My fundamental perspective is naturalism, the idea that philosophical investigations are not superior to, nor prior to, investigations in the natural sciences, but in partnership with those truth-seeking enterprises, and that the proper job for philosophers here is to clarify and unify the often warring perspectives into a single vision of the universe. That means welcoming the bounty of well-won scientific discoveries and theories as raw material for philosophical theorizing, so that informed, constructive citicism of both science and philosophy is possible.
- Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves, page 14-15
I can't comment on Dennett vs. other philosophers because I don't read much philosophy
. In general, I find it obscure
, and unclear
And the philosophers, as we all know, just take in each other's laundry, warring about confusions they themselves have created, in an arena bereft of both data and empirically testable theories.
- Danniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained, page 255.
Dennett, however, is not like this. He has clear ideas and is fantastic at putting them across. He engages with the realities uncovered by modern science, and builds ideas about existence upon them. See Darwin's Dangerous Idea particularly. I guess I'm what artfuldodger means by a philosophical layman.
Dennett is sometimes criticized as being a reductionist and a behaviourist. In response, Dennett has in Darwin's Dangerous Idea used the categories greedy reductionism, good reductionism and mysterianism.
For example, a greedy reductionist might say that "since temperature can be reduced to the kinetic energy of molecules, there is no such thing as temperature, only moving molecules". A mysterian would claim that "temperature is what it is, and cannot be reduced at all". A good reductionist merely says that "temperature can be understood when it is explained by the kinetic energy of molecules."
Dennett of course claims the reasonable middle ground for himself, and claims to be a reductionist of consciousness, but not a greedy one. He denies both the mysterian position that consciousness cannot be reduced in any way, and the greedy reductionism position that it can be reduced to nothing more than the behaviours of the cells of the brain. (e.g. the position often attributed to the behaviorist B.F. Skinner that mental states could not be studied and do not really exist)
He claims that consciousness and states of mind are real, but can be understood as built up from simpler systems that cannot themselves be conscious (if they were, then nothing would have been actually explained).
A Bibliography of major works by or edited by Daniel Dennett:
This passage blew my mind:
Consciousness explained: Page 173-174, on the origins of life on this planet and the philosophical implications thereof.
"In the beginning, there were no reasons; there were only causes. Nothing had a purpose, nothing had so much as a function; there was no teleology in the world at all. The explanation for this is simple: There was nothing that had interests. But after millennia there happened to emerge simple replicators. While they had no inkling of their interests, we, peering back from our godlike vantage point at the early days, can nonarbitrarily assign them certain interests – generated by their defining "interest" in self-replication. That is, maybe it really made no difference, maybe it was of no concern, it didn’t matter to anyone or anything whether they succeeded in replicating (though it seems that we can be grateful that they did) but at least we can assign them interests conditionally. If these simple replicators are to survive and replicate, thus persisting in the face of increasing entropy, their environment must meet certain conditions: conditions conducive to replication must be present or at least frequent.
Put more anthropomorphically, if these simple replicators want to continue to replicate, they should hope for and strive for various things: they should avoid the "bad" things and seek out the "good" things. When an entity arrives on the scene that is capable of behavior that staves off, however primitively, it's own dissolution and decomposition, it brings into the world its own "good". That is to say, it creates a point of view from which the world's events can be roughly partitioned into the favorable, the unfavorable and the neutral. And it's own innate proclivities to seek the first, shun the second and ignore the third constitute essentially to define the three classes. And the creature thus comes to have interests, the world and its events begin creating reasons for it – whether or not the creature can fully recognize them. The first reasons preexisted their own recognition. Indeed, the first problem faced by the first problem-facers was to learn how to recognize and act on the reasons that their very existence brought into existence."