Re: Searle's Chinese Room Argument

From: Harnad, Stevan (
Date: Tue Jan 23 1996 - 18:17:52 GMT

> From: "Baden, Denise" <>
> Date: Tue, 23 Jan 1996 17:00:59 GMT
> sh> The symbols have NO semantics for Searle; hence they have none for the
> sh> computer running the same programme either. They are INTERPRETABLE
> sh> by the real penpal, but then the "semantics" is not in the symbols but in
> sh> the mind of the real penpal, just as the semantics of a book are not in
> sh> the book, but in the mind of the reader. Whatever cognition (thought)
> sh> might be, it can't be THAT: It can't be about what it's about merely
> sh> because it is interpretable to an outside interpreter. The ""aboutness""
> sh> of thoughts must be intrinsic, autonomous, independent of an outside
> sh> interpreter. When I think something, it means something to me; and not
> sh> because it is so interpretable by you!
> sh> As I suggested, I think the intrinsic "aboutness" of thoughts derives
> sh> completely from the fact that there is someone home in a thinking
> sh> system, and its thoughts are about something TO him; they mean something
> sh> to the thinker; they are not merely interpretable as meaning something
> sh> by an external interpreter.
> DB: This backs up my claim that understanding does not have to be
> 'correct' to be semantic. I see no reason why such a high level of
> syntactic complexity should not lead to semantic interpretation.
> Why is it so stunningly important that it is not the same
> understanding that would be expected by the penpal.

What you seem to be forgetting here is just what it is that is on trial
here: You assumed your penpal was understanding what you had written
to him. He turned out to be a computer. Computationalists said, "don't
worry, the computer understood anyway, just as a human penpal would,
because to understand is just to be executing the right computations."
Searle executed the same computations YET DID NOT HAVE THE SAME
understanding that is at issue, not all this other stuff about what
Searle might or not figure out eventually from doing all this symbol
manipulation, and whether or not we completely understand anything we're

Chrs, S

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