The Lippard Blog: Daniel Dennett at ASU
This is Jim Lippard's account of a Daniel Dennett presentation at ASU. I fear that whenever I read Dennett I get a lot of pro-science and pro-materialism bravado, a lot of interesting examples, but when I go looking for the argument, half the time I can't find it.
It is interesting that Dennett uses the term mind-creationists, and applies that term not to people like me (whose existence I am sure he would not be willing to recognize), but to Fodor and Searle, both of whom are atheists, and neither of whom would dare draw the conclusion that a creator need apply. Of course Dennett is delighted to lump Turing resistant philosophers of mind, including atheists like Fodor and Searle, in with "creationists," which is a blanket term for those benighted enemies of reason who are blinkered by their religious fundamentalism into a literal interpretation of Genesis. So you get Fundamentalist Bible-thumpers and Young Earth Creationists = People who attribute anything to a Creator = People who think the mind isn't purely physical = People who think the mind has original intentionality. So Dennett's foes in the philosophy of mind are just like all those other creationists. If I were Fodor or Searle I would have a fit.
A few of the "mind-creationists" Dennett pointed out were Jerry Fodor and John Searle. Another is Victor Reppert, author of C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, the main argument of which I criticized in a short paper ("Historical But Indistinguishable Differences: Some Notes on Victor Reppert's Paper," Philo vol. 2, no. 1, 1999, pp. 45-47). Reppert's position is that Turing machines don't actually do arithmetic, because they have no semantics, only syntax, and that you only get meaning through original intentionality of the sort that John Searle argues is an irreducible feature of the world. Computers only have semantics when we impute it to them. My argument was that if you have two possible worlds that are exactly alike, except that one was created by a top-down designer and one evolved, there's no reason to say that one has semantics and the other one doesn't--how they got to the point at which they have creatures with internal representations that stand in the right causal relationships to the external world doesn't make a difference to whether or not those representations actually refer and have meaning.
Contrary to this, I maintain that reference and meaning have to be reference and meaning for some conscious agent who perceives and understands that meaning, and that a complete description of causal relations is going to leave the semantic states indeterminate.