Thursday, June 3, 2010

153 / Dennett

Here is one more good quote from Freedom Evolves, a book written by the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett and published in 2003. Dennett is explaining the work of Allan Gibbard, a philosopher specializing in ethical theory:

"Engineers, like politicians, are concerned with the art of the possible, and this requires us, above all, to think realistically about what people actually are, and how they got that way. Exercises in ethical theorizing that refuse to bow to the empirical facts about the human predicament are bound to generate fantasies that may have some aesthetic interest but ought not to be taken seriously as practical recommendations. Like everything else evolution has created, we're a somewhat opportunistically contrived bag of tricks, and our morality should be based on that realization. Philosophers have often attempted to establish a hyper-pure, ultra-rational morality untainted by "sympathy" (Kant) or "instinct," by animal dispositions or passions or emotions at all. Gibbard looks pragmatically at what we have to work with and proposes to do, as an engineer, what Mother Nature has always done: work with what you have."
I particularly liked the comparison of engineers to politicians, since (as someone who self-identifies as a "politician," I'd never have made that correlation myself).

Maybe I wouldn't have considered "engineers" to be similar to "politicians" because while I definitely agree that you have to "work with what you have" in politics, the nature of a genuine politics is not "limited" by the possible, but in fact is the art of expanding our appreciation of what we can do, and what realities we can create. In the realm of "politics," that "political world" we most immediately inhabit, what is "possible" is not defined by what we assume to be the case, but by what we can create ourselves.

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