Minds and Machines

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 379–401 | Cite as

An Analysis of the Criteria for Evaluating Adequate Theories of Computation

  • Nir Fresco


This paper deals with the question: What are the criteria that an adequate theory of computation has to meet? (1) Smith’s answer: it has to meet the empirical criterion (i.e. doing justice to computational practice), the conceptual criterion (i.e. explaining all the underlying concepts) and the cognitive criterion (i.e. providing solid grounds for computationalism). (2) Piccinini’s answer: it has to meet the objectivity criterion (i.e. identifying computation as a matter of fact), the explanation criterion (i.e. explaining the computer’s behaviour), the right things compute criterion, the miscomputation criterion (i.e. accounting for malfunctions), the taxonomy criterion (i.e. distinguishing between different classes of computers) and the empirical criterion. (3) Von Neumann’s answer: it has to meet the precision and reliability of computers criterion, the single error criterion (i.e. addressing the impacts of errors) and the distinction between analogue and digital computers criterion. (4) “Everything” computes answer: it has to meet the implementation theory criterion by properly explaining the notion of implementation.


Cognition Computation Computationalism Computers Implementation Practice Subject Matter Theory Turing machines 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2007 AAP conference in Armidale, Australia. I’m greatly indebted to Phillip Staines, whose trenchant comments and insights made this paper appreciably better. I’m grateful to Joseph Agassi, who thought me what philosophy is all about and that conflict is not to be feared. I also thank Gualtiero Piccinini for his comments on the latest version of this paper. Many thanks to Calanit Sabaz for her constant support and feedback.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of History and PhilosophyThe University of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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