I was irritated to see the inclusion of Isabelle Stengers’ lazy diatribe against Daniel Dennett’s so-called eliminativism in the essays of The Speculative Turn. Here’s an indicative quote from her piece:
The universal acid of the so-called dangerous idea of Darwin is just what is needed. It brings no effective understanding of evolutionary processes but is eliminating, dissolving away, all reasons to resist the redefinition of humans as a piece of engineering that can be understood in terms of algorithms, and modified at will. And those who struggle against this operative redefinition of our worlds will have against them the authority of reason and science.
Dennett’s ‘interpretationism’ holds that the explanation and predictions of behaviour must assume the rationality and cognisance of the agent under interpretation. When we view an agent in this way, we assume what Dennett refers to as the ‘intentional stance’. For Dennett (as for Donald Davidson) a behavioural episode is indicative of intentionality only where – applying the principle of ‘charity’ – it can also be construed as appropriate or rational relative to the agent’s environment. This implies both semantic holism and content holism: the indivisibility of the intentional sphere, rather than a redefinition of ‘humans as a piece of engineering’. Dennett’s position in the philosophy cognitive science is naturalistic insofar as it seeks to understand the computational mechanisms which make us apt subjects for intentional interpretation. However, it is ontologically pluralist insofar as it accommodates multiple equally real grains of reality, each accessible to different ‘stances’. So for Dennett the design stance, which opens up sub-personal processes and agents in the mind to functional analysis does not disclose patterns that are more real than those opened up by the personal level intentional stance (The title of his essay ‘Real Patterns‘ might have given Stengers pause). How is this eliminativist? Again, Dennett has consistently argued for the role of culture and narration in structuring agency and consciousness. I could go on but I’ve better things to do.