PHL471: Some Thoughts on Dennett.
Some Thoughts on Dennett.
- Along, with Davidson, Dennett is an interpretationist:
he argues representational states are interpretative ascriptions
we make to explain complex systems.
- Dennett argues we can take three "stances" on events
- Physical stance: we explain a phenomenon in terms
of its physical states.
- Design stance: we explain a phenomenon in terms
of what it is designed to do.
- Intentional stance: we explain a phenomenon in terms
of what beliefs and desires.
- When we take the intentional stance on an object, we
engage in what Dennett calls "intentional systems theory."
We take a particular object (say, a human body), and then
- Ascribe to it the beliefs it ought to have
- Ascribe to it the desires it ought to have
- Assume it is rational
- Predict what it will do
- This theory tells us what agency, belief, desire, an action,
and rationality are.
- A belief is what we ascribe to an agent that explains
why it acts in certain ways to satisfy its desires
- A desire is what we ascribe to an agent that explains
why it acts in certain ways give the beliefs it has
- An action is a description of an event that explains
how it satisfies the desires of an agent, given its beliefs
- Rationally is what we ascribe to agents when we ascribe
them consistent beliefs and describe their acts as satisfying
- An object is an agent if it is useful to ascribe to it
as having rationality, beliefs, and desires
- Note that this list is entirely circular: all the definitions
are in terms of each other. However, this is not a problem, Dennett
claims, because we confirm this network of interdefined relations
by making predictions which can be tested.
- This is also a theory of the normativity of representations:
we ascribe the states that an agent should have, and this,
along with the notion of rationality, lend a normative nature to
these ascribed states.
- What is Dennett's ontological claim? This is unclear.
He sometimes talks as if he is a non-reductive physicalist
about propositional attitudes. This means that he claim
that belief, for example, is a physical event, but he'll
claim you can only describe it from the intentional stance
(you can't reduce it to the physical stance). Sometimes he
talks like a straight physicalist materialist. And
sometimes he talks like an eliminativist, where beliefs are
simply a useful fiction but otherwise don't exist. (Seen
from an epistemic perspective, Dennett is best interpreted
as an instrumentalist and therefore as positing that we can
be uncommitted about whether beliefs and desires exist.)