Minds, Brains and Tools
The selected texts for this discussion were two recent pieces by Dennett (“Things About Things” and “Making Tools for Thinking” – henceforth TAT and MTT respectively) and one oldie-but-goodie (“Styles of Mental Representation”, henceforth SMR). What was most striking, to me, was the way these three small texts seemed to fit together and, collectively, to greatly illuminate the shape of Dennett’s whole corpus, from the work on stances all the way to the work on consciousness and personhood. I found this kind of exhilarating, and I hope my enthusiasm – tempered though it is by a few doubts and worries – shows through: I had a ball. Here’s how I plan to proceed. I’ll start by presenting what I take to be Dennett’s position. I will do this, however, in the most blatant, outrageous and caveat-free way possible, as I want to home in fast on some key issues (I am also keen to see if Dennett can endorse these deliberately provocative formulations). I then raise a somewhat obscure question, but one that is, I think, ultimately important and revealing: the question is “Could it really be mind-tools all the way down?”. Having tried to answer in the affirmative, I turn to the issues concerning aboutness and internal representations, and explore the relations between Dennett’s emphasis on skills and tools and his rejection of certain ideas about contents and vehicles. In the final section I offer a tentative illustration of the big picture, using recent work on numerical cognition as a concrete case-study. There is a brief conclusion rehearsing four outstanding questions for the tool-based vision of mind.