Monday, April 25, 2011

Dennett's Kinds of Things—Towards a Bestiary of the Manifest Image

Kinds of Things—Towards a Bestiary of the Manifest Image

Daniel C. Dennett final draft for SCIENTIFIC PHILOSOPHY AND METAPHYSICS. Edited by Don Ross, James Ladyman & Harold Kincaid. Oxford U.P. March 25, 2011

The main goal in the rest of this paper is simply to draw attention to the riotous assembly of candidate things that we find in the manifest image. Wilfrid Sellars (1963) “discovered” the manifest image much the way Columbus discovered the western hemisphere, but he, like Columbus, was more the explorer than the systematic cartographer, and, as just noted, our Mercator has yet to appear. But what about a Linnaeus, a systematic taxonomist of all the things we find in this new, if all too familiar, world? Ontology, it seems to me, has been resolutely reductive and minimalist in its attempts to come up with an exhaustive list of kingdoms, classes, genera and species of things. No doubt the motivation has been the right one: to prepare the disheveled cornucopia for scientific accounting, with everything put ultimately in terms of atoms and the void, space-time points, or (by somewhat different reductive trajectories) substances and universals, events and properties and relations, As is well known, these procrustean beds provide metaphysicians with no end of difficult challenges, trying to fit all the candidates into one austere collection of pigeonholes or another. Where do we put numbers, or melodies, or ideas, for instance? Do numbers even exist, and are there different kinds of existence? Instead of attempting any answers of my own to these oft-asked questions of systematic taxonomy, I am going to push, informally, in the opposite direction, like the bestiarists of yore, recounting with as much ontological tolerance as I can, a few of the neglected candidates for thinghood that everyday folks have no trouble countenancing in their casual ontologies. Metaphysics as folklore studies, you might say.


  1. This is great! His suggestions are excellent (as always, almost).

  2. This is excellent, salutary stuff. But now I am wondering about qualia. Obviously, Dan would say they have no place in the scientific image. But are they healthy, robust inhabitants of the manifest image, like colours and sounds and pains (understood as properties of objects)? Or are they sickly offspring of the philosophical mind, which thrive in neither realm? I *think* Dan would say the latter (it's what I would say), but I'm not sure.

  3. Hi Keith. That's a very interesting question that I've actually been thinking a quite a bit about lately. I'm working on a paper that addresses this for a volume commemorating the publication of Dennett's Content and Consciousness, and I'll likely have much more to say later. But for now, I'm inclined to say that, for Dennett, (and I'm tempted to the view myself, especially given how rich and famous it will make me!) qualia are kind of philosophical posit and far too strange to count among the manifest.

    One curious thing about these posits is that among their posited features is that they aren't posited, but are instead obvious aspects of our experience, easily revealed to relatively untutored introspection.

    The closest thing to qualia you'll find in the manifest image are appearances and experiences, neither of which are contested by combatants in the qualia wars.

  4. Hi Pete. Yes, that seems right as an account of what Dennett would say (which for me is pretty much co-extensional with the truth). He says (I'm paraphrasing) that the notion of qualia was invented to find a home for colours (etc), once science had banished them from the external world -- which suggests that it's colours that belong in the manifest image, not qualia.

    I'll look forward to seeing your paper.

  5. That sounds right. While I don't have specific references at my fingertips, I think Dennett is quite sympathetic to the Sellarsian Myth of Jones that would count sense impressions (and their qualities) among our theoretical posits.