Human Beings and Automatons

Simo Säätelä


Wittgenstein contrasts human beings and automatons; he says that we have an “attitude
towards a soul” towards a human being, which implies that it is nonsensical to say of
another human being that he is an automaton. He does, however, mention this puzzling
possibility in different contexts. What are we to make of such passages? Three
different cases are considered: (i) To say that someone is an automaton might only
have to do with facts about the human body. (ii) We can see a human being as an
automaton. This is a possibility, but only a “limiting case” of aspect perception
which cannot be kept hold of in day-to-day life. (iii) Wittgenstein’s example about a
tribe that consistently regards its slaves as automatons is, I suggest, intended to
show us the limits of our concept of a person by making us aware of the difficulties
involved in imagining such a “tribe”.


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; analogy; opinion; attitude; automaton; idealism

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