The Porphyrian Tree and Multiple Inheritance: A Rejoinder to Tylman on Computer Science and Philosophy
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Tylman (Found Sci, 2017) has recently pointed out some striking conceptual and methodological analogies between philosophy and computer science. In this paper, I focus on one of Tylman’s most convincing cases, viz. the similarity between Plato’s theory of Ideas and the object-oriented programming (OOP) paradigm, and analyze it in some more detail. In particular, I argue that the (Neo)platonic doctrine of the Porphyrian tree corresponds to the fact that most object-oriented programming languages do not support multiple inheritance. This analysis further reinforces Tylman’s point regarding the conceptual continuity between classical metaphysical theorizing and contemporary computer science.
KeywordsPorphyrian tree Object-oriented programming Multiple inheritance Diamond problem Computer science Neoplatonic metaphysics
I would like to thank Hans Smessaert, Margaux Smets, Wouter Termont, Leander Vignero and two anonymous referees for their helpful feedback on an earlier version of this paper. The two issues discussed in Sect. 5 were first raised by Vignero and Termont, respectively. The ideas presented in this paper were first proposed in one of the additional theses of my PhD dissertation (Demey 2014). My research is financially supported by a Postdoctoral Fellowship of the Research Foundation–Flanders (FWO).
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