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Matt DeStefano

I enjoyed Dennett's qualified Faustian bargain for scientists who shake their heads at philosophers who choose (2) quite a bit: "Would you trade being first and right for being original and provocative?"

His example for "first and right" is Crick and Watson, who Dennett argues that if they hadn't won the race - Linus Pauling or others would have done so soon. His example for the second, original and provocative, is Cartesian dualism about the mind, or Lamarckian theories of evolution.

Personally, I'd rather be right than be widely read. I don't share the same adoration for complex, grandiose theories that many other philosophers seem to have. I can appreciate the brilliance and imagination that comes with such work, but I'm also worried that philosophers tend to fetishize originality and uniqueness to a damaging extent.


I agree that (1) is a mirage. There is no such thing as a conclusive solution to a philosophical problem. The problems of philosophy are a priori problems, and as such they have no conclusive solutions. Ask yourself, what would justify someone claiming to have once and for all solved a philosophical problem? Would a mere head count suffice? Is it enough that all the other philosophers agreed with their conclusion? Or are we supposed to imagine a metaphysical or logical space of solutions that only one of the possible solutions is the correct one, and solving the problem means that you've hit on the one correct solution? It seems that Dennett has the latter in mind, but surely there is no way to prove to everyone's satisfaction that you'd settled on the one true solution. Not at least without granting everyone the ability to scan the space of metaphysical and logic possibility so that they could recognize the solution when they saw it. And of course if we granted everyone that sort of perception, philosophy as we know and conceive of it would cease to exist. All that would remain would be a sort of topographical project of mapping out the metaphysical/logical space.

So, I suppose what I am saying is that there is no way to solve a philosophical problem without changing the very conditions that make philosophy possible in the first place. We can only argue about things if it is possible to to take different positions w.r.t. how things are.

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