Animals as Machines. Descartes. René Descartes (1596-1650 ) French philosopher, mathematician and scientist Discourse on Method (1637) Part 5 discusses the nature of animals. Animals are machines. Physically animals are very much like people: same basic design, same organs
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René Descartes (1596-1650 )
French philosopher, mathematician and scientist
Discourse on Method (1637)
Part 5 discusses the nature of animals
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
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:
“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”
Descartes reliance on language to prove intelligence is a kind of Turing Test
Some animals (e.g. Koko the Gorilla) have been taught
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
Descartes concludes that since animals are not rational, they are machines. As machines, they have no feelings, no consciousness.
If animals are machines:
They don’t 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):
How do we know that animals are conscious?
The problem of other minds
Argument from analogy:
Singer, Peter, “All Animals are Equal”, available at: www.animal-rights-library.com/texts-m/singer02.htm
Regan, Thomas, “Animal Rights, Human Wrongs” in Zimmerman (edit) Environmental Philosophy, p. 33-48,handout
Des Jardins, Environmental Ethics, Ch. 5 – 5.3-end and Chapter 6, handout
Dennett, Daniel, “Animal Consciousness: What Matters and Why” in Brainchildren, p. 337-352, on reserve in Philosophy Department (highly recommended for cognitive science students)