Re: Til / sophistry / pure bytes

From: Alfie Costa (
Date: Wed Oct 09 2002 - 20:33:11 CEST

On 7 Oct 2002, at 15:26, Michele Andreoli <> wrote:

> We are falling in some sort of sophism here, where words are stretched in
> order to fit arguments, and no viceversa.

No sophism today, I hope! CH used the word "service", like so: "this kind of
service is no service at all." The service he meant was the mailing list, and
I generalized it to the aims of the mailing list -- the list mostly exists to
discuss and hopefully improve a particular instance of free software. That is
the 'service' of this mailing list falls under the 'service' of free software.
Prove the general case, and any particular instance follows.

('Sophism' is an interesting sort of word. 'Sophos' was greek for 'wise', so a
'sophist' was a wise man or expert. But there were many false sophists and
these gave wisdom a bad name. So 'sophist' came to mean an expert in
rhetorical falsehoods. The word 'dunce' means a dullard, and derives from the
great medieval schoolman Duns Scotus. Today, the phrase "he's a real Einstein"
means "he is stupid". Wise names that go bad.)

> > While free software is a hobbyist activity which we do "just for fun",
> > our critics should be courteous and humane, but if we're trying to write
> > code that's useful to the public in general, (and succeeding), then our
> > programs become a kind of civic object, and private manners should not
> > apply.
> This is not my opinion. I have a different, and (surely) minority opinion.
> But my english isn't enough to well explain my feeling. I'm not interested
> in *useful* code, when exploring Linux software. *Useful* code for me is
> Windows code. Usefulness in Linux (IMHO) is an *accidental*, although
> desiderable property. The main is *freedom*, the foundation of the
> *creativity*. I include all that in the human-topics class, and private
> manners should always apply.

But freedom is a civic good, a public good. You couldn't have mu (at least as
we know it) without the GPL; 'P' stands for "Public'. And without Richard
Stallman's politically inspired GPL, (or something very much like it), we'd
probably have no Linux. RMS is a fitting example here -- some people dislike
his eccentric manners, but Stallman's civic contribution to programming freedom
stands above his personal qualities.

On Linux's usefulness being 'accidental'; that sounds like the same philosophy
some mathematicians espouse in regards to "pure mathematics" transplanted to
programming. I think it's mythology, but such olympian appeals can be
convenient to fend off impatient people who demand immediate results. The
danger of it is that some unlucky scholar might really believe it -- that is
he'd lend his skills to an evil cause, (like making poison gas or something),
but feel no responsibility for any bad results, because he is only a pure of
faith scholar.

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