Dan Kaplan pointed me at Wright's response to Dennett's complaint about his piece in Beliefnet. I don't see that Wright gets himself off the hook. Leaving aside the validity of the argument, the ethics just stink. To reduce it to bare bones:
- Dennett said A and B
- Later on, Dennett said C
- After the interview, Wright concludes that C can be interpreted as if A then not B
- Wright therefore concludes, and announces to the world, that Dennett believes not B
Now before taking this last step, a reasonable person would have noted that this conclusion meant that Dennett had claimed B and not B. Moreover, all of Dennett's previous statements had been consistent with B. There seem to be three possibilities:
- Dennett believes both B and not B.
- Dennett has changed his mind and now believes not B.
- Dennett still believes B; there is an error somewhere in the chain of reasoning - an equivocation, or a misunderstanding, or a subtle ambiguity.
Common sense suggests that the last of these is the most likely: in spoken (as opposed to written) discussion, such miscommunication occurs quite often. It certainly is more likely than someone changing a deeply-held belief.
So what does Wright do? Does he contact Dennett to double-check what was said and the conclusion that he's drawn, or does he publish without checking? The first approach is most likely to lead to a true reporting of the exchange. The second has the better "Gotcha!" potential, even though it's likely to lead to an acrimonious follow-up. (Like this.)
Maybe Wright got carried away, and thought this was a political debate in which zingers were more important than getting at the truth. That would seem to be a lousy way to practice philosophy.
UPDATE:I think I understand why Wright might have behaved in this way. If you watch the whole interview between Dennett and Wright, from about 30:00 through 45:00, you can see Dennett absolutely destroying Wright's incoherent notion of epiphenomenalism. (I guess I should commend Wright for being honest enough to publish the interview even though he comes off so badly in it, trying to "defend indefensible positions" as he put it, but I can't imagine that he was happy.)Posted by geoff2 at October 8, 2004 03:17 PM