I have no possible way of supporting the claim I am about to make, but I think Searle’s style as an arguer/philosopher is “thought-experimental” (can we say that for “full of thought-experiments”?) because of all the Wittgenstein he has read. I revel in not being able to imagine Searle arguing otherwise.
Anyway, here’s a good example. After having reduced the more audacious divisions of cognitive science to guff, Searle concludes:
“Suppose no one knew how clocks worked. Suppose it was frightfully difficult to figure out how they worked, because, though there were plenty around, no one knew how to build one, and efforts to figure out how they worked tended to destroy the clock. Now suppose a group of researchers said, ‘We will understand how clocks work if we design a machine that is functionally the equivalent of a clock, that keeps time just as well as a clock.’ So they designed an hour glass and claimed: ‘Now we understand how clocks work,’ or perhaps: ‘If only we could get the hour glass to be just as accurate as a clock we would at last understand how clocks work.’ Substitute ‘brain’ for ‘clock’ in this parable, and substitute ‘digital computer program’ for ‘hour glass’ and the notion of intelligence for the notion of keeping time and you have the contemporary situation in much (not all!) of artificial intelligence and cognitive science.” (Searle, 1984, p. 56)
The question which interests me here is: how do thought experiments work from argumentative viewpoint? Are they just a complicated set of hypothetical statements? Are they a story (i.e. a finely tuned string of analogies and metaphor and whatever else goes)? Are they a reductio ad absurdum?
In our case, quite intuitively and regardless of whether one already has an opinion about the subject at hand, one might think of a vast number of possible replies to Searle’s imaginary clock-less world. However, would not one miss the point if one started throwing rebuttals like: “Aha! But we do understand how the clock works if we can make something ‘functionally equivalent’! It’s just we do not understand it up to its more minute details”?
An interesting related article I might have something to say about one of these days:
Yourgau. W. (1964). On the logical status of so-called thought experiments. Proceedings of the Xth International Congress of the History of Science, Paris: Herman, 359–362.
Scarcely related, here’s another funny paragraph:
Because we do not understand the brain very well we are constantly tempted to use the latest technology
as a model for trying to understand it. In my childhood we were always assured that the brain was a telephone switchboard. ('What else could it be?') I was amused to see that Sherrington, the great British neuroscientist, thought that the brain worked like a telegraph system. Freud often compared the brain to hydraulic and electro-magnetic systems. Leibniz compared it to a mill, and I am told that some of the ancient Greeks thought the brain functions like a catapult. At present, obviously, the metaphor is the digital computer.