Minds, brains and machines

Bertrand Russell and the Analogy Argument

When I jump around and rub my foot, it is because of a sensation of pain which I feel in that foot. I therefore conclude that when other people jump around similarly, it is because they have a pain in their foot – a genuine sensation – also. I do this on the grounds that like causes like effects.

From subjective observation I know that A, which is a thought or feeling, causes B, which is a bodily act, e.g. a statement. I know also that, whenever B is an act of my own body, A is its cause. I now observe an act of the kind B in a body not my own, and I am having no thought or feeling of the kind A. But I can still believe on the basis of self-observation, that only A can cause B; I therefore infer that there was an A which caused B, though it was not an A that I could observe. On this ground I infer that other people’s bodies are associated with minds, which resemble mine in proportion as their bodily behaviour resembles my own.  (Russell 1948)

But to argue in this way is to neglect the fact that the same behaviour in another person may be caused by a different sensation or by something which is not a sensation at all (i.e. there is no conscious experience of any kind occurring)…But the more complex the event Russell argues, the less likely it is that it will be subject to multiple causes, since every detail of it will be a result of some particular feature of its cause. (pp34-35)

Wittgenstein and the private language argument

We recognise the way in which the making of judgements depends upon our being able to use language…Our insistence on language being conventional, the result of an agreement to use signs in a particular way, and systematically connected, which is to say that words and thereby concepts gain their significance from the way they fit into a system of interrelated signs and concepts…What, apart from the right sort of brain structure etc., is necessary in order for one to possess a language? One answer Wittgenstein gives is: the company of other language users…The absence of other language users, presupposes that you could, in such a case, invent a ‘private language’ known to you alone, with your own words for the objects around you. If I speak a language in which the words refer to private experiences of mine, it follows that this language is not teachable to anyone else, since the objects to which these basic terms of the language refer are not accessible to anyone other than myself…The use of language is important for thought, because of the way in which it allows us to fix the extension of concepts: to agree on which cases are instances of them and which are not, and on what it is that makes the difference between something’s being and not being an instance. This aspect of language Wittgenstein considers as an example of ‘rule following’. Following a rule is the opposite of such things as acting in a purely instinctive way. Rule-governed activities are ones which involve acting according to some principle which tells us which things count as following the rule and which things count as going against it…If I find myself attempting to follow a rule which is mine alone, how do I tell whether I am following it correctly?..It follows that we can never be wholly certain that someone understands the rule in the same way that we do: there will always be an infinite number of cases in which his interpretation could diverge from ours…We may conclude that what it is for a number of people to be following the same rule is, not for each of them to have the same inner, private (and undiscovered even to the person in question) interpretation, but simply for them to agree in practice: this is the importance of the possibility of a ‘public check’…If what has been said is true, the use of language, properly speaking, is a collective and social phenomenon..It has been claimed by some that the Private Language Argument, if we accept it, shows that solipsism cannot be correct. For the making of judgements depends on being able to use language, and if language, as a rule governed activity, required a public check and training in the following of a rule, then the absence of other people means that, despite appearances, one could not be genuinely making judgements if one were the only intelligence in the world…if it is true that you are really thinking, making genuine judgements, having coherent thoughts, then solipsism is false. But why need one accept the first statement – that one really is genuinely thinking? Could one not be sceptical and agnostic about both of them? The answer is that one could not. For even to suspect or consider the notion that solipsism might be true is to make a coherent judgement. On this account, even to take solipsism seriously is to be in a muddle about what one can and can’t, logically speaking, take seriously. It is very like the idea of judging oneself to be mad – not as a real madman might in a rare moment of lucidity, but judging oneself to be totally insane whilst one is making the judgement itself. It is an impossible judgement to make, precisely because if it were true, it would follow that it was not a genuine judgement (provided we understand ‘totally insane’ to entail ‘not able to make judgements’). (pp39-50)

Brown.G (1989) Minds, Brains and Machines. Bristol Classical Press. Bristol


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