Dennett, Daniel C. 1942- (Daniel Clement Dennett)

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Dennett, Daniel C. 1942- (Daniel Clement Dennett)


Born March 28, 1942, in Boston, MA; son of Daniel Clement, Jr. (a historian and diplomat) and Ruth Marjorie (an editor and teacher) Dennett; married Susan Elizabeth Bell, June 8, 1962; children: Andrea Elizabeth, Peter Nathaniel. Education: Harvard University, B.A. (cum laude), 1963; Oxford University, D.Phil., 1965. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Sculpture, farming, sailing, scuba diving.


Home—North Andover, MA. Office—Center for Cognitive Studies, 11 Miner Hall, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155; fax: 617-627-3952. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, philosopher, and educator. Oxford College of Technology, Oxford, England, lecturer in philosophy, 1964-65; University of California, Irvine, assistant professor, 1965-70, associate professor of philosophy, 1970-71; Tufts University, Medford, MA, associate professor, 1971-75, professor of philosophy, 1975-85, head of philosophy department, 1976-82, director of Center for Cognitive Studies, 1985—, cofounder and codirector, curricular software studio, 1985-89, Distinguished Arts and Sciences Professor, 1985-2000, University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, 2000—; London School of Economics, Leverhulme Professor, Department of Philosophy and History of Science, 2001. Visiting professor or fellow at universities, including Tufts University, 1968, Harvard University, 1973, All Souls College, Oxford, 1979, Center for Advanced Research in the Behavioral Sciences, 1979-80, and Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris, France, 1985; Taft Lecturer, University of Cincinnati, 1970; Luce Distinguished Lecturer in Cognitive Science, University of Rochester, 1979; Herbert Spencer Lecturer, Oxford University, 1979; Princeton University Annual Philosophy Lecturer, 1980; Sloan Visiting Scientist Lecturer, Department of Computer Science, Yale University, 1980; John Locke Lecturer, Oxford University, 1983; Gavin David Young Lecturer, Adelaide, Australia, 1985; Gramlich Memorial Lecturer, Philosophy Department, Dartmouth College, 1985; John Dewey Lecturer, University of Vermont, 1986; Tanner Lecturer, University of Michigan, 1986; Mandel Lecturer, American Society for Aesthetics, 1989; Darwin Lecturer, Darwin College, Cambridge, England, 1992; Amnesty Lecturer, Oxford University, 1997; Benjamin and Anne A. Pinkel Endowed Lecturer, University of Pennsylvania, 1998; Jean Nicod Lecturer, Institut Nicod, Paris, France, 2001; Daewoo Lecturer, Seoul, South Korea, 2002; Petrus Hispanus Lecturer, Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal, 2004; and lecturer at numerous other universities in the United States, Europe, and Australia. Writer-in-residence, Bellagio Study and Conference Center, Bellagio, Italy, 1990. Appeared as himself or as a guest in several television and video productions, including A Victim of the Brain,, 1988, A Glorious Accident, 1993, Sentient Machines: Robotic Behavior, 2004, and The Hard Problem: The Science Behind the Fiction, 2004.


American Academy of Arts and Sciences (elected, 1987), Academia Scientiarum et Artum Europaea, American Association for Artificial Intelligence, American Association of University Professors, American Philosophical Association (president, 1999-2000), Cognitive Science Society, Council for Philosophical Studies, Memory Disorder Society, Society for Philosophy and Psychology (president, 1980-81), Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club.


Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, 1963 (declined); Guggenheim Fellowship, 1973-74 (declined) and 1986-87; Santayana Fellowship, Harvard University, 1974; National Endowment for the Humanities Younger Humanist Fellowship, 1974; Fulbright Research Fellowship, 1978; Visiting Fellowship, All Souls College, Oxford, 1979; National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellowship, 1979; Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences fellow, 1979-80; Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung, Bielefeld, Germany, 1990; Visiting Erskine Fellow, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, 1995; Distinguished Fellow, Center of the Mind, Institute for Advanced Study, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, 1998; Collegium Budapest fellow, 2002; Bertrand Russell Society Award, 2004; Barwise Prize, APA, 2004; Humanist of the Year, Humanist, 2004; Pulitzer Prize nomination and National Book Award finalist, both for Darwin's Dangerous Idea.



Content and Consciousness, Humanities Press (Atlantic Highlands, NJ), 1969, 2nd edition, Routledge & Kegan Paul (Boston, MA), 1986.

Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology, Bradford Books (Cambridge, MA), 1978.

(Editor, with Douglas R. Hofstadter) The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1981.

Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1984.

The Intentional Stance, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1987.

Consciousness Explained, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991.

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.

(With John R. Searle and David J. Chalmers) The Mystery of Consciousness, New York Review of Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds, 1984-1996 (collection of essays), MIT Press, (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

(Author of afterword) Richard Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Freedom Evolves, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.

Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to books, including The Robot's Dilemma Revisited: The Frame Problem in Artificial Intelligence, edited by K. Ford and Z. Pylyshyn, Ablex (Norwood, NJ), 1996; Hal's Legacy: 2001's Computer as Dream and Reality, edited by D. Stork, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997; MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998; The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2000 Years, edited by John Brockman, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000; The Foundations of Cognitive Science, edited by Joel Branquinho, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 2001; The Oxford Handbook of Free Will, edited by Robert Kane, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002; Evolution, From Molecules to Ecosystems, edited by Andres Moya and Enrique Font, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004; and Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist, edited by John Brockman, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to journals and periodicals, including Artificial Intelligence, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Mind & Language, Boston Review, Philosophical Books, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Current Anthropology, Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, Dualist, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Times Higher Education Supplement, Time, Cognition, Chronicle of Higher Education, Nature, Journal of Philosophy, Times Literary Supplement, and Poetics Today.

Associate editor, Behavioral and Brain Sciences and Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience; consulting editor, Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior; member of editorial board, Cognitive Science, Adaptive Behavior, Artificial Intelligence Review, Artificial Life, Behavior and Philosophy, Biology and Philosophy, Brain and Mind, Cognito, Consciousness and Cognition, Episteme, Evolutionary Psychology, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Perception, Philosophy & Phenomenological Research, and PHILO.


"When Daniel C. Dennett published Content and Consciousness in 1969," David Papineau commented in a Times Literary Supplement article, "most professional philosophers felt that a book containing so much about brain mechanisms could not really be a work of philosophy." Since that time, however, "the mind-brain relation has become a central philosophical issue," the critic explained. Dennett has investigated issues of mind and consciousness through several books, including The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul, which he edited with Douglas R. Hofstadter. Concerned with "the nuclear center of consciousness," as New York Times Book Review contributor William Barrett described it, The Mind's I assembles "a very wide-ranging collection of pieces that come at the matter from quite different points of view…. The tone of the pieces is exploratory, questioning and on the whole undogmatic."

Dennett's own work uses a similarly open-minded approach; in The Intentional Stance, for example, "his writing is peppered with references to artificial intelligence, computer science, ethology, and evolutionary biology," Papineau stated. In addition, Dennett's engaging style leads critics to praise his writing even though they may dispute his theories. Galen Strawson observed in a Times Literary Supplement review of Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting that "Dennett's fluent, informed, inventive, and often elegant defense … makes as good a case as can be made for [his] view." The author "has a gift for vivid and memorable examples," the critic continued, and Elbow Room is "stimulating and effective." As Papineau concluded, through his "interesting and influential" work, Dennett "has succeeded in persuading both philosophers and the practitioners of such allied sciences that they have much to learn from each other."

In Consciousness Explained, Dennett wrestles with questions about the link between mind and body. Applying a philosophy referred to as "materialism," Dennett holds that human experience and memory have a primarily physical basis. It rejects the idea that some sort of conduit—for instance, the pineal gland, as seventeenth-century French philosopher Rene Descartes would have it—transforms the physical into the mental. Strawson, writing again in the Times Literary Supplement, praised Consciousness Explained for the "lucidity and ingenuity with which it marshals and speculates about a great array of wonderful facts drawn mostly from neurophysiology and experimental psychology." Dennis O'Brien wrote in Commonweal that the book "is a sprightly, intelligent, fascinating attack on a philosophical hardy perennial." In the end, however, O'Brien did not believe that Dennett fulfills the title's promise. "It is difficult to know if [consciousness] has been explained if one is not sure what [consciousness] is," the reviewer commented.

