Daniel Dennett

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Daniel Dennett
Western Philosophy
20th / 21st-century philosophy
Full name Daniel Clement Dennett
School/tradition Analytic philosophy
Main interests Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of biology
Philosophy of science
Notable ideas Heterophenomenology
Intentional stance
Intuition pump
Multiple Drafts Model
Greedy reductionism

Daniel Clement Dennett (born March 28, 1942 in Boston, Massachusetts) is a prominent American philosopher whose research centers on philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Dennett is also a noted atheist and advocate of the Brights movement.


[edit] Biography

Dennett spent part of his childhood in Beirut, where, during World War II, his father was a covert counter-intelligence agent with the Office of Strategic Services posing as a cultural attaché to the American Embassy in Beirut.[1] The young Dennett and family returned to Massachusetts in 1947 after his father died in an unexplained plane crash.[2] His sister is the investigative journalist Charlotte Dennett.[1]

He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, and received his B.A. in philosophy from Harvard University in 1963, where he was a student of W.V. Quine. In 1965, he received his D.Phil. in philosophy from Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied under the ordinary language philosopher Gilbert Ryle. Dennett is currently (May 2007) the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, University Professor, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies (with Ray Jackendoff) at Tufts University.

Dennett describes himself as "an autodidact — or, more properly, the beneficiary of hundreds of hours of informal tutorials on all the fields that interest me, from some of the world's leading scientists."[3]

Daniel Dennett in Tahiti in 1984

Dennett gave the John Locke lectures at the University of Oxford in 1983, the Gavin David Young Lectures at Adelaide, Australia, in 1985, and the Tanner Lecture at Michigan in 1986, among many others. In 2001 he was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize and gave the Jean Nicod Lectures in Paris. He has received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987. He was the co-founder (1985) and co-director of the Curricular Software Studio at Tufts University, and has helped to design museum exhibits on computers for the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Science in Boston, and the Computer Museum in Boston. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. The American Humanist Association named him the 2004 Humanist of the Year.

He is also an avid sailor.

In October 2006, Dennett was hospitalized due to an aortic dissection. After a nine-hour surgery, he was given a new aorta. In an essay posted on the Edge website, Dennett gives his firsthand account of his health problems, his consequent feelings of gratitude towards the scientists and doctors whose hard work made his recovery possible, and his complete lack of a "deathbed conversion". He reportedly also, upon having been told by friends and relatives that they had prayed for him, asked them, "Did you also sacrifice a goat?"[4][5]

He lives with his wife in North Andover, Massachusetts, and has a daughter, a son, and two grandsons.[6]

[edit] Philosophical views

Dennett has remarked in several places (such as "Self-portrait", in Brainchildren) that his overall philosophical project has remained largely the same since his time at Oxford. He is primarily concerned with providing a philosophy of mind that is grounded in empirical research. In his original dissertation, Content and Consciousness, he broke up the problem of explaining the mind into the need for a theory of content and for a theory of consciousness. His approach to this project has also stayed true to this distinction. Just as Content and Consciousness has a bipartite structure, he similarly divided Brainstorms into two sections. He would later collect several essays on content in The Intentional Stance and synthesize his views on consciousness into a unified theory in Consciousness Explained. These volumes respectively form the most extensive development of his views.[7]

In Consciousness Explained, Dennett's interest in the ability of evolution to explain some of the content-producing features of consciousness is already apparent, and this has since become an integral part of his program. He defends a theory known by some as Neural Darwinism. He also presents an argument against qualia; he argues that the concept is so confused that it cannot be put to any use or understood in any non-contradictory way, and therefore does not constitute a valid refutation of physicalism. Much of Dennett's work in the 1990s has been concerned with fleshing out his previous ideas by addressing the same topics from an evolutionary standpoint, from what distinguishes human minds from animal minds (Kinds of Minds), to how free will is compatible with a naturalist view of the world (Freedom Evolves). In his 2006 book, Breaking the Spell, Dennett attempts to subject religious belief to the same treatment, explaining possible evolutionary reasons for the phenomenon of religious adherence.

