It is not easy to explain the character of philosophical reasoning. Indeed, the nature of philosophical reasoning is itself a philosophical problem. We can, however, acquire some sense of it by comparing philosophical reasoning with reasoning as it occurs in daily life. In the opening chapters of this book, we noticed that, in every day discussions, much is taken for granted and left unsaid. In general, there is no need to state points that are already a matter of agreement. In contrast, philosophers usually try to make underlying assumptions explicit and then subject them to critical examination. Still, even for the philosopher, something must trigger an interest in underlying assumptions. This usually arises when the advance of knowledge creates fundamental conflicts within the system of hitherto accepted as sumptions. Thus, much that counts as modern philosophy is an attempt to come to terms with the relationship between modern science and the traditional conception of humankind’s place in the universe. This chapter explores one such conflict arising from advances in computer theory. In recent years, the rise of computer technology has generated a conflict with traditional concepts about human beings. Traditionally, humans have cited the capacity to think as the feature that sets them apart from and, of course, above all other creatures. Humans have been defined as rational animals. But we now live in an age in which computers seem able to perform tasks that, had a human being performed them, would certainly count as thinking. Not only can computers perform complex calculations very rapidly, they can also play an excellent game of chess. Do machines think? The question seems forced on us, and it is more than a semantic quibble. In deciding it, we are also reevaluating the status of an aspect of humanity that has long been con- sidered its unique or distinctive feature. Once we decide whether machines can think, the next question is whether human beings are not themselves merely thinking machines.
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