Chinese rooms and program portability

2007 British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 58: 755–776

Last updated 4 October 2006

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I argue in this paper that there is a mistake in Searle’s Chinese room argument that has not received sufficient attention. The mistake stems from Searle’s use of the Church–Turing thesis. Searle assumes that the Church–Turing thesis licences the assumption that the Chinese room can run any program. I argue that it does not, and that this assumption is false. A number of possible objections are considered and rejected. My conclusion is that it is consistent with Searle’s argument to hold onto the claim that understanding consists in the running of a program.

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