Dennett, Daniel C. -- Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

This introduces itself as a collection of tricks and tips for philosophical reasoning. What is an essay papering over a gap? What makes a good thought experiment? When faced with one of the classic philosopher's parables (the Chinese Room, the Duplicating Teleporter) how do you figure out whether it's leading your intuition in a useful direction or only distracting you from the point?

(Some of these tips are nifty examples of "turning the knobs" on thought experiments, creating variants with different intuitive consequences. Others are simple rules of thumb: if a philosopher uses "surely" or "arguably" in a sentence, watch out!)

After the introductory bits, Dennett starts applying these arguments to his standard topics: evolution, free will, and consciousness. He's still exercising arguments to see how well they stand up, but he's doing it as part of a pocket tour of these pet topics. Which is fine; there's been a lot of back-and-forth in the field since I read Godel Escher Bach and it's good to keep up to date.

Inevitably, there's a lot of "my thought experiments are interesting and my opponents' are broken". Dennett tries not to be a jerk about this -- he prefers to poke holes in his critics' certainties without claiming to be certain about his own beliefs -- but these are his topics, and he's opinionated. (Interest: I agree with Dennett's opinions about all this stuff.) For what it's worth, he's also assiduous about referencing both sides of each debate.

I found the thing extremely readable. The book is organized in lots of tiny chapters, each focussing on one point or example of argument. If Dennett's previous books on consciousness and evolution seemed like unscalable walls of text, I'd recommend trying this one. If you're already a Dennett fan, this book will be a quick read with a few interesting updates on the familiar arguments.

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