I’m looking for philosophy that has the agent as central in characterizing knowledge, but is not as relative as relativism as knowledge will come from algorithms, and before pragmatism. I don’t think algorithms are explained by or restricted to science either historically. They seem cross discipline and broad, and not platonic either.

I think we can go back to the Meno and doubling the square to find an example of an algorithm (I know they come before this too). Meno because an algorithmic road seems presented but then not taken and algorithm is present in one of the founding stories of knowledge.

My tertiary summary of the slave boy in Plato’s Meno is that Socrates believes/demonstrates the boy is able to learn to double the square by being progressively reminded of truths his soul already knows.

Why is that a good example for supporting Plato’s metaphysics of static forms and truths, when what Socrates has done could be seen as simply sharing an algorithm (a clear series of steps)?

(It’s also a great story because it defines what knowledge is, knowledge of eternal forms/truths). I don’t know of a paradigmatic story which defines what algorithmic knowledge is.

I can’t find much in philosophy about algorithms as ways to characterize knowledge and philosophy. And yet they were hugely important to Ancient Greeks, and titans today say no complete definition of algorithm has been given (Yuri Gurevich, a philosophically inclined computer scientist).

Why algorithm and not just fold into pragmatism or relativism? Because relativism seems too against framework (e.g. I want to make algorithm shared and central) and pragmatism took till the 1800s, while algorithms existed to Ancient Greeks and were philosophically important already. Or maybe this is relativism, algorithm relativism where all knowledge is relative to algorithms?

  • If knowledge will come from algorithms where would algorithms come from? Socrates, pragmatism and relativism propose some way of establishing what is "true" or "successful", be it unforgetting the heavens or practice or personal tastes. How are we to decide which algorithms to adopt, and when/how to revise them? Unless you are suggesting that we trust the learned elders and shut up and calculate.
    – Conifold
    Aug 15, 2022 at 23:53
  • @Conifold “How are we to decide which algorithms to adopt, and when/how to revise them?” Is it too vacuous to say something like, attending a university and thinking clearly and critically is an algorithm for part of just that? All algorithms we’ve found via other simpler or innate algorithms or something….
    – J Kusin
    Aug 16, 2022 at 1:10
  • Re your "I want to make algorithm shared and central", isn't nowadays Github/Gitlab clouds are already doing this?... Aug 16, 2022 at 1:53
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    Any undecidable sentence in r.e. Chomsky hierarchy is Turing incomputable. The best way to interpret arbitrary algo from logic is still actively researched, one popular way is using Provable monads (not the usual Either/Maybe/Promise monads) to identify halting from potentially non-halting code related to intuitionistic modal logic by a natural extension of Curry–Howard isomorphism. Another way is total functional programming which eliminates unrestricted recursion to forgo Turing completeness while retaining enough complexity and use trick wherever non-halting behavior is actually desired... Aug 16, 2022 at 3:15
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    If something as vague as that counts as an algorithm then platonism, relativism and pragmatism are far more "algorithmic" than that, as are most other epistemologies. Here is the general problem: to be viable, philosophies must be vague to accommodate diverse adherents and creative revision/transformation. Algorithms are pretty much defined as the opposite of both.
    – Conifold
    Aug 16, 2022 at 4:22

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure exactly what you mean, however...

Algorithm is a term that is strongly associated with computer science these days, however any repeatable, goal-oriented behavior is algorithmic. As such, philosophies of math and science that formerly examine and embrace algorithmic and heuristic thinking explicitly might satisfy your search. To me, constructivist approaches to knowledge seem to be what you are looking for.


Some philosophies use algorithms in more prominent ways. One example is mathematical constructivism which relies on algorithms and proofs to establish the existence of mathematical objects:

In the philosophy of mathematics, constructivism asserts that it is necessary to find (or "construct") a specific example of a mathematical object in order to prove that an example exists.

An advantage of constructivizing measure theory is that if one can prove that a set is constructively of full measure, then there is an algorithm for finding a point in that set (again see Bishop (1967)). For example, this approach can be used to construct a real number that is normal to every base.

The notion that proofs and algorithms are central to ontological claims is the salient feature of such an approach to mathematics. In fact, in a broader vein, scientific constructivism as an epistemological position relies on that general notion, that knowledge constructed generally understood as justified, true belief+ is a human-centric, pluarlistic set of processes:

According to constructivists, there is no single valid methodology in science but rather a diversity of useful methods.

Constructivists maintain that the dichotomy between discovery of the objective, and invention of the subjective is a false one with the emphasis being on pluralistic approaches, processes, methodologies, or if you prefer, algorithms which are central to the nature of what an entity is. From IEP's article "Constructivism in Metaphysics":

Constructivists are united first in their opposition to certain forms of Realism—namely, those that claim that x exists and is suitably independent of us. Constructivists about x agree that x exists, but they deny that it is suitably independent of us. Constructivism is distinguished from other versions of anti-Realism by the emphasis it places on the constructing relation. Constructivists are united by all being anti-Realists about x and by believing this is due to x’s being, in some way, constructed by us.

This emphasis on 'constructive relations' focuses on the processes and formulas for building knowledge to establish entities in the world.

Lastly, for some constructivists, the very algorithmic nature of concept manufacture is the heart not only of a philosophical position, but of philosophy itself. From IEP's Deleuze, Gilles:

As we have seen, a certain doctrine of empiricist constructivism runs through Deleuze’s work from the beginning, and on a number of levels. In What is Philosophy? this becomes the central and explicit theme: “philosophy is the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts”.

Hence, for constructivists, the act of achieving goals through explicitly examining the human processes of algorithms and heuristics is one of the central epistemological, ontological, and metaphysical concerns.

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    As you can tell I often need some help getting over the finish line on this site so thanks for the courtesy of connecting my prose to mainstream philosophy enough to make sense of it faithfully. Some very broad kind of constructivism (metaphysical constructivism I guess, or is epistemic constrvsm a thing?) seems closest. I think I’m gravitated toward algorithm and constructivism because of their wide methods (as long as algorithm isn’t unjustifiably restricted too narrowly). And demonstrating anything more than a construction/algorithm is perhaps impossible, a way to cut off pure relativism
    – J Kusin
    Aug 16, 2022 at 15:59
  • Yw! There's nothing more frustrating then talking to "human compilers" who take things so literally, you get obtuse objections that themselves require research. ; ) I hadn't seen that Meno passage as constructivist until you emphasized that the commonality in discourse rooted in the algorithm. No agent, no algorithm! : )
    – J D
    Aug 16, 2022 at 16:34
  • Btw, you might want to explore the terms nominalism/instrumentalism and realism.
    – J D
    Aug 16, 2022 at 16:36

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