Dennett constructs another complex argument in Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, this time taking aim at the revisionists who, he believes, indefensibly tamper with pure Darwinian theory of how the world and its inhabitants evolved. Darwinism's reach into every aspect of life is the "dangerous idea" of the title; Dennett calls it a "universal acid" that cuts through every traditional assumption. Dennett maintains that even developments that do not appear to fit into Darwin's concept of natural selection actually are outgrowths of this process, although he rejects the argument made by some Darwinians that human moral behavior has a purely genetic basis. Dennett's endorsement of Darwin's theory "does not deny the complexity of human culture, but seeks to comprehend how this complexity grew out of something far simpler," commented David Papineau in the New York Times Book Review. In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Roger Lewin termed Dennett's effort "a bold work," of great interest whether or not one accepts the author's views, but providing perhaps an excess of information. Jim Holt, writing for the Wall Street Journal, noted: "Mr. Dennett is a philosopher of rare originality, rigor and wit. Here he does one of the things philosophers are supposed to be good at: clearing up conceptual muddles in the sciences."

Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds, 1984-1996 draws together a number of Dennett's essays in the fields of cognitive science, cognitive ethology, and the philosophy of the mind. Some of these pieces were previously printed in publications relatively inaccessible to most readers, such as professional journals and the texts of conference proceedings. Many of these articles expand upon and defend Dennett's earlier books, in particular, perhaps his best-known volume, Consciousness Explained, or are critical responses to articles by other philosophers working in the same field. Through the book, Dennett analyzes the full spectrum of intelligence—human, animal and artificial. Dennett categorizes himself as a "philosopher with a long-standing interest in the nature of personhood and the self." Perhaps the most important of the included essays is "Real Patterns," a work that Dennett notes is utterly central to his own thinking. In it, he positions his own "mildly realistic" viewpoint of the ontology of beliefs, as well as other mind-related concepts, in relation to the views of Paul Churchland, Donald Davidson, Jerry Fodor, and Richard Rorty. "Speaking for Our Selves," which is perhaps less central to Dennett's belief system, but far more controversial in content—a work coauthored with psychologist Nicholas Humphrey—argues that Dennett's perception of the self quite readily accommodates the multiple personality disorder phenomenon, a concept that is still viewed by many practitioners as dubious. Other essays include "Artificial Life as Philosophy," "Can Machines Think," "The Unimagined Preposterousness of Zombies," and "Animal Consciousness: What Matters and Why." In addition to the essays, the book also includes a small number of commentaries, book reviews, forewords, and other assorted pieces.

Laurie Bartolini, writing in Library Journal, stated that Brainchildren "will appeal to a rather limited audience in academic circles" because much of its contents "may be inaccessible to readers unfamiliar with the rather specialized literature and academic dialog that has occurred over the past decade." On the other hand, a Publishers Weekly critic deemed that "any reader curious about the nuts and bolts of recent theories of mind and our attempts at modeling it will find even Dennett's technical side accessible enough" as "Dennett's careful attention to word choice and definition helps the uninitiated along, and reveals one of our most celebrated—and controversial—philosophers of mind at work."

"Among contemporary American philosophers, Daniel Dennett stands as the sharpest, cleverest, most stylish prober of how issues of human consciousness interconnect today with evolutionary theory," remarked Carlin Romano in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In his book Freedom Evolves, Dennett applies concepts of evolutionary development to one of humankind's most cherished notions of itself, the idea of individual free will. Dennett approaches the problem from a naturalistic perspective. He suggests that free will does not arise from metaphysical or spiritual origins, such as explained by a human soul, nor is it a preexisting condition as fixed as the physical laws of the universe. Instead, free will is the logical and inevitable result of biological evolution, and all related concepts, such as altruism, personal responsibility, morality, and culture, can be understood as evolutionary products. Further, Dennett structures his arguments to show that free will can even be compatible with determinism, the idea that our actions and fate are irreversibly set from the moment of our conception. Dennett's work "offers intellectual adventures, fascinating examples, and engaging writing," commented David L. Wilson in the Quarterly Review of Biology. He "retains a singular ability to write about issues in the philosophy of mind with literary verve that respects the nuances of brain-crunchers like causation, necessity and possibility," Romano stated. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Freedom Evolves an "incendiary, brilliant, even dangerous book."

