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Comment Why should a language force you to think? (Score 2, Insightful) 605

I've been involved in more threads than I wish to recall slinging mud at C++ and there is always a strong representation from the crowd who aren't willing to invest the time to understand the object they are criticizing. The criticism fundamentally boils down to: why should a language force me to think?

That's a good question. The purpose of a programming language is much the same of that of mathematical notation, which is to allow you to think at the level of abstraction of your problem while not wasting time with irrelevant details. Modern calculus notation gives university freshmen the ability to solve problems in a few hours that baffled the greatest minds of history for thousands of years.

Note that this doesn't mean that you don't have to think when learning a mathematical language. The concepts of limit, derivative, and integral are difficult to grasp at first, but once you understand them, they offer powerful mathematical methods that allow you to think about the problem at hand and not the notation you're using.

Can computer science make similar claims? The jump from assembly to FORTRAN was a tremendous improvement in productivity, but FORTRAN to C or C to C++ produced small to no productivity improvements, perhaps in part because you have to think more and more about the language. We should be looking for a language that may require thinking to learn, but that once when learned offers powerful methods at a high level of abstraction that allow you to think about the problem without being distracted by the language.

I would suggest that we look at languages like Haskell, Scheme, or Smalltalk, which do require that we learn concepts like currying, higher-order functions, monads, and type classes, but which offer a higher level of abstraction and greater consistency than languages like C++ or Java.

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