Example Of Computers And Computer-Controlled Machines - We Can Begin To See How Argumentative Essay
In poring through the introduction of Peter Carruthers' The Mind Is The Brain, one can easily find themselves attracted to the thesis of mind/brain identity. The idea that mental and physical states are the same thing appears completely valid in light of the second summary premiss "(2) In a completed neuro-physiological science there will be no need to advert to anything other than physical-physical causality (320)." The argument as presented, absent external objections, is logically consistent. When objections are explored, however, the thesis fails to hold up to scrutiny. The identity-thesis may very well be valid, but Carruthers' responses to the objections are insufficient, and he winds up negating the theory according to his own criteria. In accordance with Carruthers' claim " the identity thesis will only be rationally acceptable if we can reply adequately to each of the objections (320)," the identity-thesis is rendered unacceptable.
In order to demonstrate this, there are 3 points to be made. As he works through his responses to objections, Carruthers commits a number of logical fallacies, each of which weakens his argument and demonstrates a failure to support the acceptability of the identity-thesis. His failure in this regard is evident in his misunderstanding of differing attributes in relation to knowledge, when responding to objection "(F) Complete Knowledge." He then commits a logical fallacy when he assigns the attribute of intentionality to pre-programmed machines in response to section III objection "(A) Intentionality" (324). Finally, Carruthers employs an argument from false analogy in comparing human morality with mechanical function, with his analogy of "differential response (325)." These three failures alone invalidate the identity-thesis based upon the above stated criteria; for according to Carruthers, if the objections cannot all be adequately responded to, the theory cannot be considered rationally acceptable.
"The identity-thesis is a version of strong materialism: it holds that all mental states and events are in fact physical states and events (319)." The objection "(F) Complete Knowledge" argues that knowledge of a physical state does not imply knowledge of experience. In other words, understanding the nature of a physical state does not mean understanding the experience of being in that state. Carruthers rightly points out that in appealing to experience, objection (F) is referring to practical knowledge; as opposed to factual knowledge (323). He then says that "although sensations are brain states, knowing what they are like is a matter of being able to recognize them ('straight off') when you have them (324)." Acknowledging this difference between the sensation brain state and the recognition of the experience, violates the theory of mind/brain identity. The identity-thesis depends on two things sharing the same characteristics. It holds that our brain states and physical states are different words describing the same thing (319). In order for the theory to hold up to scrutiny, this sameness must be consistent, so one may assert one of two things here. Either this response negates rational acceptability of the identity-thesis, or two forms of knowledge can arise from the same thing. It is hardly reasonable to assume the latter in this particular case. Factual knowledge and practical knowledge are dependent upon different qualities offered within the human experience. On one hand, factual knowledge is dependent upon physical states. On the other, practical knowledge is gained through the memory of the intangible, the feelings and lessons associated with experiences. If both factual and practical knowledge arise from two things that are identical, then those two things, in addition to their commonalities, must have differing qualities; and therefore not be identical.
In failing to recognize the flaw in his response to objection (F), Carruthers weakened his position. More harm is done, however, when we get to the logical fallacy in his response to section III, "(A) Intentionality."
For by looking at systems which are, manifestly, purely physical - e.g.
they can display some of the distinctive features of intentional states.
If we can see the beginnings of intentionality embodied in a physical
system such as a computer, then there is no reason in principle why full-
blown intentionality (beliefs, desires and the rest) should not be embodied in the biological computer which is the human brain. (324)
At best, this argument is dishonest. Computers are programmed by human beings, they
are machines incapable of acting with independent thought. The computer is programmed with bias, it cannot think outside of its given parameters. There is no intention, no independent desire. To take this further and place the perceived intentionality of a computer on the same level as the intentionality found in human thought, is a false equivalency. These two things are not even close to comparable. To be fair, Carruthers does say that he does not mean to suggest that computers literally have desires or intention, but he follows that by stating that the difference is not easy to see. The statement "the important point for our purposes here is that we have found an analogue for the intentionality of desire in the concept of 'differential response' (325)" brings us to my third point of contention.
In the process of building a case, we are given the scenario of a computer controlled mechanical arm that is programmed to identify and grab only yellow objects. The machine must be able to identify shape, size, and spatial position to be able to perform its task, but it will only select based on colour. The scenario is expanded further by the addition of the yellow objects being presented - lemons. Programmed to select by colour alone, the computer is indifferent to the unique shape of the lemons, reacting only to the colour yellow. Carruthers presents my third point of contention:
Just as Oedipus will respond differently to one and the same woman
will respond differently to one and the same bit of fruit presented to it
now as a yellow thing (its shape being obscured), now as a lemon-
shaped thing (its colour being obscured). (325)
The absurdity of this is that a philosopher would ignore metaphysical considerations of the human condition. Oedipus, as a human being, possesses the potential for cognitive dissonance and a sense of morality. His reaction to Jocasta differs depending upon his understanding of right and wrong; the natural love for a woman vs the incestuous lust for his mother. A machine possesses no such understanding. Oedipus understands these things inherently. A computer understands only what it is programmed to understand, and without self-awareness, cannot possess practical knowledge. It could be argued that I have misrepresented Carruthers’ argument here, except for the fact that I have not accused him of literal correlation. His is an argument from analogy, a false equivalency between two things that simply cannot be rationally compared. Like the incomparability of perceived mechanical intentionality and human intentionality, these two examples are simply not analogous.
Carruthers is in error with his argument relating to knowledge. In failing to realize that differing qualities are necessary for the acquisition of factual vs practical knowledge, he violates the identity-thesis. He then commits a logical fallacy when he assigns the perceived attribute of intentionality to pre-programmed machines (324). Finally, Carruthers employs an argument from false analogy in comparing human morality with mechanical function, and his concept of "differential response (325)." Under Carruthers' own criteria, "the identity-thesis will only be rationally acceptable if we can reply adequately to each of the objections (320)." This burden of proof has not been met. In the conclusion we find "since there is good reason to believe the identity-thesis to be true, and no good reason to believe it false, the case for the thesis is rationally convincing (327)." Unfortunately, there was no good reason presented beyond the summary of the idea in the introduction, and given that the objections were not effectively dealt with, there is no good reason to believe it true. By his own criteria, Carruthers has failed to present a good argument for, and indeed a good reason to accept, the identity-thesis. This is not to say that the theory should not be further explored, however. Topics for future consideration should include exploring ways in which the identity-thesis can be rationally argued for. The theory is not without merit, and effective arguments in favour of it should be discussed. Explorations of human thought give us insight into ourselves, our species, and the world around us. The discipline of philosophy benefits from these exercises, but more so the human condition is enriched by them. Carruthers failed due to his own criteria, but given different parameters, the identity-thesis may stand a chance of rational acceptability.
Carruthers, Peter. “The Mind Is The Brain.” Introducing Persons: An Introduction to the Philosophy of the Mind. London: Croom Helm, 1986. Print.
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