Elbow Room

Philosophy 157
September 22, 2011
Elbow Room Essay
In “Elbow Room” the author Daniel Dennett believes that it is impossible and unrealistic to have a legitimate introspective litmus test that can state the reasoning behind human action because human beings, unlike the ‘Sphex’ are capable of learning from their actions and then proceeding with knowledge from these actions. As argued similarly in the “Williams Dialogue”, this process of interpreting an action, digesting the results of it, and then applying this new knowledge to proceeding actions in life is the conscious of human beings at work. The challenge of deciding on an action and the formal thought process between whether to apply previous actions to a situation or to act off of natural instinct is considered to be “deliberation.” Similarly to the argument between Fred and Dan in the “Williams Dialogue” of whether or not these deliberations are actual conscious choices and actions, Dennett argues that the difference between human beings and their actions and the actions of the wasp or ‘Sphex’ is that human beings are conscious of their actions and use deliberation to decide upon whether to act or not. This difference is the foundation for his argument against an introspective litmus test.
Desires and beliefs, according to Dennett are the core of our reasoning and the validity behind the lack of need for an introspective litmus test. “When we become conscious of our reasoning we recognize them, (unlike Sphex, who merely behaves as if she recognizes her reasons)” (p.36). From the realization that human beings have beliefs and desires and reasoning for them stems the differences between us and the Sphex who simply behaves in situations she was programmed to. Our conscious decisions to recognize reasoning are what make us different and makes the introspective litmus test invalid.
The conceptual idea that we as human beings are conscious about our beliefs and desires, and therefore make decisions based on...