Mortimer Adler lectures; The difference it makes, part 1
How does men differ from everything else on earth. The University of Chicago presents the 1966 Britannica lecture series. The difference of man and the difference it makes. Our guest speaker for this series of five lectures about the position of man in the natural world is Mortimer J Adler director of the Institute for philosophical research. Today's presentation the concluding lecture of the series is titled The difference it makes. Let me now summarize the positions reached in the course of the preceding lectures in the light of scientific evidences and philosophical arguments now available. I will do this first in relation to the question of degree vs. kind and second in relation to the question of superficial versus radical difference in kind. By virtue of the fact that man and man alone manifest the power of propositional speech man differs in kind from other animals all of whom manifestly lack this
power as we have seen this fact is agreed to by all reputable scientists. It represents Furthermore the only point of agreement to which there is no serious dissent by reference to observed data of a contrary Tenet. I'm simply saying here that far as I've searched the literature there are no exceptions to this that I can find of this agreement. Wild man's unique possession of propositional speech is the only differentiating fact that's agreed to universally agreed to. There are as we have seen other differentiating facts which is substantial it was a substantial number of scientists with some dissents point to as establishing the man's man's difference in kind from other animals. It is worth mentioning them here. They are listed in a descending order from those more generally agreed upon to the less generally agreed upon. In addition to the fact that only men make sentences only man makes tools. Only man
makes history by cumulate of cultural transmission. Only man makes laws or rules of behavior and thereby constitutes the different forms of his social life. Only man makes pictures or statues for the non utilitarian purpose of enjoyment. Only man in gauges in ritualistic practices. Only man has a moral conscience and a sense of values. That's ascending order of agreement. Hence on the question of whether man differs in kind or degree from other animals the available evidence now supports the answer that man differs in kind. But I must remind you that this conclusion is tentative in the sense that it is based on the evidence now available and so does not preclude the possibility that evidence of a contrary Tena may be forthcoming in the future. We are obliged to ask ourselves therefore what effect contrary evidence would have. Should it ever be discovered and be generally agreed upon to the same extent as the
fact that only man has propositional speech is now agreed upon. The easiest way of doing this is to suppose that at some future date it is it is discovered that other animals a bottlenose dolphin the chimpanzee or even the dog can engage in propositional speech to some degree. I mention the dog because I have a very good friend who has bought an electric typewriter for her dog and I get letters from the dog occasionally. We shall presently be concerned with the practical consequences that might follow from such possible future discoveries and from the inferences or conclusions to which they give rock. For the moment I want to turn to the second question. The question which which we have done in the preceding lecture the question whether the difference in kind between man and other animals is superficial or radical. This question as we have seen involves the question whether a man's
power of conceptual thought can be Tiley explained in terms of neurophysiological processes. In other words whether the human brain is not just a necessary but is by itself the sufficient condition of man's having and exercising the power of conceptual thought with regard to this question. Our examination of the scientific evidences and the philosophical arguments now available made the following points clear. First the philosophical arguments for a thorough going materialism assert the answer at the brain is the sufficient condition that the difference in kind is therefore superficial involving a critical threshold in the continuum of degrees of brain magnitudes. The philosophical arguments against a thorough going materialism assert the opposite ends namely that the brain is only a necessary condition and hence that another and immaterial factor is required to explain conceptual thought. On
this view the difference in kind between man and other animals becomes radical. I shall in the remainder of this lecture refer to these two philosophical assertions and the arguments and in support of them as respectively the materialist and the immaterial ist hypothesis. Or I prophesy. Now these opposed philosophical arguments are deadlocked in the sense that neither of the opponents has as yet been able to persuade the other. And I venture to say that they probably would remain deadlocked until the end of time. The scientific data at present available leave the philosophical issue unresolved. Nor can it be said that there is any neurological evidence that favors one side rather than the other. In addition we saw and like to 5 that future neurological research cannot ever by itself be decisive on the question whether the brain is a necessary a necessary or the sufficient condition of conceptual thought.
Finally we saw. That the future does contain the possibility of efforts by technologists to build a robot that will meet the Cartesian challenge. A robot that will be able to play Turing's games successfully or in other words a machine that will use an ordinary language such as English and engage in conversation with men. I shall in the remainder of this lecture refer to Turing's gaming and Turing's robot as the conversational machine test of the hypothesis that material factors suffice to explain linguistic performances and hence to explain conceptual thought. The future therefore in this whole lecture is concerned with the future the future therefore can turn it contains to further possibilities. One is at the conversational machine test will eventually succeed and by so doing it will decisively
falsify that decisively falsify the immaterial as a hypothesis leaving the materialist position in command of a field. If that result is reached the answer to our second question must be that the difference in kind between men and other animals is only superficially The other possibility is that with repeated trials the conversational machine test will not succeed and by failing to do so will confirm the truth of the immaterial as type processes or at least add weight to the arguments it brings to bear against the materialist position the position that predicts success in the conversational machine test if that result is it is reached. The answer to our second question must favor the other alternative namely that the difference in kind between men and other animals is radical. The foregoing summary of the preceding lectures is intended to set the stage for the problem with which
this final lecture is concerned. The problem of the theoretical and practical consequences that flow from opposite answers to the question about how man death is. I tried it once to the consequences of saying that man differs in kind and so are saying that a difference in these alternatives differs in kind or difference only in degree. Different attitudes can be and are taken toward the problem of drawing practical consequences from the fact that man differs from other animals in kind or only in degree. On the one hand there are those who maintain that the difference between the way in which we treat men and the way in which we treat other animals is in no way depended on or affected by how man differs from other animals. Our differential conduct toward man and beast is a motion only not rationally motivated or if it is not wholly emotional its reasons are purely reasons of
expediency not reasons of principle. If the fact is that man another animal is different kind we can of course use that fact to justify the different kinds of treatment we accord men and other animals. But if the fact is that men and other animals differ only in degree we can find other ways of justifying a differential treatment of men and other animals. It might suffice to argue that one kind of treatment is appropriate for members of our own species and another kind for other species even if all the differences among species are only differences in degree and shot. This position one that I do not hold. You will see in a moment. This position. It says it's the ultimate reason why we treat men as we do or attribute to them a certain respect or dignity that we deny other animals or excoriate the enslavement exploitation and consumption of men but not of animals is that we like the results we like the results. Such policies policies produce for ourselves and our fellow men. If the facts of the matter tend to support such policies well and
good but if they do not no matter for we can find other ways equally good of justifying the policies we like or think it expedient to act on. There are those and I am one of them who maintain that sound policies for the conduct of our relations with other of our fellow men and for our quite different treatment of other animals must be based on the nature of man on the nature of other animals and on the character of a difference between them. For example I would say that if manned if is only in degree from other animals then a shop line cannot be drawn to separate the world of persons from the world of things. In fact the distinction between person and thing becomes meaningless if there are only differences in degree. Since that distinction is either a distinction in kind or no distinction at all I would maintain furthermore that the special dignity and respect accorded persons and not accorded things is based on an argument that involves two premises one a normative
or OT premis the other a factual all is premise the normative premise consists in the proposition that persons ought to be treated in a certain way different from the way in which we treat things their lives and liberties ought to be respected. We ought not to use them merely as means we ought not to make chattel slaves of them. We ought not to consume them as food and so on and so on. The factual premise consists in the proposition that men are persons and other animals are things. I am not he is saying what must be true. In order to establish the proposition that men are persons and other animals of things I am content to rest my case here on the point that if men and other animals differ only in degree the whole distinction between person and thing of operates and we are left with no argument of this sought to justify our differential treatment of men and other animals. At this point I must face up to the obvious objection from the man who takes the other attitude towards those matters. He
claims that we don't need an argument of this sought to justify our conduct. We can find other ways of doing it just as good. I cannot deny that other ways of justifying our conduct of possible. I know they have been used. I can only claim that they are not just as good. These other ways of justifying our conduct are all ad hoc. They are all rationalizations of what we want to do rather than reasons of principle. Those who want to do the opposite things can find ways of rationalizing and thus justifying their opposite purposes. Thus for example if we want to treat men differently from animals even though they defeat only in degree we can justify this by saying that men all belong to the same species. But if some men and as some men have want to treat other men as men treat animals using them as means and slaving them or killing them for expediency sake they can also justify this by saying that even though all men belong to the same species Nevertheless some men are Sapir it in
degree to other men and so superior men are justified in treating inferior men as men treat of animals who are inferior in degree. In contrast when we confine ourselves to justifying our conduct by appealing to normative principles and the facts of the case we cannot justify opposite lines of conduct if the principles and facts dictate one line of conduct they preclude support for our justification of the opposite. This is the one clear advantage of conduct that is principled of unprincipled conduct even though all that it can be justified in some ad hoc fashion within the scope of the present lecture. I cannot argue further for the position I am here taking namely that conduct should be principled and that when it is the facts of nature have practical consequences. My further analysis of the practical consequences of saying that man differs in kind or only in degree will be of interest only to those who agree with
me about this point. Those who do not and the maybe some in this audience will of course continue to say that it makes no practical difference at all how in fact man differs from other animals whether in kind or in degree. Now as an initial step toward seeing the practical consequences that flow from asserting or denying difference in kind. I propose to examine some contemporary views of the matter. The opinions of a number of scientists and philosophers who have faced up to this problem one way or another. Let me first present the warning given us by our friend Dr. John Lilley who you will recall thinks it may be possible in the not too remote future to engage in a two way conversation with the bottlenose dolphin. If and when this occurs. According to DR LAITH we will have to attribute to dolphins the same kind of intellectual power that we attribute to men and deny to other none speaking animals.
