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The Claims of Reason: Stanley Cavell’s Experiment Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 14th, 2022

Introduction

Going through life oftentimes is difficult especially when we are not in touch with the basic principles upon which life operates. We are the handiwork of a craftsman, and only the craftsman knows how to handle us. That is the massage Stanley Cavell is sending across the parables; he thinks that using the illustration of a craftsman working on an automated system will send an impactful message to his readers, and he is sure to achieve his aim. All he has done through his writing is carry us through the various stages of development of the automated system to the stage the system began to function as a human being. The interesting thing about the experiment is that while the craftsman was on the job, the system complained of pain at some point. Even though the system complained, it did not hinder the craftsman from completing the development to suit his original conception.

Stanley Cavell’s Experiment

Stanley Cavell started his essay by taking us through a brainstorming session, and by presenting us with the picture of a doll and its owner first. In the analysis of the story of the doll, what Stanley seems to be telling us is that, when you buy a toy, you are rightfully the owner. But he went further to make us understand that the fact that, being the owner of a doll does not transcend to absolute control over it, or that the owner possesses unlimited powers of control. What Stanley is saying is that the owner of the doll is under control by some other stronger powers or authorities. He further went on to show that even as the owner exerts powers over the doll, the doll, on the other hand, has no say in the way it is treated, thus it is subjected to the owner. According to Stanley, in the illustration,

“I recognize his authority over the doll, his having the last word over it; hence I hold him responsible for it. The most this demands is that the doll is his to play with, for a while, in a particular place. Even if he owns it, his authority is not unlimited; there are still rules in this house” (Stanley 402).

At this point, Stanley seems to take us somewhere, but he is yet to land. In another statement, he made us understand that the owner of the doll and we, humans, know the insight of the doll, gradually landing us in the direction he is taking us to the thought-provoking experiment of a craftsman and an automated system.

Stanley began by making us understand that improvements have been made in the field of robotics. On several occasions, he was meant to look inside of such systems to make him believe that they were not true human beings. In the experiment, Stanley wrote,

“What would fit this idea? How about perfected automation? They have been improved to such an extent that on more than one occasion their craft t man has had to force me to look inside one of them to convince me that it was not a real human being”.( Stanley 404)

At this point, desiring to awaken anxiety in us, he paused and asked questions regarding what was the content of what he saw when it was opened. Stanley, at this point, took us back to the beginning to give us a better grasp of what picture he intends us to have.

In the experiment, a visitor visited a craftsman who took him around his laboratory, clad in his usual lab attire. After moving around for a while, the craftsman explained to him all that has happened over time; the progress he has made in his research on automation to the amazement of the visitor the craftsman offered his friend a seat. The friend effortlessly responded to the craftsman and received a cigarette from him with an air of appreciation. To show the visitor, some progress was made; he opened the legs of the friend and taped them. It was made from metal, but that was big progress for sure. The craftsman again asked the friend to remove his hand gloves, and the friend responded gracefully. This also amazed the visitor who was not sure of where to place the automated system and whether to refer to it as a complete human or not. The craftsman then opened the hat of the automated system revealing the skull. He continued with the process of stripping the system to acquit his visitor of the latest developments he made over time. This process was repeated every time the system was carried out.

To further express his point and burning desire to continue with the work, Stanley explained how the craftsman accepted the fact that the work was still very far from being perfect. At this point, the craftsman showed the visitor that more work was needed to be done on the internal organs to make them more effective. He made special mention of the blood that improvements needed to be made on the blood circulation. At this stage of the experiment, the major concern of the craftsman was the response of the system to stimulus, which was not consistent with him. By proving his point, he then touched the system’s hand of which the response was almost spontaneous; the only noticeable problem was that the movement was mechanical. The craftsman was concerned with the response to pain that it has to be simultaneous with any touch. At this point, the visitor wondered in thought trying to figure out what the craftsman meant by the pain in it.

In another scheduled visit, more improvements have been made, from the head to the hands, everything was moving almost effortlessly. As it was in the character of the craftsman, he still wanted to show the progress that had been made in detail, so he opened the hat and revealed the skull of the system for the visitor to have a look at what progress he had achieved since the last visit again. In narrating the experience he wrote,

“One day the craftsman is quite beside himself with suppressed excitement. He insists that I pay attention to each of the procedures. The legs and hands are by this time very astonishing. the movement of the legs crossing and of the cigarette being lit is simply astonishing. I want to see it all again.and for the voice, I could bet anything that no one could tell”( Stanley 409)

Since the concern of the craft man was the response of the system to the stimulus at this stage of the work, he wanted to show his visitor the progress he made in that light so far. He then reached for a knife; as soon as the system recognized it, it leaped and started making unusual movements. As the craft man came closer, the system spoke and expressed its tiredness to the treatment it was subjected to. The visitor, at this point, wanted to intervene, but, at a second thought, questioned himself why. The visitor thought of all that has happened. There was an expression of happiness, then frustration, displayed in all the struggling and the body movements. To the visitor’s amazement, that was how the system was programmed to operate. What caused him to have a rethink over intervening in what was happening was that it was the creator dealing with his creation, and in such a case, he had no say in all that was going on between the two. He also considered that maybe, in the instance of questioning what the craft man was doing, he would have ended up yelling at him for making the system complete that it turned to revolt against the creator, but at the end, the answer would have been that, that was how it was designed to be.

