Reading and writing was invented only recently, and it took time to propagate worldwide; even today there will be millions illiterate people - hard to imagine.

Then, there are about 20 millions of programmers worldwide - individuals which can write symbols in a way that computer can perform some action processing them. I think over time there will be more.

I do not even know how to establish the argument that ability to write code is sort of new literacy - or how to prove the opposite?

Or which philosophical thought on it is there already.

I try therefore the reference request tag.

Hope this question makes sense.

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    I think most people would accept the phrase "computer-illiterate" without much effort. Perhaps you really want to argue that computer illiteracy is as problematic as reading & writing illiteracy? Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 14:49
  • literacy from the latin computer illiteracy more of an idiom, just my two cents, thanks
    – user29495
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 14:49
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    @user3293056 ok I see - therefore I do not use the term "computer literacy" which implies using digital appliances AFAIK but "coding/programming literacy"
    – J. Doe
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 15:17
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    " coding illiteracy equates to some form of slavery" very interesting catch I really do not feel related to, but why? normal illiteracy isn't actually slavery - I thought like, being literate gives you more possibilities, well freedom but not in a sense like an opposite to slavery?
    – J. Doe
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 15:23
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    @J.Doe cool, i agree. my original comment was just to stress that probably most people can get to grips with basic coding. think it mostly taps working memory? all the best, move to chat if you want to keep chatting, apologies
    – user29495
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 15:25

1 Answer 1


With any category argument, you need to start with a definition. While a dictionary definition might work, it is usually more useful to find expert definitions. I would see if you can find some papers and academic quality books on the topic of literacy. See if your library has something like The Anthropology of Literacy.

If you can find a recognized definition which includes more than just reading and writing, and especially if it already would imply that understanding of programming is a form of literacy.

One argument is that programming languages are just that: languages. If that is the case, then you can start directly from the definition "knowing how to read and write a language." I think most people would accept that definition and it is the argument that I would use.

One way you can bolster the argument is through the citation of legal cases which are consistent with your position. This article cites a pertinent case and this specific quote from the case may be the linchpin in your argument:

This court can find no meaningful difference between computer language, particularly high-level languages as defined above, and German or French....Like music and mathematical equations, computer language is just that, language, and it communicates information either to a computer or to those who can read it..

As far as the US courts are concerned, Java is no different than French. If you can understand and write Java code, you're literate in Java. If you cannot understand or write code in any programming language, then you are illiterate as far as that is concerned.


There is always a question of whether or not an argument is valid. As long as a position is logically derived from a foundation, then it is valid, up to that foundation. If someone is not willing to accept SCOTUS rulings on the meaning of a word, then we have to see if we can use a different argument, but at the very least, it is a good starting point, and the argument itself made by the justices might work as material towards a modified argument.

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    "As far as the US courts are concerned, Java is no different than French." you made my day @Daniel Goldman, thank you! And very helpful input. I will wait a litte bit and possibly accept your answer as correct/fulfilling - until smb will provide the reference to a source nailing down that line of argument completely.
    – J. Doe
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 15:32
  • Honestly, I had been looking into the legal aspect of programming languages and protocols for something else, so that's the only reason why I'm familiar with it. Basically, I wanted to see if it would be legal to write a ground up protocol compliant server-client pair that used the same protocol and file types as World of Warcraft. Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 15:34
  • I don't know if this approach is helpful in philosophy. I doubt it.
    – Gordon
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 15:59
  • The goal is to convince someone of the usage of a word. There may never be an absolute in a philosophical discussion. All we can do is find a common foundation and build from there. If a person is willing to accept a SCOTUS position on the nature of programming languages, then you're good to go. Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 16:43
  • J. Doe, are there any more concerns that you would like me to address in my answer? Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 16:45

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