Is design relative or real? Dennett on intentional relativism and physical realism

Minds and Machines 10 (2):267-83 (2000)
Dennett's intended rapprochement between physical realism and intentional relativism fails because it is premised upon conflicting arguments governing the status of design. Indeed, Dennett's remarks on design serve to highlight tensions buried deep within his theory. For inasmuch as Dennett succeeds in objectifying attributions of design, attributions of intentionality readily follow suit, leading to a form of intentional realism. But inasmuch as Dennett is successful in relativizing attributions of design, scientific realism at large is subject to renewed anti-realistic criticism. Dennettian-inspired considerations of adaptationism substantiate the former move towards intentional realism, while considerations of the relativity of artifactual design encourage the latter move towards physical relativism. The ambivalence intrinsic to Dennett's ``mild realism'' can be viewed as a function of these two conflicting positions on design, for Dennett can no more avoid objectifying intentionality when he is realistic about design than he can avoid relativizing physical causality when relativistic about design
Keywords Design  Intentionality  Realism  Relativism  Science  Dennett, D
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DOI 10.1023/A:1008356914711
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