Daniel Dennett: Philosophy as the Las Vegas of Rational Inquiry

Daniel Dennett in Free Inquiry:

Daniel-DennettPhilosophy is always going to be the default home of non-naturalists and anti-naturalists. Since no other discipline will take them seriously, they gravitate to philosophy and find each other. Anti-naturalism is like the tide; you can try to beat it back but another wave will arrive with each new crop of thinkers. And each generation tries to find a flaw in naturalism and raises one banner or another before retiring, literally, in defeat with honor.

I view this the same way I view Las Vegas: it’s actually a very “green” installation, like the red light district in Amsterdam: every society has a subpopulation that loves trashy, glittery entertainment, porn, gambling, . . .and it would be foolish to despoil some beautiful area with it. Plunk it in the middle of some otherwise irredeemably inhospitable and infertile desert, concentrate the glitz and sleaze in one place where it can be indulged in with a minimal impact on the rest of the world. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas! It can be policed efficiently, so that most of the “evil” is just make-believe evil, carnival evil.

So I see philosophy as the Las Vegas of rational inquiry, where every ism is permitted to be promulgated, where outrageous doctrines are “taken seriously” (well, taken sorta seriously), and in general, nobody gets hurt, because, hey, it’s philosophy, and who takes that seriously? What happens in philosophy stays in philosophy, by and large, and a good thing it is, too.

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