Daniel C. Dennett is probably known to every thinking person on Earth, or at the very least I would say he should be known to every intelligent person. This book has been on my shelf for a long time and is that type that is so styled that one can put it down without guilt. There are seventy-seven fairly independent essays and I’ve read most of them. Probably the ones Dennett likes the most are the ones I’ve skipped, but he did me the favor of putting them in the appendix. Near the end, chapter 74, “A Faustian Bargain,” is short and easy to review and gives the flavor of his professional problem-solving.
Which would you choose?
(A) You solve the major philosophical problem of your choice so conclusively that there is nothing left to say (thanks to you, part of the field closes down forever, and you get a footnote in history).
(B) You write a book of such tantalizing perplexity and controversy that it stays on the required reading list for centuries to come.
Think about it for a minute.
Generally speaking, scientists choose A, while philosophers and humanities types choose B. The reason is that scientists are seeking satisfying proofs that their ideas represent testable reality beyond reasonable doubt. The humanities folks are presenting their view of complex reality and offering possibilities for how a human being might respond to that conception. The philosophers are much tighter in their efforts to define and represent abstract realities and they are not likely to find a counterpart in physical reality, but their ideas do impact human abstract reality in a consistent and observable way. The philosophers would like to tie things together into clearly defined domains of truth in their terms but realize that it is impossible in fact to do it. The humanities practitioners are creators of fact and are god-like in their powers to create and don’t really care to box it. At least they don’t want to box it into a generalized truth; they want their truths to be specific to their unique creations. Perhaps a god would feel that way too.
If you like that kind of rambling you will enjoy Intuition Pumps.