Descartes Man vs Animal

Topics: Chimpanzee, Morality, Human Pages: 6 (2088 words) Published: February 27, 2005
Movies and novels such as "Planet of the Apes" and 2001: A Space Odyssey are called Science Fiction because they portray situations that seem extremely unrealistic concurrent with contemporary philosophy. "Planet of the Apes" depicts a world where apes rule while humans are subjected to servitude and confinement. These apes speak intelligibly and are human-like in appearance and behavior. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the highly advanced computer, HAL 9000, an acronym for "Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer," controls the bulk of spaceship operation. It makes declarative statements, learns from mistakes and, in the beginning, interacts well with the crew. In both works non-human entities, apes in one and a robotic system in the other, make spontaneous declarations and perform functions based upon previously acquired "knowledge" which goes against what most consider to be normal animal/machine behavior, thus it is termed Science Fiction. In 1637, celebrated French philosopher and mathematician, René Descartes (1596-1650), published Discourse on Method, Optics, Geometry, and Meteorology in which he maintains that he had established two universal criteria to distinguish animals and machines from humans, and thus those entities without souls from those with. His criteria are the entity must have the capacity for speech and act from knowledge. His justifications that machines do not meet these two criteria are sound; however, he fails to verify that animals do the same. Descartes' argument that humans have an infinite capacity to make appropriate responses is true as well as his implication that this capacity is non-material. Descartes' first argument is only humans have the capacity for speech. In the opening of Discourse on Method Descartes remarks that machines and animals could never use speech or signs as we do when placing our thoughts on record for the benefit of others. For we can easily understand a machine's being constituted so that it can utter words, and even emit some responses to action on it of a corporeal kind, which brings about a change in its organs….but it never happens that it arranges its speech in various ways, in order to reply appropriately to everything said in its presence. (Descartes) Speech can simply be defined as the faculty or act of expressing or describing thoughts, feelings, or perceptions by the articulation of words, whereas talking is just an utterance of sounds. Therefore the argument can be reduced to a capacity for speech versus talking because speech, according to Descartes, requires some sort of non-materiel entity capable of the formulation of these statements, which he attributes to the soul. However, simply the utterance of sounds does not require any such entity. Since humans are the only animals that use speech, we must be the only animals equipped with a soul. He also points out that it is not the lack or organs or physical capacity that prevents speech and requires talk: "it is not the want of organs that brings this to pass, for it is evident that magpies and parrots are able to utter words just like ourselves, and yet they cannot speak as we do" (Descartes). He also makes the point that "we ought not to confound speech with natural movements which betray passions and may be imitated by machines as well as be manifested by animals" (Descartes). He is making the point not to interpret the habitual instinct to make a racket and wave appendages when angry as speech. He makes the point as well that machines, by simple programming, can utter sounds that resembles communication but that they are not truly speaking because it is simply the disposition of their organs, not true expression. Descartes' first criterion for distinguishing humans from animals and machines, those with souls from those without, is the capacity for speech. Because humans are the only creatures that use speech to communicate, where other animals may talk (a very primitive version of speech) through...
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