on Computing and Philosophy 7[2]:2-5.

Baker, Lynn Rudder. 2010. "Shrinking Difference—Response to Replies." APA Newsletter on Computing and Philosophy 9[2]:37-38.

Hill, Robin K. 2016. "A Call for More Philosophy in the Philosophy of Computer Science." APA Newsletter on Computing and Philosophy 15[2]:15-17.

Kroes, Peter, and Vernaas, Pieter. 2008. "Interesting Differences between Artifacts and Natural Objects." APA Newsletter on Computing and Philosophy 8[1]:28-31.

Manzotti, Riccardo. 2010. "The Fallacy of the Intermediate Entity." APA Newsletter on Computing and Philosophy 9[2]:59-66.

Pollock, John. 2010. "Probabilities for AI." APA Newsletter on Computing and Philosophy 9[2]:3-32.

Preston, Beth. 2008. "The Shrinkage Factor: Comment on Lynne Rudder Baker’s "The Shrinking Difference between Artifacts and Natural Objects." APA Newsletter on Computing and Philosophy 8[1]:26-28.

Thomasson, Amie. 2008. "Artifacts and Mind-Independence: Comments on Lynne Rudder Baker’s "The Shrinking Difference between Artifacts and Natural Objects." APA Newsletter on Computing and Philosophy 8[1]:25-26.


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