In all the drama that ensued what the craft man wanted to achieve was to show him the structure of the brain, the computer devices inserted in the head of the system. The visitor insisted on the craft man use an x-ray instead of a knife to avoid the drama. The visitor’s interest to see the inside of the brain was not to convince himself that the friend was not just a system that he only wanted to know. In his perception, he opened that who knew if humans were made of such microprocessors in their brains. The visitor held himself from asking certain questions about what he saw. To him, it was better to accept things the way they were than insisting on asking questions that would undermine the handwork of the craft man (Stanley 408).

One great and touching deduction the visitor made was that if the friend grabbed his hand, and subsequently, he had been inpatient with the friend, then he saw the craft man coming with a knife towards him to perform all that was done on the friend to him. He wondered what the feeling it would have. He imagined the craftsman’s view was that the only thing the two of them share was pain and nothing more. This is to say that both, the visitor and the product of the craft man’s work were the same. As the final events were unfolding, the experimental work turned out to be more of a reflection. The visitor was questioning his difference from the developed system; to his opinion, they both had the same feelings (Bradley 45). So, what was the difference between him and the handwork of the craftsman? He felt so strongly about the fact that you could not tell what another person was going through unless you were in the same shoes.

Cavell’s Conclusion

Finally, Stanley Cavell concluded; he felt that all humans were the same and that we shared the same grieve. What he was saying was that if you were not in the condition of another, you would not understand what they were going through. And basically, he felt that all the humans were created or made by a craftsman who alone knew how to remote his handwork, when and how he wanted. He drew this conclusion based on some key incidence that occurred in the illustrated experiment. First, his conclusion is drawn from the first instance in which the craft man called his creation so that he would show it to the visitor, the system was on its own may be thinking or doing something else until its creator beckoned on it to come. What this means from his conclusion is that we do not have programs of our own, even when we seem to be busy with other events any time our creators call us, we will have no option but to respond to the call.

Secondly, Cavell’s conclusion is derived from the point where the visitor imagined himself being subjected to the pain the system was going through, immediately the visitor placed himself in the position of the system, it dawned on him that before now he had a little idea of what this system that was modeled after humanity was experiencing at every stage the craft man wanted to improve his craft. This is the point where Cavell drew his conclusion of the fact that we will hardly know what someone else is going through unless we place ourselves in the person’s shoes.

Analysis of Cavell’s Conclusion

If we take our bearing from the experiment, it will prove itself that life is a walk to perfection. At every point, when the visitor was invited, significant progress was made in the development of the system by the craftsman. The visitor always came, but he had no contribution to the work that was done, he was to stand and look at the work of the craftsman in progress. What the craftsman does to onlookers is to show them his work in progress. Everyone living on this earth is like a piece of art that the craftsman is constantly working on, improving it to be better. What others are to do is to watch God’s perfect work in our lives. The funny part of it is that while the crafty man is working on us, we might be subject to certain treatments that will make us want to revolt, but the end of it is that the craft man only wants to make us better persons. What he wants is a final and perfect final version of us. While the visitor was watching, at certain points, he felt like intervening in the work that the craftsman was doing but not intervening made him learn his greatest lessons. He knew that his intervention would yield no reasonable result as only the one who creates knows what he wants with his work. The lesson from that deduction is this, the people we meet with and live within this life have limited contributions to make in our lives, they impact us only when the creator accepts their suggestions concerning us.

Conclusion

This is not just another piece of work for us to read and dump, but it is a paper that will cause us to reflect more on who we are, and how we relate to our fellow human beings. Often, we are quick to condemn because we are not in the shoes of the person who is going through pain. For better judgment, Stanley Cavell proposes that we should fix ourselves in the situation of the person who we want to condemn before we do that. Finally, the work proposes that we are all the handwork of a master craftsman. Whatever we want to do, we must be guided by his plans for our lives. Often, we might want to protest when he is in the process of carving us, but all that he is doing is for our good. One important deduction we can make from this experiment and conclusion based on Cavell’s view is that we have limited control over whatever it is that we do. Putting it in another way, we might say that we are controlled by a much higher power that dictates all our actions. Going about our daily activities with this consciousness, help guide our decision-making. It also enhances the quality of our relationships, since we have a deep understanding of life we are slow to judge, and as such, it is natural that people are attracted to us. Finally, it is important that we recognize the genius of Stanley for bringing us an interesting experiment to ponder upon, all the strong details in Stanley’s writing are hidden in between the lines.

Works Cited

Bradley, Andrew. Shakespearean Tragedy. London: Macmillan and co.Ltd.1951.Print.

Stanley, Cavell. The Claims of Reason. New York: Oxford University press, 1979. Print.

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