Daniel Dennett

By: Chase Taylor

Born in 1942 in Boston, Massachusetts, Daniel Dennett is a philosopher, writer, and scientist who has generally focused on the philosophy behind the mind and cognitive science as well as biology. He is also an avid and outspoken atheist and secularist, going as far as the be considered one of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism.”

Dennett’s interest in philosophy as well as his drive for knowledge began at a young age. He attended one of the most prestigious boarding schools in New England and then moved on to Wesleyan University for a year before graduating from Harvard University with of Bachelor of the Arts in philosophy in 1963. Only a few years later in 1965, Dennett received a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Oxford where he was a student under Gilbert Ryle; a well known philosopher and behaviorist.

The majority of Dennett’s work has centered around the mind and the body as well as cognitive science. He also has touched on topics such as religion, free will, evolution, and has even brought in artificial intelligence to help explain his ideas as early as the 1970’s. In one of his earlier works, Brainstorms, he discussed free will and produced an early description of a “two way model” of decision-making which was later adopted by several other philosophers.

However, the area that Dennett is perhaps most known for is his work in the secular sphere of philosophy. Dennett is an outspoken atheist and has completed several books as well as interviews to communicate his points. He also attributes religion to much of

humanity’s decision making and livelihood. In one of his more popular works, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life, Dennett states “There are no forces on this planet more dangerous to all of us than the fantacisms of fundamentalism.”[1] This basically states that humanity's greatest threat is adhering to strict codes put upon itself that suppress free will or thought. Humanity has consistently gotten swept up by a strong message or leader and been led to do terrible and self destructive things. Within the same book, Dennett grows even more combative of religious beliefs by going as far as to say that those who don’t believe in evolution are “simply ignorant - inexcusably ignorant, in a world where three out of four people have learned to read and write.” [2] Dennett has pointed to religion to explain much of societal “sheeping” or lack of free thought which has granted him a lot of attention. Dennett has continued to work on expressing his thoughts and proposals for the last several decades but has recently spent his time as a lecturer and an author for opinionated pieces in the media. In 2009, he wrote an article for The Guardian where he stated that we “no more need to preserve the myth of God in order to preserve a just and stable society than we needed to cling to the gold standard to keep our currency sound. It was a useful crutch, but we’ve outgrown it.” [3]

Dennett’s work has been highly celebrated throughout the philosophical community. The list of Dennett's achievements and accolades are extensive. He is the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fullbright Fellowship, and was a Humanist Laurette at the International Academy of Humanism in addition to being named Humanist of the Year in 2004 by the American Humanist Association. Recently, in 2012 he received the Erasmus Prize for an exceptional contribution to European Social Science. Dennett is also a member of the Rutherford Journal editorial board and the advisory board for the Secular Coalition of America.


Source: tufts.edu


[1] Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. 1995.

[2] Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. 1995.

[3] Dennett, Daniel. "The Folly of Pretence | Daniel Dennett." The Guardian. July 16, 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/jul/16/daniel-dennett-belief-atheism.

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