Thursday, April 21, 2011

Copy and original revisited

I realized one possible objection to my definition of copy as

Object A is a copy iff its creation was intended as a copy of some object B (or maybe even an idea of such an object) and A does not (numerically) equal B.

Imagine that an entrepreneur makes a supercomputer that is designed to make him lots of money. All he needs to do is supply it with lots of information about the world and the computer will do what it takes to best insure he gets money. The computer decides the best way is to make counterfeit paintings and sell them. The entrepreneur does not know what his computer is up to and just collects the cash it makes him. Since only a machine was involved with the manufacturing of the counterfeits, does that mean that copies of the painting were made without any intention?

I thought of this objection while reading Michael Rea's paper on pornography. He seems to think that the objection is a good one against certain definitions of porn.

However, I have my doubts because it seems that once machines as complex as the computer in the thought experiment is brought about, we can ascribe intentions to it. We already ascribe intentions to certain (complex) animals like dogs, apes, dolphins, etc. A dog e.g., brings you his frisbee. His intention seems to be that he wants to play. No problems there. I have no problems with intentions in many animals.

The issue is whether computers can do the things in the thought experiment without what can properly be called an intention on its part. It seems to be able to choose among available options and compute the best option and implement a plan of action and perform it despite the fact that it may not have the mental phenomenal content that people and animals who perform similar tasks have. Would that be enough to constitute intention? Can "intention" be defined loosely (so that it lacks for example a phenomenal content) but still maintain its close association with the phenomenon we attribute to our understanding of our own intentions? I'm not sure but it seems plausible to me that if the computer can do that it would have what can properly be called an intention.


  1. Part of the question here might be that the computer has one intention (the intention to make money) but not another intention (the intention to make a copy). The intention to copy might involve more than just making a copy. Does the cell have an intention to copy its own DNA? I can see a case for either answer.

  2. I made a revision of my latest post addressing the possibility of sub intentions in computers. My example was the chess playing computer that makes a move which can be interpreted as a sub intention (capturing the queen, e.g.) in a larger intention of winning the match. Sub intentions seem to be part of explanations of many of our own intentions such as an answer to the question "Why are you doing B?" with the answer "I am doing B to do A."