Over at leiter reports, they're debating the merits of philosophical specialization. There have been a flurry of posts on related subjects in the past few weeks, actually, so one might have a good time perusing the archives. One thing that caught my eye was the requisite mention of contemporary philosophers who have had roles as public intellectuals (the good guys that is, no evil ones like Derrida and only half credit for Habermas as a chaotic neutral). One fellow mentions Dennett and Nussbaum. I think Dennett is interesting, because his work bifurcates. The work of Dennett's that I find most interesting is exactly the stuff that hasn't become popular-The Intentional Stance and Consciousness Explained (I take the bestseller status of Consciousness Explained to be a weird anomaly--this is not a public intellectual's work). What has given him a place in the public culture are his books on Free Will and Evolution/Memes/Religion. I wish I'd paid more attention to these so that I could comment, but I'm sceptical whether this represents an important part of his philosophical thought. One claim that I've heard is that Dennett has given up philosophy for the limelight, and I think this might be the commonplace attitude.
This is all so much hand-waving. It's also not meant to be mean to Dennett-he's one of my philosophical heros. But I'd be less than shocked if it turned out that his serious work and the rest of it just split right down the middle.