EWD 509 translated. Original is here .
First speech, autumn 1975.
At the beginning of my lectures in this semester, I would like get as many misunderstandings as possible out of the way, which may exist or arise about these lectures. Why are they organized? Or, split up: why would I give them and why would you listen to them?
I bring these points up because I discovered a few years ago that there exist barely recordable misunderstandings: a significant fraction of my audience had considered it a matter of course that I gave lectures because I was paid for it, with that assumption putting an enormous cart before the horse. Indeed, it is the other way around: because I give lectures, I am getting paid for it. It was an echo of the misconception that was in fashion at the end of the sixties, namely that professors would derive their status from their professorship at an institution of higher education, while de facto the institution of higher education derives its status primarily from those whom she has been able to attract as professor.
If I do not give lectures because I get paid for it, why then? My answer is simple: because without the educational business, in which we transfer the cultural heritage, that our ancestors have entrusted us, to our next generation, our society would lapse into barbarism within half a century. In this sense, the profession of educator is a moral duty, both to his ancestry and to his offspring. Though this consideration justifies a general concern for education, —a concern which incidentally is not shared by our Minister of Education and Science—, it does of course not explain why I personally would commit myself. Ostensibly this is all the more so because the subject in question —programming for automatic calculators— did not even exist when I was as old as you are. What am I piffling about transferring the ancestral inheritance? Where did that parvenu get the idea?
Well, that's very simple. Of course, my ancestry has not thought about programming for automatic calculators, because it was not yet confronted with those things. What our ancestry has done is to build a tradition of effectively using your brains and clearly identifying the function of abstraction as intellectual action: the introduction of abstractions is the opposite of introducing ambiguities, it is introducing a new semantic level, on which one can express himself again very precisely. It is my task to try to convince you that in this new area too, mastering the ancient, proven techniques of thinking are a prerequisite for the production of work of sufficient quality. I give these lectures because I'm more convinced of that necessity than most of the mathematicians who have not yet devoted themselves much to automatic calculators, more convinced than the majority of computer scientists, who have not yet discovered that they should practice their profession as mathematician. I give this lecture, supported by my credo, that programming is one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics, because it is also one of the most difficult engineering subjects, and vice versa.
That subjects may be very difficult intrinsically does not fit into the ideology of Dr. van Kemenade and preferably he would abolish them in the context of the general education dilution. I consider it my duty to resist this attack on our culture and in any case as long as this nobody is Minister of Education and Science, I consider it irresponsible to leave my chair. Poison should be contested with antidote. Now you know, why I give lectures: why you listen you must find out for yourself in the course of the semester.