Daniel C. Dennett is the author of Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, Breaking the Spell, Freedom Evolves, and Darwin's Dangerous Idea and is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He lives with his wife in North Andover, Massachusetts, and has a daughter, a son, and a grandson. He was born in Boston in 1942, the son of a historian by the same name, and received his B.A. in philosophy from Harvard in 1963. He then went to Oxford to work with Gilbert Ryle, under whose supervision he completed the D.Phil. in philosophy in 1965. He taught at U.C. Irvine from 1965 to 1971, when he moved to Tufts, where he has taught ever since, aside from periods visiting at Harvard, Pittsburgh, Oxford, and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.
His first book, Content and Consciousness, appeared in 1969, followed by Brainstorms (1978), Elbow Room (1984), The Intentional Stance (1987), Consciousness Explained (1991), Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), Kinds of Minds (1996), and Brainchildren: A Collection of Essays 1984-1996. Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness, was published in 2005. He co-edited The Mind's I with Douglas Hofstadter in 1981 and he is the author of over three hundred scholarly articles on various aspects on the mind, published in journals ranging from Artificial Intelligence and Behavioral and Brain Sciences to Poetics Today and the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.
Dennett gave the John Locke Lectures at Oxford in 1983, the Gavin David Young Lectures at Adelaide, Australia, in 1985, and the Tanner Lecture at Michigan in 1986, among many others. He has received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987.
He was the Co-founder (in 1985) and Co-director of the Curricular Software Studio at Tufts, and has helped to design museum exhibits on computers for the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Science in Boston, and the Computer Museum in Boston.
Question: Are human beings becoming more rational?
Daniel Dennett: We’re all pretty rational. It’s quite a robust thinking system that we’ve got between our ears. But what’s going to happen, and has been happening for several millennia now, is we’re going to develop more and better thinking tools and we’re going to identify more weakness in our rationality. And a weakness identified is at least something that can be avoided to some degree, we can learn work-arounds, we can recognize that we’re suckers for certain sorts of bad ideas and alerted to that we can, we can flag them when they come up.
I think that process of self-knowledge and self-purification, of reasoning processes, will continue slowly to develop. So it’s not so much, although it might include the development of actual software technology to help us think, that’s part of it, as we all know, but also just the self-knowledge that alerts us to foibles, blind spots in our own thinking. We probably can’t repair them with any technology. We might not want to repair them. The cost might be too great; might stunt us in some other way. But at least we can nail them.
And of course that idea is an ancient idea that goes way back to Socrates--know thy self. That’s Socratic injunction; even following it for several millennia with good results.
Recorded on: March 6, 2009.
It’s the sort of general purpose crowbar of rational argument where you take your opponent's premises and deduce something absurd from them.