Thursday, July 20, 2017

AI and ontology

  1. Only things that exist think.

  2. Only simples and living things exist. (Cf. van Inwagen and Aristotle.)

  3. Computers are neither simple nor alive.

  4. So, computers don’t think.


Peter said...

I tend to think that Van Inwagen is correct about composition, but I do wonder whether this argument gets the order of reasoning correct. I haven’t read Material Beings in a few years, but doesn’t he come to the conclusion that certain composites exist because certain activities they engage in (thinking, for example) are the sorts of activities that require a unified agent? Following this procedure, we should first try to determine whether such an activity is going on, and on this basis make a decision about whether there is a composite entity that is performing some action.

Now, we might see that we have good reason for thinking that people and dogs and birds and bees all exist, and come to a conclusion that when simples are caught up in life a new being comes to exist. This seems to be simply an inference to the best explanation. But I don’t see why we should infer that the only composite entities are living things.

For this reason, although I suspect that 2 is true, my evidence for this is that I don’t see any activities that require us to posit entities beyond living things and simples. I think 2 partially because I think that 4 is true. Your path to 2 seems to be different. I am curious: what is it?

Alexander R Pruss said...

One of my main reasons for thinking that artifacts don't exist is that artifacts are partly constituted by the maker's intentions, but it seems implausible that what is going on in the head of the person making an object should affect how many things there are in the world. I also suspect that the boundary conditions, especially temporal ones, of artifacts are fuzzy, but those of real things aren't.

Peter said...

Obviously this is getting a bit beyond the purpose of your original post, but might I ask why you think the temporal boundary conditions of artifacts are fuzzy but those of, say, plants are not? I agree that fuzziness of temporal boundary conditions is a problem, and cannot bring myself to accept van Inwagen's claims about vagueness of whether particular things exist, but I worry that if I use a criterion based upon ruling fuzziness out, I will rule out too much.