by D C Dennett book_printbook  |  1st ed
Numbers of Errors   (2013-12-03)
Dennett is a masterful writer. This allows him to probably delude readers about the philosophy of psychology substance he defends, unfortunately. Ryle, Wittgenstein, and behavior analysts such as Skinner settled the question of the reality of 'mind' long ago, to wit, it is no more defensible a tenet of folk (i.e., pre-scientific) mentality than belief in the supernatural. What is real is instead mindful conduct that is more or less instinctive/learned, automatic/calculated, uninhibited/self-conscious, consensible/inner, etc. Dennett gets away with his out-moded analysis in part because he is spot-on with respect to other issues such as evolution of species, the role of language (verbal behavior) in ethical conduct, and some differences between the lives of people and those of other animals. Overall his ethical philosophy is even more remarkably primitive. To be specific, for example on page 5 Dennett argues for an asymmetry in the consequences of misconstrual of mindfulness in animals. I don't buy it since over-sentimentality towards animals, like cool rational speciesism, also results in a "terrible sin", that against the proper worth of people, for example as seen in biomedical research on animals benefiting those with disease and dysfunction. Dennett writes of pain and of suffering, yet really does not make clear their difference or what either one amounts to because he lacks a coherent psychological science foundation. On page 12 Dennett gently pleads, "Surely infants before they acquire language have minds." Well, overlooking the fact that nobody has a mind, it is not self-evident just how animal-like babies are. But this does not mean such people should be denied human rights vis-a-vis rights of non-humans. "Surely deaf-mutes who never acquire even sign language have minds." These cases are so rare that they cannot be used to rationalize a general ethics; in fact, literally nobody has good intuitions about non-signing deaf-mutes. "What minds do is process information..." (page 68) But in fact "bad news" is avoided, so if avoiding useful but unwelcome information is still "processing", then Dennett's cognitivism is no different from analysis of reinforcement contingencies. On pages 123 and 126 Dennett makes a particularly shoddy example out of something he cites about foxes and hares, failing to explain why a hare would wish a fox to be better off "making a truce." Also, "he who never bluffs at poker never wins; he who always does always loses' reflects a dim understanding of chance. This is careless writing more than literal misconstrual, however seductive in its folksy pleasantries. By contrast with typical philosophical obscurantism possessing a bitter tonality it is appealing. The only time Dennett gets down to brass tacks regarding animals is his singling out of dogs in the last chapter. But naturally, he has this wrong. Dogs are not the only "social species" that has been domesticated and used as pets. Cats, to use just the one counter-example Dennett chooses, are highly social as even many naive juveniles realize. Kinds of Minds is kind of shallow. It gets some ethical stances roughly correct but without solid reasoning, so that hardly counts as success.
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