The Intentional Stance: Preface
Dennett (Daniel)
Source: Dennett - The Intentional Stance
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  1. The theory of intentionality presented in this book has been gradually evolving over about twenty years. While the central ideas found rudimentary expression in "Dennett (Daniel) - Content and Consciousness: An Analysis of Mental Phenomena" in 1969, it was the publication in 1971 of "Dennett (Daniel) - Intentional Systems" that initiated the series of articles about what I call the intentional stance and the objects one discovers from that stance: intentional systems. The first three of these articles:-
    1. "Dennett (Daniel) - Intentional Systems" (1971),
    2. "Dennett (Daniel) - Mechanism and Responsibility" (1973), and
    3. "Dennett (Daniel) - A Cure for the Common Code?" (1976)
    were reprinted in "Dennett (Daniel) - Brainstorms - Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology" in 1978, and critics and students often treat that book as the canonical, target expression of my view. I soon found, however, that the defense of my position was evolving further in response to criticism, and so I was driven to compose a series of post-Brainstorms essays in which I attempted to revise, re-express, and extend my view.
  2. Most of these essays were scattered, however, in relatively inaccessible volumes, thanks to the inexorable effect of Limelight Gravity: as one's ideas become a Center of Attention, one is invited to contribute to more and more conferences, which proceed to suck one's entire corpus into delayed publication in conference proceedings and special-interest anthologies. Nothing is left over to submit to refereed journals, for ready reading. The point of this book is to overcome the bad side effects of that otherwise gratifying diffusion.
  3. Six of those scattered essays are reprinted in this volume (chapters 2-7), introduced by an essay1 on their aspirations and methodological presuppositions, tied together with reflections2, and followed by two new essays (chapters 8 and 9), in which the themes and arguments of the preceding chapters converge on some rather surprising claims about the relationship between evolution3, brain design, and intentionality. Chapter 10 is my attempt to adopt the stance of an impartial observer toward my own work and describe its place in the development of current thinking about "the intentionality of mental states."
  4. This book does not present my whole view of the mind, but only, one might say, the first half: content. The other half — consciousness — is also in need of a second retelling (part three of Brainstorms was the first), but that will require another volume, to which I am currently devoting my attention. Consciousness is regularly regarded, especially by people outside the field of philosophy, as the outstanding (and utterly baffling) challenge to materialist theories of the mind. And yet, curiously enough, most of the major participants in the debates about mental content to which this volume is primarily addressed have been conspicuously silent on the topic of consciousness. No theory, or even theory-sketch, of consciousness is to be found in the writings of Fodor, Putnam, Davidson, Stich, Harman, Dretske, or Burge, for instance. I, on the other hand, do have a theory of consciousness (and have always had difficulty understanding how the others can suppose they may ignore or postpone the issue), but its latest version is too unwieldy for inclusion in this volume.
  5. Anyone impatient to see how the new version of this second half of my theory of the mind comes out can extrapolate (at my own risk) from the ideas expressed in such published and forthcoming essays as:-
  6. Another challenge, also popularly deemed insurmountable by materialistic theories of the mind, is the problem of free will. I have devoted a separate book to that challenge, "Dennett (Daniel) - Elbow Room - The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting", so the topic will scarcely be mentioned again in these pages. If there are other major challenges to my view, they have not yet been drawn to my attention.
  7. Since the previously published essays in this volume appeared over a five-year span, punctuated by their share of controversy, misconstrual, and amendment, it is no wonder that few have been able to discern the resulting equilibrium position. I have sometimes been described, in fact, as presenting a moving target to my critics. There is some truth to this. I have been ready to learn from my mistakes and willing to retract ill-considered claims. Motion is relative, however, and when something appears to an observer to be protean and wandering, it may be because the observer is only gradually coming to discern the shape it has had all along. Recently I was congratulated by a neuroscientist for "coming around" to a view I have unswervingly maintained since "Dennett (Daniel) - Content and Consciousness: An Analysis of Mental Phenomena" in 1969, a sobering experience that has led me to reassess my expository strategy over the years. Rereading that book, now in paperback after being out of print for some years, I am struck more by my doctrinal constancy than by my developments. Most of the changes seem to me to be extensions, extrapolations, and further arguments, not shifts. Be that as it may, I have probably seriously underestimated the potential for misdirection in my playful and unsystematic style. In this book I do my best, therefore, to come to a halt, draw my wagons into a circle, and present and defend my considered view in a more orderly fashion.
  8. Some of the previously unpublished parts of this book are drawn from … I am also grateful to many people for advice and criticism on earlier drafts of the unpublished material in this volume: especially …



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: This must be Chapter 1 ("Dennett (Daniel) - Setting Off on the Right Foot").

Footnote 2: These are substantial works, so I’ve noted them separately.


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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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