Descartes’s Dog: Animals, Machines, and the Problem of Other Minds

(2020)

Animals feel pain – so much is obvious. But René Descartes didn’t think so.

In fact, the man who has been called the Father of Modern Philosophy thought there was no more to the yelps and cries of a suffering animal than the squeaks and groans of an unoiled machine, and was even rumoured to have nailed cats to trees. For why should we worry about the “feelings” of a watch, a car, or a bike?

Descartes’s views on animals now seem callous and outdated, but they have had a curious legacy, for the worldview that gave birth to them is also the basis for modern developments in computing and artificial intelligence – from which point of view, we are all just machines.

Written in an engaging and humorous style, this short book investigates the roots of this philosophy, exploring the connections between Descartes’s view of animals, AI, and the persisting puzzle of consciousness.

(Essay length: approx. 35 pages, 8,000 words)

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