In other words though men and dolphins may differ in the degree of their common intellectual power they will stand on the same side of a line that divides animals that have such power from animals that totally lack it. Men and dolphins together. Will differ in kind from other animals with this possible state of facts if realized have any practical consequences. Dr. Lee thinks it would. He writes like to give you an extensive quotation. Quote The day that communication is established and the doll of the dolphin becomes a legal ethical moral and social problem at the present time at the present time for example dolphins correspond very loosely to conserved wild animals under the protection of the conservation laws of the United States and by international agreement and to pets under the protection of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But if
if they achieve a bilateral conversational level corresponding say to a low grade moron and well above a human imbecile or idiot then they become an ethical legal and social problem. They have reached the threshold of human this as it were. If they go above this level the problem becomes more and more acute and as they reach the conversational abilities of any normal human being we are in for trouble. Some groups of humans will then step forward in defense of these animals lives and stop their use and experimentation. They will insist that we treat them as humans and that we give them medical and legal protection. And I wish to add to this. A United Press dispatch from Moscow. Of March 13th 1966 dispatch raves the Soviet government announced Saturday it has banned the catching and killing of dolphins because their brains are strikingly close to our own.
Fisheries Minister Alexander a cough said the decision was taken after extensive research show that the Dolphins brain power makes the Marine makes them Marine brothers of man ish cough indicated he accepted theories that dolphins can talk and they eventually be able to teach their language to man. We will hope other countries will follow our example. It's kind of set in the is the best deal especially at of the Dolphins have a comradely spirit. So am I. Let us next consider. The view expressed by Professor Michael Scriven in the postscript to an article of his and titled The mechanical concept of mine. Francis Griffin is concerned with the question whether a robot that is successfully playing Turing's game can also pass a test that would require us to attribute consciousness
to the robot. He says I quote With respect to all of the performances and skills of which the human being is capable. It seems to me clear already that robots can be designed to do as well or better with respect to this performance. The one that would be the test of the robots consciousness Scriven says that he was not certain at the time of writing the article but in the postscript he tells us that he is I quote. Upon further deliberation confident that robots can in principle be built that will pass this test too. Because they are in fact conscious. We need not agree with Griffin's prediction about the behavior of some future robot in order to take out of his comment on the practical consequences of his predictions coming true. On the outcome of a prediction depends in his judgment not only the question of matching a performance for human formants but also that these are his words not mine. Also the crucial ontological question of the status of the robot as a person and thence the propriety of saying that it knows or believes or
remembers if it is a person. Scriven goes on to say of course it will have moral rights and hence political rights. I take turn next to the reflections Professor Wilford sellers on what it means to be a person rather than a thing. And I'm a criteria for drawing the line that divides persons from things seller's rights. I quote to think of a featherless biped head as a person is to think of it as being as a being with which one is bound up in a network of Rights and Duties. From this point of view the irreducibility of the personal is the irreducibility of the Ought to the is. But even more basic than this is the fact that to think of a featherless biped as a person is to construe its behavior in terms of actual or potential membership in an embracing group. Each member of which thinks itself a member a member of that group. Such a group according to Sellers is a community of persons from the point of view of each of us as an individual. The most embracing community of persons to which we belong. Listen to this now includes
I quote these words all those with whom we can enter into meaningful discourse to recognize a featherless biped head or a dolphin or a Martian. And cells might have added or a robot as a person is to think of oneself and it as belonging to a community. The group of those who can engage in meaningful discourse with one another. Notice the criterion here of being a person or a member of a community of persons. It is the same conversational test that Liliane Scriven Scriven use for deciding whether dolphins and robots are persons of things and that same criterion conversational ability or ability to engage in meaningful discourse. Also operates to differentiate man from Group. In other words the same line that divides man from group as different in kind also divides person from thing as different in kind. Furthermore as Lily Scriven and sellers all point out how we treat a particular entity depends on which side of the line we place it. These authors were
therefore seem to be maintaining that a difference in kind has practical legal ethical and social consequences. Let me summarize briefly the practical consequences of the opposed answers to the question about how a man differs from other animals in cond or in degree only. First of all I must remind you that we are not here. We are here not concerned with the further question about whether the difference in kind of official or radical will come to that moment. Let us assume for the moment that the difference in kind that is established by man's having And by all other all other animals lacking the power of propositional speech is only a superficial difference in kind. Let us assume In other words that the power of conceptual thought to be inferred as present in man but not in other animals can be entirely explained in neurophysiological terms and that its presence in Man and its absence in other animals can be explained by the size and complexity
