Friday, January 8, 2010

Great moments in New Atheist hypocrisy, Part 2,526

In his 1993 review of John Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind, Daniel Dennett complains about Searle’s condescending attitude toward cognitive science:

Attacking such a well-fortified tower of prevailing wisdom is not a job for the faint-hearted, but Searle has never lacked for confidence in the clarity and truth of his own vision. Indeed, his supreme self-confidence is the one fixed point that emerges from the shifting interpretations of his intentions that are suggested by what he has written, as we shall see.

People are not, in general, daft. This obvious fact gives Searle pause. He frequently expresses his astonishment that the other side could endorse such monumentally silly doctrines, but that is just what his analyses tell him, so he calls them as he sees them. "If I am right, we have been making some stunning mistakes." (p.246) He used to stop there, but in this book there has been a subtle but important change in his meta-opinion: "How is it that so many philosophers and cognitive scientists can say so many things that, to me at least [my emphasis], seem obviously false?" (p.3) Searle may find it a bizarre sociological fact that his common sense is not everybody's, but now he bows to that fact and thus accepts the burden of proof (however misplaced in the eyes of eternity) of showing that his "obvious facts" are so much as true. This is progress.

A “supreme self-confidence” that condescendingly treats serious thinkers as “daft” and their views as “monumentally silly” and “obviously false” – why, one would almost think Dennett was describing the author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon!

In fairness, though, there are some crucial differences between Searle and Dennett. Searle knows what he is talking about when he criticizes cognitive science. Dennett demonstrably does not know what he is talking about when he criticizes the traditional arguments for the existence of God. By Dennett’s own account, Searle has made “progress” by providing a book-length argument in defense of his objections to cognitive science. Dennett, by contrast, never progresses beyond a couple of pages of sophomoric objections aimed at straw men. Also, Searle’s funnier.

9 comments:

Crude said...

C'mon, Ed. Dan Dennett is hilarious.

Stalin as a theist because he made himself into God? That whole "brights" idea? That whole routine of 'when I'm introspective I see no qualia just functions that need explaining'?

All this material, and he does it without trying!

Edward said...

One time, during a graduate seminar on the unity of consciousness, I actually rose to defend Dennett as being a funny, entertaining writer. (My opposition to the man in every other respect was obvious to everyone by then.) This prompted our prof to recount her memory of a debate she attended between Dennett and Searle. In her recollection, Dennett was a condescending ass and a pompous blowhard. I laughed out loud!

Eric said...

"Also, Searle’s funnier."

Well, the Bard says that brevity is the soul of wit, and Dennett is never brief. An acquaintance of mine who studied under Dennett at Tufts said it was almost impossible to get a word in with the man during office hours. He'd go on and on and on and on...

mpresley said...

It's a rare talent that can (or would want to) make philosophy funny. But as humor reveals truth in its own way, I appreciate those that are able to do it.

This got me thinking: Plato (Socrates) was, with his irony and "peculiar" behaviors [does anyone think that his coming to dinner late was not intentional?], a master in this regard. Aristotle not so. I've got an idea that if one were to meet him in a pub over a pint or two, Hume would be a pretty funny guy. But not Hobbes or Locke. Kant could not be funny, yet I suspect he derived some quasi-humorous satisfaction when pondering those trying to make intelligible his prose (although he'd never admit such a feeling to anyone). Schopenhauer was funny at times (when he was not angry, which was probably most of the time). Nietzsche, too. And Russell has my vote for the funniest quip in the history of philosophy: Nietzsche's superman is very like Siegfried, except that he knows Greek. This may seem odd, but that is not my fault.

Maolsheachlann said...

Mr. Presley, I like your nomination for the funniest line in the history of philosophy. But I still prefer Nietzsche's aphorism against utlitarianism: "Man does not strive for happiness. Only the Englishman does."

Brandon said...

Kant could not be funny, yet I suspect he derived some quasi-humorous satisfaction when pondering those trying to make intelligible his prose (although he'd never admit such a feeling to anyone).

Kant was apparently a good conversationalist in person, and was famous for his dinner-parties. In fact, in the Anthropology he gives explicit advice for a dinner-party (and claims that it's a bad idea for philosophers always to eat alone): there should be no more than nine and no less than three guests, and the dinner-party should go through exactly three stages, in exactly this order: (1) narration, in which you talk about the news of the day (he gives a set of rules to follow for deciding the topics to discuss); (2) argument, in which people begin to argue their different views about the news, which stirs up the appetite for food and drink; and (3) because people begin to get tired of arguing, you should end with jesting and wit, which should preferably lead to loud, good-natured laughter, because that's good for the digestion. It would be absurd, but he apparently had considerable skill in hosting successful dinner-parties on exactly those lines. Unfortunately, I don't think he ever gives us examples of the sort of jokes you should be telling at a dinner-party.

John Farrell said...

Brandon, I think there's a potential Monty Python style skit here, along the lines of their Summarize Proust competition.

:)

"Tonight, Immanual Kant takes a break from his Critique of Pure Reason, to let us in on his tips for the best dinner party!"

mpresley said...

...there should be no more than nine and no less than three guests, and the dinner-party should go through exactly three stages, in exactly this order...

It was supposed to be in The Critique of Dinner, which, unfortunately, he did not get around to writing before he died. However the outline does exist, although no one, as far as I know, has attempted to reconstruct it from his notes. [Schopenhauer was aware of it, and attempted to organize lectures around the title of The Fourfooled Roots of Sufficient Cooking, but no one was interested, and his housekeeper had hidden all the sharp knives in any event.]

I. Transcendental Doctrine of the Guest List

Section 1: Space Required
Section 2: Time of the Party
Section 3: Analytic Deduction of the Invitations

II: Gastronomic Logic

Division I: The Parologisms of Pork
Part 1: The Architectonic of Schnitzel
Part 2: The Antinomy of Schweinebraten.

Division II: The Discipline of Dinner, including the Gastronomic Idealism as the Key to the Solution of the Smorgasbordical Dialectic.

IlĂ­on said...

Dennett: "... but Searle has never lacked for confidence in the clarity and truth of his own vision. Indeed, his supreme self-confidence is the one fixed point that emerges ..."

Project much?