Dennett’s false demystification

15 01 2009

If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone has ever had, I’d give it to Darwin, ahead of Newton and Einstein and everyone else. In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law.

Daniel Dennett

I don’t think i agree with this. A darwinian perspective can be used to derive meaning and purpose, but it certainly does not provide it in any inevitable, consequential sense. I think Dennett may be falling prey to the illusion that his prefered mental aesthetic is universally ‘true.’ It doesn’t follow that because a theory describes/predicts processes with elegant accuracy it therefore embues life with meaning. Life, literally, has infinite meanings; especially in today’s social environment, the problem is parsing out what you decide to ignore! Darwinism only unifies physics and meaning for Dennett because he wants it to. That’s a-ok with me… Darwinian thought is inextricably tied up  in my meaning-system too, i’m sure, whether consciously or otherwise. But it’s more arbitrtary than Dennett seems to imply.



One response

15 01 2009

I don’t think that’s what Dennett meant when he said that (though I think it unfortunate that he used those words). He talked (at the lecture at UBC) of Darwin bridging two disparate fields, that of structure and mechanism (traditionally physical science) and of life and its essence (traditionally theology, natural philosophy, natural theology).

Get it straight, Lopez.

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