of the human brain which is above the critical threshold of magnitude required for conceptual thought on these assumptions. These are minimal assumptions and these assumptions about the observed fact that man differs in kind from other animals is man a person rather than a thing in terms of the traditional theological definition of a person as one who is made in the image of God. Himself preeminently a person. The answer is negative. Man is not a person in this sense. If he is wholly a material being with no immaterial aspect or component of his nature in terms of tense Emmanuelle tense strict definition of a person the answer is also negative. If a can't conceive as a person as a being with free choice and for Kant as well as for most philosophers who affirm freedom of choice such contra causal freedom cannot exist in a purely material mechanical system. But as we have
seen the line that divides persons from things can be drawn by less exacting criteria such as conversational ability the ability to engage in meaningful discourse. The ability to give and receive reasons are arguments by these less exacting criteria managed by these less very slight criteria. Man is at present the only being on earth as a person all of the animals and machines so far at least so far at least are things not persons. The special worth or dignity of man that belongs exclusively to persons. The respect that must be accorded to persons the fundamental imperative that commands us to treat persons as ends never solely as mains. All these obtain even on this diminished view. Of what is involved in being a person if in the future we should discover the Dolphins to all certain robots are persons in the same sense. Then they too would have a dignity deserve a
respect and impose certain obligations on us. But other animals and other machines would not. Finally if in the future we should discover that throughout nature throughout the world of living things and machines there are only differences in degree and not a single difference in kind. At that moment the line that divides the realm of persons from the realm of things would be rubbed out and with its disappearance would go the basis in fact for a principal policy of treating men differently from the way we now treat other animals and machines. I've dealt with the practical consequences consequences for our action. For AAP policies of conduct rules of treatment based upon one point kind or degree. I'm Turning now to a rather different realm of discussion because I want to consider now with you the consequences of affirming or denying that man is a purely
material being one is equivalent. The consequences of saying that the difference in con between men and other animals is superficial or that it is radical. Permit me a few preliminary and I hope clarifying remarks. The consequences we've just been considering as I pointed out were mainly practical. They concern dot conduct the ways in which we treat men on the one hand and machines and brute animals on the other. In addition to that point which you are fully aware of now the aforementioned practical consequences one way or the other affect the lives of everyone. The ordinary man the man on the street as well as the man of specialized learning. The man in the academy in concrete In contrast the consequences to which we now turn are largely if not wholly theoretical and as such their primary effect is in the
sophisticated world of learning. Let us first consider the effect of confirming the truth confirming the truth of the materialist hypothesis. The effect and the effect which is the same. A falsify falsifying the in materialist hypothesis. Now there are two questions to consider here not one. It is not enough to ask what theoretical consequences would follow from the experimental success with a Turing machine a robot that would pass the conversational test and satisfactorily meet the cottage and challenge we must also ask in what spirit of learning the theoretical consequences would occur in religion or in philosophy. And in each case. We must specify the doctrinal commitment of those who would be seriously affected. I am going to answer the second question first. Who is going to be who is going to be affected and I what point are they going to be affected. The most important effects as I see them would be in
the field of religion. There would also be I think a consequence of in the realm of philosophy. But I will come to that later. Let us concentrate for the moment on the religious consequences and ask consequences for whom for which religious group what doctrinal commitments define the religious group that would be affected by confirming the materialist hypothesis and for by falsifying the immaterial as hypothesis. I think I can describe it once those whom I think would not be affected not be affected by the falsification of the immaterial list hypothesis concerning man's nature and concerning his radical difference in kind.
- Mortimer Adler lectures
- The difference it makes, part 1
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- University of Chicago
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- Episode Description
- This program presents the first part of Mortimer Adler's lecture, "The Difference It Makes."
- Series Description
- Series of five lectures by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler, Director of the Institute for Philosophic Research in Chicago. Title of lecture series: "The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes."
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Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Julin, Joseph R.
Writer: Adler, Mortimer Jerome, 1902-2001.
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-33-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- APA: Mortimer Adler lectures; The difference it makes, part 1. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-wp9t5v77