Daniel Dennett, professor emeritus of philosophy at Tufts University, well-known for his work in philosophy of mind and a wide range of other philosophical areas, has died.

Professor Dennett wrote extensively about issues related to philosophy of mind and cognitive science, especially consciousness. He is also recognized as having made significant contributions to the concept of intentionality and debates on free will. Some of Professor Dennett’s books include Content and Consciousness (1969), Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology (1981), The Intentional Stance (1987), Consciousness Explained (1992), Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995), Breaking the Spell (2006), and From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (2017). He published a memoir last year entitled I’ve Been Thinking. There are also several books about him and his ideas. You can learn more about his work here.

Professor Dennett held a position at Tufts University for nearly all his career. Prior to this, he held a position at the University of California, Irvine from 1965 to 1971. He also held visiting positions at Oxford, Harvard, Pittsburgh, and other institutions during his time at Tufts University. Professor Dennett was awarded his PhD from the University of Oxford in 1965 and his undergraduate degree in philosophy from Harvard University in 1963.

Professor Dennett is the recipient of several awards and prizes including the Jean Nicod Prize, the Mind and Brain Prize, and the Erasmus Prize. He also held a Fulbright Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. An outspoken atheist, Professor Dennett was dubbed one of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism”. He was also a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, an honored Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism, and was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Organization.


Dennett has had a big influence on LessWrong. He coined the terms "belief in belief", "the intentional stance" and "intuition pump".

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Dennett meant a lot to me, in part because he’s shaped my thinking so much, and in part because I think we share a kindred spirit—this ardent curiosity about minds and how they might come to exist in a world like ours. I also think he is an unusually skilled thinker and writer in many respects, as well as being an exceptionally delightful human. I miss him. 

In particular, I found his deep and persistent curiosity beautiful and inspiring, especially since it’s aimed at all the (imo) important questions. He has a clarity of thought which manages to be both soft and precise, and a robust ability to detect and avoid bullshit. His book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking is full of helpful cognitive strategies, many of which I’ve benefited from, and many of which have parallels in the Sequences. You can just tell that he’s someone in love with minds and the art of thinking, and that he’s actually trying at it.  

But perhaps the thing I find most inspiring about him, the bit which I most want to emulate, is that he doesn’t shy away from the difficult questions—consciousness, intentionality, what are real patterns, how can we tell if a system understanding something, etc—but he does so without any lapse in intellectual rigor. He’s always aiming at operationalization and gears-level understanding, but he’s careful to check for whether mechanistic models in fact correspond to the higher level he’s attempting to address. He doesn’t let things be explained away, but he also doesn’t let things remain mysterious. He’s deeply committed to a materialistic understanding of the world which permits of minds. 

In short, he holds the same mysteries that I do, I think, of how thinking things could come to exist in a world made out of atoms, and he’s committed, as I am, to naturalizing such mysteries in a satisfying way. 

He’s also very clear about the role of philosophy in science: it’s the process of figuring out what the right questions even are, such that one can apply the tools of science to answer them. I think he’s right, both that this is the role of good philosophy and that we’re all pretty confused about what the right questions of mind are. I think he did an excellent job of narrowing the confusion, which is a really fucking cool and admirable thing to spend a life on. But the work isn’t done. In many ways, I view my research as picking up where he left off—the quest for a satisfying account of minds in a materialistic, deterministic world. Now that he’s passed, I realize that I really wanted him to see that. I wanted to show him my work. I feel like part of the way I was connected to the world has been severed, and I am feeling grief about that. 

I’ve learned so much from Dennett. How to think better, how to hold my curiosity better, how to love the mind, and how to wonder productively about it. I feel like the world glows dimmer now than it did before, and I feel that grief—the blinking out of this beautiful light. But it is also a good time to reflect on all that he’s done for the world, and all that he’s done for me. He is really a part of me, and I feel the love and the gratitude for what he’s brought into my life. 


Thank you, I was looking for a post.

Of interest, Daniel Dennett | From Bacteria to Bach and Back | Talks at Google in 2017. It's worth reviewing his other notable ideas and views of philosophy that he explored, from his Wikipedia page. I look forward to reading other testimonies of his influence and the effects of his work.

My introduction to Dennett, half a lifetime ago, was this talk: 

That was the start of his profound influence on my thinking. I especially appreciated his continuous and unapologetic defense of the meme as a useful concept, despite the many detractors of memetics.

Sad to know that we won't be hearing from him anymore.

 A Great Man and an inspiration to me and to this community and to all thinking men.

God rest his soul in peace in Paradise.

He's what I would call a living puzzle. From my first encounters with late Daniel Clement Dennett III till his passing, I've always felt he needed to be put together like a jigsaw; perhaps that says more about the randomness of our bumpings-into-each other on the network than anything else.

He said of himself that he was an autodidact, which is wonderful news for those with a tanha (craving) for knowledge.

His deep (?) interest in memes as some kinda theoretical framework for the ideaverse has merit, his work though is non finito. If Dawkins is god (of memes), Dennett was for certain the high priest.

To sum up, the fecundity of this tree was limited only by its death.

Requiescat in pace 🥀💀