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marquisedemerteuil's picture

dennett strikes again!!

i am the first to post about the news... but first, because i am on break, i must set the scene in an interminable way.

so, my dad and i were roaming around dupont circle in washington dc on this delightful sunday. we talked about the delights of specialization in academia, and how truly great work comes from specialization, and not from avoiding it. (my antagonistic position in the class runs in the family.) then i lectured him on video art. we went to the phillips collection, and afterwards to kramer books, where i found it: there's a new dennett book out!!!

it's called "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" and he basically tries to describe religion in a scientific way. this is a controversial thing t o do, and the reviews are mixed. some summary comments are in the new yorker review: " “Breaking the Spell” ranges widely, perhaps too widely. It surveys the state of religion in contemporary America, considers whether believers are happier or more moral than nonbelievers, discusses the rise of modern nondenominational spirituality, and briefly reviews the purported philosophical proofs for the existence of God."

here's more: "According to Dennett, the earliest stages of religion were likely characterized by speculations about supernatural or quasi-natural beings. These questions arose out of an aspect of human nature we take for granted: the recognition that the world contains not only other bodies but also other minds. We recognize, in other words, that the world includes “agents,” independent minds that possess their own sets of beliefs and desires. This recognition allows us a wide range of cognitive moves and countermoves presumably unavailable to most other species"

Better than this, is Leon Wieseltier's condemnation of the book in the New York Times. The anger, approaching Martha Rosler-like vehemence, is a delight to read, and I think he makes some good points. His argument is essentially that Dennett tries to describe every aspect of religion through evolutionary biology, and this is often contrived, unjust and even arrogant. The arrogance we've read in his quote that says "if you don't believe in evolution, you're a pathetic, disgusting crime against humanity" (that's not quite verbatim) is referenced and picked on in this review by the literary editor of the new republic. he also says that dennett reads philosophers like hume wrong. Some delightful fragments:

"Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so. For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett's book. "Breaking the Spell""

"The excited materialism of American society — I the adoption by American culture of biological, economic and technological ways of describing the purposes of human existence — abounds in Dennett's usefully uninhibited pages. And Dennett's book is also a document of the intellectual havoc of our infamous polarization, with its widespread and deeply damaging assumption that the most extreme statement of an idea is its most genuine statement. "

"In his own opinion, Dennett is a hero. He is in the business of emancipation, and he reveres himself for it." :-D

"He thinks that an inquiry into belief is made superfluous by an inquiry into the belief in belief. This is a very revealing mistake. You cannot disprove a belief unless you disprove its content. If you believe that you can disprove it any other way, by describing its origins or by describing its consequences, then you do not believe in reason. In this profound sense, Dennett does not believe in reason. He will be outraged to hear this, since he regards himself as a giant of rationalism...Why is our independence from biology a fact of biology? And if it is a fact of biology, then we are not independent of biology."

"Dennett is unable to imagine a fact about us that is not a biological fact. His book is riddled with translations of emotions and ideas into evo-psychobabble."




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