On sentient automata theory

  • Jeff Coulter

Abstract

A unifying metaphysical theme underlying various forms of cognitive theorising is the conception of human agents as sentient automata. Persons are conceived of as complex mechanisms (or sets of inter-related mechanisms) each of which has some deterministic function pertaining to any form of human conduct. Neurophysiological events and processes (albeit under ‘mentalistic’ descriptions) are theoretically invokable in accounting not only for involuntary bodily movements but for the entire gamut of activities involving the human agent. The study of human beings under the auspices of such a conception may be termed sentient automata theory construction.

Keywords

Posit Stein Defend Alan Concession 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Daniel C. Dennett, ‘Mechanism and Responsibility’ in his Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology (Vermont: Bradford Books, 1978) p. 233.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., p. 246.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ibid., p. 245 and passim.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Vivian M. Weil, ‘Intentional and Mechanistic Explanation’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. XL, September 1979 – June 1980, p. 464.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    John Thorp, Free Will: A Defence Against Neurophysiological Determinism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., p. 1.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., p. 16.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., pp. 67–71, and the discussion in ch. VI, ‘The Random and the Free’.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ibid., p. 71.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Roderick W. Chisholm, ‘Responsibility and Avoidability’ in Sidney Hook (ed.), Determinism and Freedom in the Age of Modern Science (New York: Collier Books, N.Y., 1961) p. 159.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    John Eccles, The Neurophysiological Basis of Mind: Principles of Neurophysiology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953):Google Scholar
  12. Eccles, The Understanding of the Brain (London: McGraw-Hill, 1973) esp. p. 189, andGoogle Scholar
  13. Eccles and K. Popper, The Self As Brain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1968) paras 621–22.Google Scholar
  15. A.I. Melden, in a classic paper, ‘Willing’, in Alan R. White (ed.), The Philosophy of Action (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968) pp. 70–78, drew attention to the infinite-regress problem by claiming that for every act of a person there is an antecedent ‘act of volition (of will)’: for now we need to posit an antecedent act of volition for this act of volition, etc. Melden seems to settle for an unanalysable, primitive version of ‘voluntarily moving a muscle’ in which the extra notion of ‘willing’ is not invoked. However, he does not go into details about the (neuro-)physiological process involved and how that is to be conceptualised. Thorp’s account at least has the value of raising this issue directly in connection with libertarian vs. mechanistic claims about the voluntary movement of one’s muscles, the making of a free decision, and related problems.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    Vivian M. Weil ‘Explanation’, p. 463. Weil is referring here to Norman Malcolm’s paper, ‘Explaining Behavior’, The Philosophical Review, vol. 76, no. 2, January 1967.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe: eds, G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1967) para. 46. See also para. 50: ‘One may disturb someone in thinking — but in intending?’Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    J.F.M. Hunter, ‘On How We Talk’ in his Essays After Wittgenstein (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973) p. 164.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    This is a foundational assumption of Fodor’s The Language of Thought (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975) along with much contemporary computational psychology.Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    David Wiggins, ‘Towards a Reasonable Libertarianism’ in Ted Honderich (ed.), Essays on Freedom of Action (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jeff Coulter 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeff Coulter
    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate School of Arts and SciencesBoston UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations