Dennett vs. Papineau on Consciousness
Eliane Mitchell

16 August 2017

Both David Papineau and Dan Dennett are famed materialists (the doctrine that consciousness can be fully explained by material and neuronal functions), so why did Papineau give Dennett's book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, a critical review?

As this account of the debate by Tim Crane explains, Papineau raises two primary concerns with Dennett's book. First, he argues that Dennett fails to sufficiently distinguish between comprehension in humans and animals; and second, Papineau rejects Dennett's assertion that consciousness is a kind of illusion ("illusionism").

While Dennett maintains that consciousness arises from language—that is, "our use of language demands that we keep track of our own thoughts" in Papineau's words—Papineau still insists that Dennett, in neglecting to address the question of animal consciousness, fails to argue why we mistake our conscious thoughts as having a "reality beyond the material realm" sufficiently. In turn, Papineau invites Dennett to abandon his idiosyncratic beliefs as expressed in his book, and join the materialist mainstream.

The correspondence between these two pundits is long but engaging, offering interesting insight into how philosophers think about consciousness today. Check out the debate here:



Comments (2)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, August 18, 2017 -- 8:14 AM

I love these guys! When one

I love these guys! When one of them writes something well-reasoned and obviously well-researched, others come along and play crabs-in-a-bucket. Yes, I know criticism goes with being published---especially in academia. Still, one wonders: when will we ever learn that not all of us have that emotional need to find fault with all the rest. I liked the book, but, heck, over the years I have even liked Stephen Jay Gould; Richard Dawkins; Steven Hawking; Roger Penrose; Sam Harris; Christopher Hitchens, etc., etc. It is all great fun. Isn't it?

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