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Animals as Machines. Descartes René Descartes (1596-1650 ) French philosopher, mathematician and scientist Discourse on Method (1637) Part 5 discusses.

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Presentation on theme: "Animals as Machines. Descartes René Descartes (1596-1650 ) French philosopher, mathematician and scientist Discourse on Method (1637) Part 5 discusses."— Presentation transcript:

1 Animals as Machines

2 Descartes René Descartes ( ) French philosopher, mathematician and scientist Discourse on Method (1637) Part 5 discusses the nature of animals

3 Animals are machines Physically animals are very much like people: same basic design, same organs But all mechanical function of the body, e.g. heart, lungs, muscles, can be explained as purely mechanical, like clocks or wind-up toys The body is a machine, the soul is immaterial Animals are bodies without souls: pure machines Nor will this appear at all strange to those who are acquainted with the variety of movements performed by the different automata, or moving machines fabricated by human industry … such persons will look upon this body as a machine made by the hands of God Because it is possible to have bodies without souls, mechanical functioning without rational intelligence, we can see that the soul is something extra, given to us by God. God only gave rational souls to people

4 Evidence that animals are not rational 1)Animals are not flexible in their behavior. They can be very good at one type of task, but cannot apply their ability to a different type of task (e.g. a spider can spin a web better than any human, but it cannot use its abilities creatively) 2)Animals cannot speak: – Even though they sometimes have the right organs required for speech, e.g. parrots – Even human idiots can speak, so speech does not require a high level of intelligence – Even humans without speech organs can develop a language of communication (sign language) – Animals that are more capable in other tasks than idiots, but nevertheless cannot learn to speak – Animals can still run around sometimes when their heads are chopped off There are no men so dull and stupid, not even idiots, as to be incapable of joining together different words, and thereby constructing a declaration by which to make their thoughts understood; … on the other hand, there is no animal, however perfect and happily circumstanced, which can do the like This proves not only that the brutes have less reason than man, but that they have none at all: for we see that very little is required to enable a person to speak

5 A Turing Test for Animals? Descartes reliance on language to prove intelligence is a kind of Turing Test Turing Test: Proposed by Alan Turing in 1950 We would know that a computer was intelligent if it could converse with people in a way that was a indistinguishable from a human being (i.e. if the computer were hidden, a human being could not determine if they were talking to a machine or a person) Some animals (e.g. Koko the Gorilla) have been taught sign language. But: grammar still very primitive, vocabulary very restricted. Could not pass the Turing Test However, the Turing Test is only a sufficient test for intelligence, not a necessary test

6 Implications Descartes concludes that since animals are not rational, they are machines. As machines, they have no feelings, no consciousness. If animals are machines: They dont feel pleasure or pain. They have no interests. By most accounts then, we have no direct ethical duties towards them Indirect duties still possible (i.e. because of the instrumental value of animals): Duty to respect private property (animals that belong to someone) Duty to avoid cruelty because it encourages a cruel nature in us, which might then be expressed towards other people) Duty not to hurt the feelings of people who love animals by abusing animals Duty to maintain the health of biosystems and nature in general, for our own good Duty to preserve beautiful creatures, for the enjoyment of others and future generations Duty to preserve species that may be sources of other instrumental goods, e.g. medicine

7 Is Descartes Wrong? How do we know that animals are conscious? The problem of other minds Argument from analogy: Animals are like us physically Animals act like us in response to hunger, pain, comfort, etc. Very weak argument: – who knows at what point in our evolutionary history consciousness evolved: perhaps it evolved only in hominids as a result of our ability to reflect on our own thoughts (i.e. to have higher-order thoughts) – sleepwalkers can exhibit pain response and pain avoidance behavior without consciousness (as can amoeba and robots)

8 Readings Required: Singer, Peter, All Animals are Equal, available at: m/ m/singer02.htm Regan, Thomas, Animal Rights, Human Wrongs in Zimmerman (edit) Environmental Philosophy, p ,handout Des Jardins, Environmental Ethics, Ch. 5 – 5.3-end and Chapter 6, handout Optional: Dennett, Daniel, Animal Consciousness: What Matters and Why in Brainchildren, p , on reserve in Philosophy Department (highly recommended for cognitive science students)

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