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Entries in Daniel Dennett (4)


Hall, Wittgenstein and Dennett

Walter Horn, who from time to time posts here, is a former professor of philosophy and the author of numerous articles as well as at least two books dealing with philosophical questions. The first is a somewhat strange account of conversations with a mystical teacher of presumably eastern meditative practices which is somewhat hard to characterize. The other, more recently published and mentioned by Walter here, is an overview of 1950's philosopher Everett Wesley Hall who is little known today and who, Walter feels, deserves more recognition than he has gotten since his untimely early death. The book consists of various critical essays by others looking at his work as well as some of Hall's own work. A number of Walter's own essays are also included. Although the book is costly, Walter provides a substantive introduction to it which is available free on the Internet:


Having read one of Hall's books at Walter's suggestion, Our Knowledge of Fact and Value (apparently his last work based on a series of lectures he gave at a Japanese university and compiled and published posthumously), I can now claim some acquaintance with his thinking. Of course, I am no expert on the man, nor do I profess to fully understand everything he wrote in that book. Walter thinks I have missed quite a bit, in fact, and that may be. However, it seems to me to be at least somewhat worthwhile to consider some of Hall's ideas here, particularly because Hall seems to have been influenced, at least to some degree, by the early (Tractarian) Wittgenstein. Of course, there are significant divergences. I note that Hall is portrayed by some as a linguistic idealist though I don't think that would be a fair description of early Wittgenstein (though I have heard some make such a claim). If anything, it is probably right to say that Hall was somewhat influenced by the Tractatus but not that he was a Tractarian in the way Wittgenstein and some others who followed Wittgenstein can be said to have been. Walter, in his introduction to the book, offers the following by way of explaining Hall's relation to Wittgenstein . . .

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Hall, Dennett and the Problems of Reference and Intentionality

I've taken up Walter's suggestion to begin reading Everett Wesley Hall's book on-line, pending a decision to obtain a hard copy from Amazon. I've found it quite interesting, as Walter suggested, though partly because of various synchronicities I've found with earlier highly energized debates some of us have participated in on other lists. Interestingly and in light of a longstanding argument on this and other sites, Hall, early on in his book, Our Knowledge of Fact and Value, uses "refers" precisely as I have often done, i.e., to pick out what one has in mind, rather than what actually is the case.

He writes:

A cognitive verb with a substantival clause as objective complement may be taken, then, to refer to an act whose object is a fact or a 'non-fact,' that is, a fact that does not obtain. (page 19, chapter 2)

Here he uses "refers" precisely as we do in ordinary language, and as I had done when I wrote, to the consternation of some of my interlocutors, things like 'a referent is what I have in mind when I make a referring statement, i.e., it's that to which I am referring by making the statement, gesture, etc., and can be understood based on my description of what I have in mind.' . . .

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Quine, Dennett and Wittgenstein

Here's a very interesting link to a panel discussion on Quine's views about language, science and philosophy. This particular segment (its broken into nine and they are all worth watching, preferably in sequence) involves Dennett (one of the panelists) asking Quine to clarify his position vis a vis behaviorism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WumCK5cxrFQ

Dennett poses the question to Quine as a matter of Quine's distinguishing the relationship of his views on language and meaning, which Quine acknowledges as consistent with behaviorism, as to whether they are more compatible with a Skinnerian approach to behaviorism or the kind of behaviorism Wittgenstein is often seen as representing. (In the literature Wittgenstein's later position on meaning is sometimes thought of as "logical behaviorism" as opposed to a methodological and/or metaphysical sort which, latter, presumably denies the existence of mental objects in any sense whatsoever.) This is an interesting exchange in light of the frequent debates and disagreements here over whether Wittgenstein was a behaviorist and, if so, which type, and whether Dennett effectively is, and so can be construed as denying the existence or reality of what we call our "experiences" in his attempts to "explain" consciousness.

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Intentions and Selves (3rd Re-Write)

If moral valuing treats of intentions, and intentions are part of every action, what is it about them that excites our moral judgment?

Why is an action such as the purchase of an ice cream cone, to satisfy our own need or desire for it, subject only to evaluation based on the value we place on the ice cream – or on the capacity of the selected actions to acquire it – but, if we consider the intention behind the act, insofar as it relates to other persons, we see it in an entirely different way? Here is where the question of our feelings toward our fellows (and those we take to be equivalent) kicks in.

Intentions are a different sort of thing than the physical phenomena which the action, the items, or the states of affairs desired, are. There’s no actual thing we can point to as the “intention” and yet we cannot explain agential behavior without it. Agential behavior supposes motives, aims – that the actions are performed for a reason. And it takes an intentional agent to have reasons.

Daniel Dennett proposes that we recognize intentions in another by taking what he calls the “intentional stance,” one of three possible “stances” available to us in relation to things in the world . . .

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