Do Humans Operate Like Computers? (Kant) – 8-Bit Philosophy


Does a human being operate differently than a computer? If I am aware of how a computer is programmed, I can predict how it will respond to input, and therefore I can control it. What if science could quantify our brains and reduce them to incredibly complex algorithms? Could human behavior then also be predicted? And, if so, are we responsible for our actions? Immanuel Kant addressed this problem of determinism in his book, “The Critique of Practical Reason,” which is about as dry as it sounds. Kant says that humans, like all else in the physical world, are subject to cause and effect. For example, if I am ill, I will want to be healthy. Or, if I have low health, I can’t help but want a health pack. However, human beings have the ability to will. And, this “will power” is free. Even though I’m at low health, I can deny the desire to refill it. If we weren’t free, we wouldn’t be able to deny our inclinations through what Kant calls the moral law. So, let’s assume there are two players. Player 1 has over half health and player 2 has almost none. Even though player 1 wants a health pack, he believes it is his duty to give it to player 2. Unlike computers, human beings know what they ought to do. Thus his famous aphorism: ought implies can. So, if you recognize an obligation, then you are implicitly free to do it or not to do it. If humans were pure calculation like computers, there would be no sense of ought — we would just do. Now, there are many philosophers who scoff at the idea that humans can transcend cause and effect. Some say we have no freedom whatsoever. But, as science progresses, only time will tell where the line lies between man and machine.

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