Descartes' theory against artificial intelligence and the micro-world

John Robert Visintainer, Marquette University


Descartes' interests extended to diverse subjects, and one of the most striking subjects he studied was artificial intelligence. At least, the contention that he was considering artificial intelligence theory (in the early seventeenth century) is one of the main contentions of this dissertation. In other words, when Descartes talks of 'thinking machines' in the Discourse on Method and talks of machines in other places in the Cartesian corpus, Descartes shows that he has an artificial intelligence theory--one in which the very possibility of thinking machines is discounted, and one in which the very term 'thinking machine' is held to be a misnomer. I begin by giving a short introduction to the problem, and then I give an exposition of artificial intelligence theories of the 'micro-world' variety. I show how these theories typically disallow the possibility of artificial intelligence on the view that, while computers can do some things much better than humans, the success of machines is always limited to one particular micro-world (the world of chess, for example) or other. Whereas humans typically have a wide-ranging ability to perform all sorts of tasks, computers can do only certain particular tasks well, and whereas humans excel in performing tasks in which intuition is required, computers can do no tasks at all where intuition is required. Citing the Discourse on Method as a starting point, I extract an artificial intelligence theory (of the micro-world variety) from Descartes' works. In his body of work, Descartes is theorizing on the difference between minds and machines. I show how this diverse work is truly an artificial intelligence theory. Last, by way of conclusion I engage in a short critique of Descartes' artificial intelligence theory. The critique questions the essential difference between mind and body in the Cartesian philosophy and the acceptability of Descartes' answers to objections on that subject in the Objections and Replies to the Meditations , and questions the Cartesian artificial intelligence theory from a reductionistic and physicalistic point of view.

Recommended Citation

Visintainer, John Robert, "Descartes' theory against artificial intelligence and the micro-world" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3059388.