Chinese Room Argument
Cole (David)
Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2004-9
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

The Chinese Room argument, devised by John Searle, is an argument against the possibility of true artificial intelligence1. The argument centers on a thought experiment2 in which someone who knows only English sits alone in a room following English instructions for manipulating strings of Chinese characters, such that to those outside the room it appears as if someone in the room understands Chinese. The argument is intended to show that while suitably programmed computers may appear to converse in natural language, they are not capable of understanding language, even in principle. Searle argues that the thought experiment3 underscores the fact that computers merely use syntactic rules to manipulate symbol strings, but have no understanding of meaning or semantics. Searle's argument is a direct challenge to proponents of Artificial Intelligence4, and the argument also has broad implications for functionalist and computational theories of meaning and of mind. As a result, there have been many critical replies to the argument.

  1. Overview
  2. Historical Background
    … 2.1 Leibniz’ Mill
    … 2.2 Turing's Paper Machine
    … 2.3 The Chinese Nation
  3. The Chinese Room Argument
  4. Replies to the Chinese Room Argument
    … 4.1 The Systems Reply
    … … 4.1.1 The Virtual Mind Reply
    … 4.2 The Robot Reply
    … 4.3 The Brain Simulator Reply
    … 4.4 The Other Minds Reply
    … 4.5 The Intuition Reply
  5. The Larger Philosophical Issues
    … 5.1 Syntax and Semantics
    … 5.2 Intentionality
    … 5.3 Mind and Body
    … 5.4 Simulation, Duplication5, and Evolution
  6. Conclusion
    Other Internet Resources
    Related Entries


First published Fri Mar 19, 2004; substantive revision Tue Sep 22, 2009; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Archive: The Chinese Room Argument.

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  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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