Volume 92, Issue 1, January 2015
The 11th Robert J. Henle Conference
Animal Automatism and Machine Intelligence
Descartes’s uncompromising rejection of the possibility of animal intelligence was among his most controversial theses. That rejection is based on (1) his commitment to the doctrine of animal automatism and (2) two tests that he takes to be sufficient indicators of thought (the action and language tests). Of these two tests, only the language test is truly definitive, and Descartes is firmly of the view that no animal could demonstrate the capacity to use signs to convey meaning in “all the circumstances of life.” The topic is fascinating for forcing us to ponder what exactly reason is for Descartes and the role it plays in everyday life. This article explores the tensions in Descartes’s arguments produced by an over reliance on the analogy between animals and clocks, including the question of what to make of Descartes’s recognition of the need to posit representational and information-processing subsystems in the brain.