Dennett, Daniel C. (1994) Postscript, 1994. In: P. K. Moser and J. D. Trout (eds.), Materalism, Routledge Ltd.

Postscript, 1994

Daniel C. Dennett

One puzzling feature of the response to "Evolution, Error, and Intentionality" has contributed to the direction of my current research on evolution. I was initially dumfounded by the willingness of philosophers simply to dismiss or ignore--as too radical to be taken seriously, apparently--my suggestion that we are survival machines for our genes, as Dawkins has put it. This surprised me, for in point of fact the biology on which I based my philosophical extrapolations is not even controversial. It is uncontested that human bodies, like the bodies of all other creatures, are products of a design process that tracks, in the first instance, the "interests" of the genes whose phenotypic expressions those bodies are. There are substantive controversies about the importance of this fact, but not the fact itself.

I have come to see this reaction by philosophers as an example of a much broader naive anti-Darwinism that has flourished in the humanities, fed by misinformation from some of Darwin's popularizers. I decided to write a book (Darwin's Dangerous Idea, forthcoming) laying out the fundamental philosophical implications of the Darwinian revolution, to correct these ubiquitous flaws in the background assumptions of philosophers. There is great value to philosophy in well-informed Darwinian thinking, not the least of which is a proper theory of the origin of intentionality, of which I take "Evolution, Error and Intentionality" to provide a sound sketch.

My claims about "reading Mother Nature's mind" have been expanded and further defended in "The Interpretation of Texts, People, and Other Artifacts," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 50, Supplement, 177-94, Fall 1990, and a different aspect of my defense of Dawkins' evolutionary perspective is found in "Memes and the Exploitation of Imagination," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 48, 127-35, Spring 1990, and some of the ideas in these essays were also presented in my 1991 book, Consciousness Explained (Boston: Little Brown).

I have also written several essays pursuing my disagreements with Dretske first adumbrated in this essay. "Ways of Establishing Harmony," first appeared in B. McLaughlin, ed., Dretske and His Critics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1990, and was reprinted (slightly revised), in E. Villanueva, ed., Information, Semantics, and Epistemology, Oxford: Blackwell 1990. a follow-up article, incorporating material from these but adding further arguments and reflections is "La Compréhension Artisanale," (a French translation of "Do-It-Yourself Understanding"), in D. Fisette, ed., Daniel C. Dennett et les Stratégies Intentionnelles, Lekton, 11, Winter, Université de Québec à Montréal, Montréal 1992. The English version is available from the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts as a preprint (1990-4).