Philosophy & Technology

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 335–356 | Cite as

The Invention of the Object: Object Orientation and the Philosophical Development of Programming Languages

  • Justin Joque
Research Article


Programming languages have developed significantly over the past century to provide complex models to think about and describe the world and processes of computation. Out of Alan Kay’s Smalltalk and a number of earlier languages, object-oriented programming has emerged as a preeminent mode of writing and organizing programs. Tracing the history of object-oriented programming from its origins in Simula and Sketchpad through Smalltalk, particularly its philosophical and technical developments, offers unique insights into philosophical questions about objects, language, and our digital technologies. These early attempts to understand objects as basic elements of computation demonstrate the ways in which language, while firmly planted in the material reality of computation, must delimit objects from each other. This essay critically explores this history and explicates a theory of objects suggested by the development of object-oriented programming languages, which insists on the importance of language for representing and delimiting objects. It argues that the philosophies behind object-oriented programming are ultimately opposed to the claims of object-oriented ontology and find themselves more closely allied with philosophies that insist on the mediation of what exists through language.


Programming languages Object-oriented programming Philosophy of computing Object-oriented philosophy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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