Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese locked in a room full of boxes of Chinese symbols (a data base) together with a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (the program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (the input). And imagine that by following the instructions in the program the man in the room is able to pass out Chinese symbols which are correct answers to the questions (the output). The program enables the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese but he does not understand a word of Chinese.
If the boxes of symbols and the book of instructions only contain a handful of rules I can see the argument that the man inside the room doesn't need to understand any of their meaning to correctly follow the instructions.
But going from there to a set of rules complex enough to encode Chinese to me requires a leap that is similar to the pile of sand paradox. 3 grains of sand are not a pile of sand, and adding a single grain to a non-pile doesn't make it a pile. Nevertheless piles of sand do exist.
In analogy three symbols and rules do not imply any understanding to carry out and adding a single rule doesn't change that. But this is not sufficient to argue that one can manipulate a set of rules complex enough for Chinese without any understanding.
I find the idea that one can encode a language including the ability to use it in a real world context just by writing down a finite list of logical manipulation rules questionable. It is not clear to me why one can/ should assume that using a language can be written down as a list of rules that behaves just the same way as a handful of individual rules. In analogy there might be a pile of sand and the Chinese room argument seems to require that considering individual grains of sand is all there is.
Has this argument been made/ discussed/ refuted by philosophers?