, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 207-228

Computation and Intentionality: A Recipe for Epistemic Impasse

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Abstract

Searle’s celebrated Chinese room thought experiment was devised as an attempted refutation of the view that appropriately programmed digital computers literally are the possessors of genuine mental states. A standard reply to Searle, known as the “robot reply” (which, I argue, reflects the dominant approach to the problem of content in contemporary philosophy of mind), consists of the claim that the problem he raises can be solved by supplementing the computational device with some “appropriate” environmental hookups. I argue that not only does Searle himself casts doubt on the adequacy of this idea by applying to it a slightly revised version of his original argument, but that the weakness of this encoding-based approach to the problem of intentionality can also be exposed from a somewhat different angle. Capitalizing on the work of several authors and, in particular, on that of psychologist Mark Bickhard, I argue that the existence of symbol-world correspondence is not a property that the cognitive system itself can appreciate, from its own perspective, by interacting with the symbol and therefore, not a property that can constitute intrinsic content. The foundational crisis to which Searle alluded is, I conclude, very much alive.