PPIG: Philosophy, Psychology, and Informatics Group

Speaker: Mazviita Chirimuuta (University of Edinburgh)

Title: Rules, Judgement and Mechanisation

Abstract: This paper is an exploration of the capacity of judgment, which stands in contrast to the ability to employ rules. The starting point is a short passage from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (A133/B172):

  • If the understanding in general is explained as the faculty of rules, then the power of judgment is the faculty of subsuming under rules, i.e., of determining whether something stands under a given rule… [T]he power of judgment is a special talent that cannot be taught but only practiced. Thus this is also what is specific to so-called mother-wit, the lack of which cannot be made good by any school;… [T]he faculty for making use of …[the rules] correctly must belong to the student himself, and in the absence of such a natural gift no rule that one might prescribe to him for this aim is safe from misuse.*
    • *The lack of the power of judgment is that which is properly called stupidity, and such a failing is not to be helped.

In The Promise of Artificial Intelligence, Brian Cantwell Smith has argued that the current deep learning technologies are reckoning systems, but lack judgment. Which is to say, that they are adept at following rules (executing algorithmic procedures) but without understanding of the significance of these processes. I concur with Cantwell Smith that the lack of judgment poses a hard restriction on the kinds of situations in which current AI can responsibly be used. They can only make adequate decisions in situations that have been “registered in advance” (Cantwell Smith 2019:112) – conceptually mapped so thoroughly that questions about whether and how rules are to be applied have long been settled.

While Cantwell Smith is sanguine about the potential of future generations of AI technology to acquire the capacity for judgment, in this paper I present an argument for there being an inherent tension between judgment and the mechanised processes at the heart of digital computers. I here draw on writings by Simon Schaffer (1994) and Lorraine Daston (2018) on the early history of computation, and its relationship to ideas honed with the development of industrial manufacture. Mechanisation is possible within the controlled environment of the factory, such that the capacity to improvise in response to changing circumstances is not demanded of the machines. Judgment, it is argued, is the intellectual version of this capacity to improvise, and there may be no way to replicate it mechanically.

Further information

We are a group of researchers from diverse backgrounds in the above-mentioned groups (and beyond) who aim to gain an interdisciplinary yet deep understanding of the threads that bind the human mind and the world. In particular, this seminar series focuses on the nature of cognition, metacognition and social cognition. We’ll be tackling questions such as, what does it mean to think? What does it mean to think about thinking? And, what does it mean to think about one’s own thinking versus thinking about the thinking of other people? Please come along!

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Contact details

Tillmann Vierkant

Nov 03 2021 -

PPIG: Philosophy, Psychology, and Informatics Group

2021-11-03: Rules, Judgement and Mechanisation

Medical School Lecture Theatre G07 (Doorway 4), Medical School (Old Medical School), Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG