Note on the Clayton/ Dennett debate

The debate between Philip Clayton and Dan Dennett has two parts: the second, which is far too painful for anyone to watch, begins with Dennett’s claim that, in effect, scientists are critical of establishment science while religious persons are not critical of establishment religion. That he could say this to Philip Clayton without the latter falling out of his chair was embarrassing enough (Clayton’s critique of establishment religion and his desire for religious revolution make Luther look as Catholic as the pope).

The first part of the debate was more interesting. In it Dennett concludes to the idea that non-naturalist accounts of truth and intention  invoke “spook stuff” or “ectoplasm” or “mind stuff”. Tendentious, to be sure, but there is an element worth paying attention to. Truth or falsity, intention, or even objectivity are not explained by positing some additional object or determination of an object. One cannot appeal to an object as given to account for why there are objects, which is why neither the animal nor intellectual soul explain intellection in the mode of a scientific or causal explanation. Soul does not explain objects the way that energy explains motion or a thief explains why there is no bike in your garage. The intellectual soul is a condition for the possibility of objects;  Kant, in fact, can be read as taking this as the very reason why we can say nothing objective about the soul, and irrespective of what we think of this, without some critique of what “object” means we end up thinking of the soul as ecoplasm or spook stuff. Knowledge of soul requires a different mode of knowledge than the objective mode modeled on the relation of a sense organ to an object: it requires a reflexive action that is impossible for a sense organ.

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