Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I dennett know if this'll be helpful, but…

…I have finally gotten my hands on (virtually) all of Daniel Dennett's books and it dawned on me last night how one should go about reading them. One being me, I suppose. I'm of an historical bent, so I have arranged the readings in a more or less chronological order, especially as it seems to be Dennett's modus operandi to revisit the same topic a few years after his first sortie.

Start with his 1969 Content and Consciousness––perhaps a reworked version of his Ph.D. thesis under Gilbert Ryle, if I'm not mistaken––and then read his 1981 Brainstorms. He says the latter is meant to continue and refine the work in the former. I admit a cursory perusal of these two books has given me more respect for Dennett as a technical philosopher and I see my abiding interest in him is not based on his relatively novel status as one of "the Four Horsemen of Atheism," but instead derives from an intuition that Dennett is a serious interlocutor in my own deepest areas of philosophical interest. Anyone who engages D. M. MacKay is a kindred spirit of sorts! (I was raised Presbyterian and I am half-Scottish, you know. God, how I long to visit the Highlands!)

Then read his 1984 Elbow Room, followed by his 2003 Freedom Evolves. I admit I don't have as much interest in Dennett's work here, since he is just a glorified compatibilist, but seeing as I'm working on a book about free will, and seeing as einen Gegenspieler konsequent decken is of the essence of mature scholarship, ignoring Dennett's viewpoint would only be to my detriment.

Then read his 1987 The Intentional Stance, followed by his 1992 Consciousness Explained. These are probably his most important works as a "major player" in cognitive science and are what gave him his deservedly "insane" status.

Next, read his 1997 Kinds of Minds, followed by his 1998 Brainchildren. These books combine his interests in AI and ethology and have the advantage of having been written 30 years after intensive work in the field. Plus, the cover of Brainchildren is just adorable.

Finally, read his 1995 Darwin's Dangerous Idea, followed by his 2006 Breaking the Spell. These are the books that have made Dennett a "cultural icon" and present his meta-view of cognitive science, free will, etc.

Dirty confession? I've only read Dennett's Kinds of Minds in full, about three years ago, though I've read a number of shorter pieces and listened to a number of lectures by him since then. So, lest I fall victim to the evil of bullshit in my disagreements with Dennett, I intend to work through his corpus pretty much as outlined above.

1 comment:

Michael Turton said...

Very helpful, actually. Thanks.