Who is he?

Voltaire (21st November 1694 – 30th May 1778) was a French Enlightenment thinker, his real name was Francois-Marie Arouet. He was famous for his plays and poetry as well as Political, Religious and Philosophical writings. He worked to defend Civil Liberties, he thought that the rich were favored by the political situation and that the poor were to ignorant to no any different.

The shaping of his views…

Voltaire had strong anti establishment beliefs, his criticism of the government landed him in prison. Whilst in prison Voltaire wrote ‘The Henriade’, a criticism of King Henry IV and an attack on extreme religionists, its publication after his release led to a violent dispute with Chevalier de Rohan (a french nobleman). Voltaire found himself imprisoned again without trial. Voltaire suggested an alternative and he was granted exile to England, where he stayed for three years. Voltaire grew to love Britain, he approved of the constitutional monarchy and of freedom of speech and religion.

‘Letters Concerning the English Nation’…

Voltaire thought that the British system could work for France and wrote about the changes he thought we necessary. Again his work was percieved as heretical which resulted in him fleeing to the French borders. It was at this point that Voltaire wrote plays and researched science and history.

Political views…

  1. Voltaire thought that the political system in France was corrupt and unfair, that it favored the Aristocracy and noblemen and the poor commoners had little rights.
  2. Voltaire was not a fan of democracy, he thought it was used to make the underclasses think they had rights.

Religious views…

  1. Voltaire was a Christian and thought that everyone had a right to religious freedom.
  2. He was not a fan of the Bible and was vigorously against the Catholic Church – The Church were gaining from been involved in politics by pocketing a religious tax, which is why Voltaire thought they had no place in politics, they were in politics for there own gain and were using fear tactics help suppress the lower classes.

Views on the Aristocracy …

  1. Thought that there was an unfair balance of power and taxes between royalty and noblemen and the commoners
  2. He saw this as corruption in the aristocracy, yet believes the poor were to ignorant to realise.
  3. He did however think that it was aristocracy that was the key to charge only if he had backing of a king would political change occur

Voltaire and change …

  • The introduction of laws that gave everyone the right to a fair trial
  • The Separation of church and state.
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion

If you would like to explore Volataire’s work here is a link to his book ‘Dictionnaire Philosophique’



AI Persons: Can a Machine or AI (Artificial Intelligence) be a person?

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence are minded machines that display characteristics of personhood.

Can Machines be persons?

If you are studying AQA Philosophy, you mght study a module on ‘Can machines be persons?’ You may agree or disagree with the fact that AI/machines can be persons. However, in a philosophy essay, you will need to present an argument. Therefore, you will need to understand arguments for and against machines as persons.  Of course, it will depend on how you define ‘a person’, so as a philosopher, it is important that you get that straight first, before you attempt to answer such a question!

Weak and Strong AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Philosophers differentiate between Weak AI (artificial intelligence) and Strong AI (Artificial Intelligence), If a machine could be a considered a person, that would be Strong AI. If a machine could develop some charateristics of personhood, but that an independant minded machine should not be created is Weak AI.

Can Machines be persons? Optimistic approaches

Alan Turing argued that if a machine could be indistinguishable from a person in terms of language, it could be regarded as being on the scale of personhood.

He developed the ‘Turing Test’ to try to demonstrate this. A human interrogator and a human volunteer were place in separate rooms and connected by a computer. The interrogator typed questions into the computer, and both the human volunteer and the computer answered.

If the interrogator could not distinguis netween the computer and the human, the computer passed the test.  Turing argued that if a machine could have a proper conversation with us, it would be sufficient to call it a person.

Kenneth Colby also devised a test by constructing a computer programme called PARRY. It was a simulation of a paranoid patient who thought that the mafia were after him. When psychiatrists questioned a real paranoid patient, and PARRY, they could not tell the difference. This implied that the machine had human characteristics, and passed Turings test.

Can Machines be persons? Pessimistic approaches.

Some people argue that machines cannot demonstrate the characteristics of personhood.

Daniel Dennett argued that the PARRY test was not a real test because it was flawed because of the ethical limitations of the test. Questioning of the psychiatrists was restricted because they realised that they would be questioning a real paranoid person, and didn’t want to confuse or upset him or her.  PARRY was pre-programmed with stock paranoid answers which seemed to be plausible to the psychiatrists because the subject was supposed to be a paranoid person.

American philosopher John Searle questioned Turings test and tried to undermine the idea of computer systems with human-like minds. He did this through the Chinese Room Experiment.  The experiment demonstrates that computers don’t understand the meaning of Chinese symbols, and therefore they are not thinking.

What do you think?

Remember that if you are asked this question as an extended essay question, you must give BOTH sides of the argument. What do you think?  Can machines be persons?  Do leave your comments on our blog!

Great DVD’s exploring AI Persons

I Robot (Will Smith)

I Robot (Will Smith)

Short Circuit

Short Circuit