Forthcoming in Minds and Machines

Searle's Chinese Box: Debunking the Chinese Room Argument

Larry Hauser

Abstract. John Searle's Chinese room argument is perhaps the most influential and widely cited argument against artificial intelligence (AI). Understood as targeting AI proper -- claims that computers can think or do think -- Searle's argument, despite its rhetorical flash, is logically and scientifically a dud. Advertised as effective against AI proper, the argument, in its main outlines, is an ignoratio elenchi. It musters persuasive force fallaciously, by indirection: indirection fostered by equivocal deployment of the phrase "strong AI" and reinforced by equivocation on the phrase "causal powers (at least) equal to those of brains." On a more carefully crafted understanding -- understood as targeting the metaphysical identification of thought with computation ("Functionalism" or "Computationalism") rather than AI proper -- the argument is still unsound, though more interestingly so. It's unsound in ways difficult for high church -- "someday my prince of an AI program will come" -- believers in AI to acknowledge without undermining their high church beliefs. The ad hominem bite of Searle's argument against the high church persuasions of so many cognitive scientists, I suggest, largely explains the undeserved repute this really quite disreputable argument enjoys among them.

Keywords. Artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computation, Functionalism, Searle's Chinese room argument.

Back to: Selected Papers; Curriculum Vitae; Home Page