Top critical review
24 people found this helpful
Dennett's "greatest hits" rather than a "how to" book.
on 1 May 2014
While it's presented as a book of "tools for thinking", it would be more accurately described as a Daniel Dennett reader. He does present some basic heuristics for critically appraising other people's arguments in the first chapter. Most are fairly basic and there are not that many surprises, but it's worthwhile. In later chapters, he then goes on himself to commit many of the intellectual crimes tells you to watch out for. Lots of "piling it on" and "rathering", to use his terms.
The main "thinking tool" is to make very broad and detailed analogies. He has a go at explaining just about everything in terms of his own particular flavour of Darwinism, and then another go by relating everything to computers. There are some interesting subjects and some interesting approaches to them, as well as some of the more tedious old philosophical favourites. Such as: if you come across a thing which looks and responds in every way exactly like a human, and there is not empirical test which you can perform which will elicit any response which is not entirely consistent with it being human, is it necessarily a human or could it be zombie with no inner life?
The level of the material jumps about quite a lot too. At one point he's giving you simple tips like "watch out when somebody says 'surely' - are they trying to present a contentious or difficult argument as something you should just accept", while elsewhere he goes off on a lengthy and detailed discussion on how to use register machines to work on problems in formal logic.
The tone throughout is very much that of polemic, and although in many cases I agree with the points he tries to make, I frequently found his manner of making them both irritating and lacking in rigour. On the other hand, he manages to convey his enthusiasm for his subject very well, and is intermittently quite funny.