Words Crush Wednesday – Descartes

Published March 9, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

This is the final Words Crush Wednesday quote from Descartes’ Discourse on Method, I promise!

if there were such machines with the organs and shape of a monkey or of some other non-rational animal, we would have no way of discovering that they are not the same as these animals.  But if there were machines that resembled our bodies and if they imitated our actions as much as is morally possible, we would always have two very certain means for recognizing that, none the less, they are not genuinely human.  The first is that they would never be able to use speech, or other signs composed by themselves, as we do to express our thoughts to others.  For one could easily conceive of a machine that is made in such a way that it utters words, and even that it would utter some words in response to physical actions that cause a change in its organs — for example, if someone touched it in a particular place, it would ask what one wishes to say to it, or if it were touched somewhere else, it would cry out that it was being hurt, and so on.  But it could not arrange words in different ways to reply to the meaning of everything that is said in its presence, as even the most unintelligent human beings can do.  The second means is that, even if they did many things as well as or, possibly, even better than any one of us, they would infallibly fail in others.  Thus one would discover that they did not act on the basis of knowledge, but merely as a result of the disposition of their organs.  For whereas reason is a universal instrument that can be used in all kinds of situations, these organs need a specific disposition for every particular action.  it follows that it is morally impossible for a machine to have enough different dispositions to make it act in every human situation in the same way as our reason makes us act.

Yup.  He just invented and then debunked the robot.

…though no matter how many times I read his description of how we’d know the difference between the artificial person and a real person, I keep flashing back to the scene in Blade Runner where he’s questioning the suspected replicants to expose them…

(Of course, the anthropologist in me insists on pointing out that some primates — particularly the large-bodied apes — are extremely intelligent, and couldn’t be simulated so easily as Descartes thinks.)

wcw

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