Persons, Virtual Persons, and Radical Interpretation

Modern Horizons:1-24 (2015)
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A dramatic problem facing the concept of the self is whether there is anything to make sense of. Despite the speculative view that there is an essential role for the perceiver in measurement, a physicalist view of reality currently seems to be ruling out the conditions of subjectivity required to keep the concept of the self. Eliminative materialism states this position explicitly. The doctrine holds that we have no objective grounds for attributing personhood to anyone, and can therefore dispense with the concept. That implication would require us to dispense with many of the most basic commitments of our manifest or common sense image of the world. And it would require us to abandon, to maintain as an act of bad faith, or radically to adjust, virtually every significant basic commitment underlying the variety of traditions that have evolved historically from the (natural) platform of common sense. Daniel Dennett’s sympathies seem to be divided over this issue. He is reluctant to eliminate the most fundamental linguistic-conceptual-institutional commitments that have evolved from common sense. Yet, I will argue, the basis of his support for these, beneath the surface of his rhetoric, is a mirage. His view of persons and related (intentional) concepts is a case in point. In place of the eliminative materialist position, Dennett recommends that we regard the self as a highly useful “theorist’s fiction.” He adopts a similar epistemic stance toward intention, belief, mind, and so on. In this paper I aim to show that Dennett’s recommendation is based on a subtle version of the dualism of subject and object (or scheme and content), which he seems to agree that we should transcend. Against Dennett’s view of the self as a “theorist’s fiction,” I argue in favour of a version of Donald Davidson’s realist thesis that, once we properly appreciate the significance of abandoning this pervasive dualism, we can maintain the self and associated intentional items – belief, mind, and so on – within a thoroughly realist ontology.

Author's Profile

Michael Bourke
British Columbia Institute of Technology


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