Dennett looks carefully at another distinctly human phenomenon, religion, in Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, In assessing the book, Commonweal reviewer John Haldane called Dennett "highly talented, highly voluble professor of mind, reason, and science, determined to expose religion as a product of purely natural and entirely unpurposeful forces; and then to suggest that whatever benefits religion might once have conferred, the phenomenon as we have it is best dispensed with—and the sooner the better, for it is a cause of needless misery." Much as he did with free will, Dennett sees religion as arising from evolutionary development rather than from spiritual or supernatural origins. He believes that religion should be subject to rigorous scientific scrutiny, not protected from examination by barriers of faith, belief, doctrine, or metaphysics. His "defense of the free and open scientific investigation of religion is eminently sensible, and he is careful to give a fair hearing to both sides," noted Troy Jollimore in the San Francisco Chronicle. Dennett suggests that religion arose because it served a beneficial role in human life and culture, but he also asserts that its negative aspects have grown to far outweigh any benefits that religion might confer. He asks that religions conduct "empirical self-examination to protect future generations from the ignorance so often fostered by religion hiding behind doctrinal smoke screens," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. Spectator reviewer David Caute called Dennett "a most learned scholar, capable of arresting insights." London Times critic Richard Holloway found it to be a "magnificently generous book, compulsively readable, wise, humorous and studded with illuminating asides."



Brook, Andrew, and Don Ross, editors, Daniel Dennett, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Dahlbom, Bo, editor, Dennett and His Critics, Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1993.

Ross, Don, and Andrew Brook, Dennet's Philosophy: A Comprehensive Assessment, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

Symons, John, On Dennett, Wadsworth (Belmont, CA), 2003.


Booklist, December 15, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of Freedom Evolves, p. 709.

Commonweal, April 24, 1992, Dennis O'Brien, review of Consciousness Explained, p. 27; March 10, 2006, John Haldane, "Opiate of the Philosophers," review of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, p. 20.

First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, January, 2006, Edward T. Oakes, "What do Zombies Think?," review of Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to A Science of Consciousness, p. 49.

Guardian (Manchester, England), February 25, 2006, Andrew Brown, "Beyond Belief," review of Breaking the Spell.

Humanist, March-April, 2006, "Humanist Profile: Daniel C. Dennett (1942-present) 2004 Humanist of the Year."

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2006, review of Breaking the Spell, p. 25.

Library Journal, March 15, 1998, Laurie Bartolini, review of Brainchild, p. 89; January 1, 2006, Charles Seymour, review of Breaking the Spell, p. 123.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 14, 1995, Roger Lewin, "Disrobing the Naked Ape," review of Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, p. 3.

New York Times, January 22, 2006, Deborah Solomon, "The Nonbeliever," interview with Daniel C. Dennett.

New York Times Book Review, December 13, 1981, William Barrett, review of The Mind's I, p. 3; May 14, 1995, David Papineau, review of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, p. 13; March 2, 2003, Galen Strawson, "Evolution Explains It All for You: Daniel C. Dennett Argues that Determinism and Freedom Are Perfectly Compatible," review of Freedom Evolves, p. 11; February 19, 2006, Leon Wieseltier, "The God Genome," review of Breaking the Spell, p. 11.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 20, 2003, Carlin Romano, review of Freedom Evolves.

Publishers Weekly, February 9, 1998, review of Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds, p. 88; January 20, 2003, review of Freedom Evolves, p. 70; November 28, 2005, review of Breaking the Spell, p. 47.

Quarterly Review of Biology, March, 2004, David L. Wilson, review of Freedom Evolves, p. 62.

San Francisco Chronicle, February 5, 2006, Troy Jollimore, "Desire for Religion Grows out of Human Experience," review of Breaking the Spell, p. M-3.

Science News, February 18, 2006, review of Breaking the Spell, p. 111.

Scientific American, July, 1998, Jack Cohen, review of Brainchildren, p. 113.

Skeptical Inquirer, September-October, 2006, Kendrick Frazier, review of Breaking the Spell, p. 58.

Spectator, March 18, 2006, David Caute, "God in the Brain," review of Breaking the Spell, p. 51.

Times (London, England), March 18, 2006, Richard Holloway, "All Things Bright and Sceptical," review of Breaking the Spell.

Times Literary Supplement, February 12, 1970, review of Content and Consciousness, p. 152; April 19, 1985, Galen Strawson, review of Elbow Room, p. 431; August 19, 1988, David Papineau, review of The Intentional Stance, p. 911; August 21, 1992, Galen Strawson, review of Consciousness Explained, p. 5.

Wall Street Journal, August 4, 1995, Jim Holt, review of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, p. A6.


Internet Movie Database, (February 6, 2007), filmography of Daniel C. Dennett.

NNDB, (February 6, 2007), biography of Daniel C. Dennett., February 8, 2006), Gordy Slack, "Dissecting God," interview with Daniel C. Dennett.

Tufts University, (February 6, 2007), profile of author.

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Dennett, Daniel C. 1942- (Daniel Clement Dennett)

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