[Wittrs] Re: Understanding "Understanding" in Searle

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 15 Mar 2010 14:59:16 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, "jrstern" <jrstern@...> wrote:
> --- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, "SWM" <SWMirsky@> wrote:
> >
> > "The CRA exhibits behaviours in response to an input of Chinese language.  
> > It must, then have a source of those behaviours.  The only thing in the CRA 
> > which is capable of behaving is Searle.
> Nope.

Yes, I'm inclined to agree with your assessment of the above, Josh. However, I 
think he is on the right track to this extent: what we call "understanding" is 
not a single thing (particular kind of behavior, quale or whatever) but a range 
of things and this is reflected in the obvious fact that we use the word 
"understanding" in a range of ways (Wittgenstein's insight again). As he notes, 
a dog may understand commands (which a cat or a lizard does not) but still not 
be thought to understand the language in which the commands are given.

I do think he's missed it entirely with his assertion that it is 
Searle-in-the-room's behavior that is relevant. It is, rather, the overall 
system behavior that is relevant though, in the CR as specked by Searle, the 
behavior, even if we stipulate that it is sufficient to fool an observer would 
not be enough.

I think Searle is right to note that what is important is something mental that 
is going on along WITH the behavior (which mental phenomena is essential to 
achieving the right behavior -- rather than just stipulating it is achieved as 
Searle does with the CR -- which is to say it must be achieved in a real world 
situation, i.e., across a broad enough set of tests).

However, this still leaves open the question of what is the "mental"? Dennett's 
approach is to say it is a certain kind of process based system while Searle, I 
believe, fails to adequately explicate or even attempt to offer a description 
of what it is beyond asserting what he takes to be the significance of 
so-called "first person ontology" to its description.

I think that's just a cop-out.

> > > --- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Joseph Polanik <jPolanik@> wrote:
> > >
> > > > to Searle, understanding is a qualitative aspect of experience, a quale.
> When it comes right down to it, yup.
> Worse than that, when it comes right down to it, Searle is simply asserting 
> that humans understand and non-humans don't, period.  And that's pretty much 
> what your respondent is saying above, too.

I think the writer of the piece in question is missing the important point that 
words have a multiplicity of uses and that it's the uses that matter, not the 
referents because the referents are a function of the uses. But I think he is 
on the right track in noticing that words about the mental are especially 
difficult to make sense of (though he doesn't seem attuned to the 
Wittgensteinian insight which tells us why).

> Remember, people like Davidson and Millikan believe in Swampman, who could be 
> an indistinguishable physical and behavioral double (even better than a 
> zombie!), and they would *still* deny it has real thoughts, cognition, 
> understanding, whatever.  People say the darnedest things.
> Josh

Yes, but the intuition to believe in mind as a certain kind of specialized 
thing in the universe, uniquely set apart from the rest of the things in the 
universe, is very strong.

In Searle we have a case of that intuition finding an argument which looks 
superficially compelling but which never quite works. (If it did there wouldn't 
be so much to say against it and so many saying it, i.e., it would have put 
paid to the question at hand by now and we'd have all moved on. On the other 
hand, one can also argue that its persistence and the vehemence of its 
supporters suggests that this intuition is very, very strong in us and very 
hard to discard.)


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