Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Dennett's Animism

Dennetts "intentional stance" describes an animistic strategy that predicts how behavioural systems will behave.

Animism, of course, is practised by those who depart from the scientific world view. Dennett does his bit of departing in his own magical brand of intentionality, which I would like to call animism or “animistic intentionalism” - the idea that systems “behave”. Dennett, of course, claims that the intentional stance is, at the end of the day, a convenient fiction and that if we want to approach a more real description of behaviour we should abandon "folk psychology" and look to a physical description. But it is in the physical description where Dennett's animistic intentionality is to be found.

Dennett needs to identify necessarily arbitrary sets of physical events (such as “brain” events) as being associated with intentionality or behaviour. By abandoning objects of intentionality in favour pf physical objects Dennett must find a means of identifying the relevant physical objects. As this cannot be done by the intentional stance, which he has abandoned, it can only be done by magically animating these conveniently pre-identified physical events with their own intentionality. This is the only way that Dennett can hope to persuade us that these physical systems can be, and are themselves, identified as the true objects that stand behind the intentional object. This animistic intentionality can then bring us, by virtue of the physical placement of its objects, a better degree of certainty about behaviour than the non-physically placed, hence not-so-certain, elements of "folk psychology".

Dennett has done this sort of thing before. By carving up an object in terms of its various properties he contradictorily presents scenario's in which there is, and is not, a relationship between them. For Dennett, there is a relationship between properties in the object itself, but there is no relationship regarding the actuality of the properties, as his argument against "folk psychology" demonstrates. His difficulty lies in front of him. The properties of an object are neither in nor out of relationship, but are associations.

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