Dennett self-identifies with a few terms:

[Others] note that my 'avoidance of the standard philosophical terminology for discussing such matters' often creates problems for me; philosophers have a hard time figuring out what I am saying and what I am denying. My refusal to play ball with my colleagues is deliberate, of course, since I view the standard philosophical terminology as worse than useless — a major obstacle to progress since it consists of so many errors.

Daniel Dennett, The Message is: There is no Medium

Yet, in Consciousness Explained, he admits "I am a sort of 'teleofunctionalist', of course, perhaps the original teleofunctionalist'". He goes on to say, "I am ready to come out of the closet as some sort of verificationist". In Breaking the Spell he admits to being "a bright", and defends the term.

[edit] Role in evolutionary debate

Dennett sees evolution by natural selection as an algorithmic process (though he spells out that algorithms as simple as long division often incorporate a significant degree of randomness).[8] This idea is in conflict with the evolutionary philosophy of paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who preferred to stress the "pluralism" of evolution (i.e. its dependence on many crucial factors, of which natural selection is only one).

Dennett's views on evolution are identified as being strongly adaptationist, in line with his theory of the intentional stance, and the evolutionary views of biologist Richard Dawkins. In Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Dennett showed himself even more willing than Dawkins to defend adaptationism in print, devoting an entire chapter to a criticism of the ideas of Gould. This stems from Gould's long-running public debate with E. O. Wilson and other evolutionary biologists over human sociobiology and its descendant evolutionary psychology, which Gould and Richard Lewontin opposed, but which Dennett advocated, together with Dawkins and Steven Pinker.[9] Strong disagreements have been launched against Dennett from Gould and his supporters, who allege that Dennett overstated his claims and misrepresented Gould's to reinforce what Gould describes as Dennett's "Darwinian fundamentalism".[10]

Dennett's theories have had a significant influence on the work of evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller. He has also written about and advocated the notion of memetics as a philosophically useful tool.

[edit] Selected books

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Feuer, Alan (2007-10-23), "A Dead Spy, a Daughter’s Questions and the C.I.A.", New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/23/nyregion/23spydad.html, retrieved on 2008-9-16 
  2. ^ "The semantic engineer", by Andrew Brown; 17 April 2004
  3. ^ Dennett, Daniel C. (2005-09-13) [2004]. "What I Want to Be When I Grow Up". in John Brockman. Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 1-4000-7686-2. http://www.edge.org/books/curious_index.html. 
  4. ^ Richard Dawkins: 'The Genius of Charles Darwin' (2008.).
  5. ^ 'Thank Goodness!', edge 195, Nov. 3, 2006
  6. ^ Daniel C. Dennett's Home Page
  7. ^ Guttenplan, Samuel (1994), A companion to the philosophy of mind, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 642, ISBN 0-631-19996-9 
  8. ^ p. 52-60, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (Simon & Schuster; reprint edition 1996) (ISBN 0-684-82471-X)
  9. ^ Although Dennett has expressed criticism of human sociobiology, calling it a form of "greedy reductionism," he is generally sympathetic towards the explanations proposed by evolutionary psychology. Gould also is not one sided, and writes: "Sociobiologists have broadened their range of selective stories by invoking concepts of inclusive fitness and kin selection to solve (successfully I think) the vexatious problem of altruism—previously the greatest stumbling block to a Darwinian theory of social behavior. . . . Here sociobiology has had and will continue to have success. And here I wish it well. For it represents an extension of basic Darwinism to a realm where it should apply." Gould, 1980. "Sociobiology and the Theory of Natural Selection" In G. W. Barlow and J. Silverberg, eds., Sociobiology: Beyond Nature/Nurture? Boulder CO: Westview Press, pp. 257-269.
  10. ^ 'Evolution: The pleasures of Pluralism' — Stephen Jay Gould's review of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, June 26, 1997

[edit] Further Reading

  • "Dennett: Reconciling Science and Our Self-Conception" Matthew Elton (Polity Press, 2003) (ISBN 0-7456-2117-1)
  • Daniel Dennett edited by Andrew Brook and Don Ross (Cambridge University Press 2000) (ISBN 0-521-00864-6)
  • Dennett's Philosophy: A Comprehensive Assessment edited by Don Ross, Andrew Brook and David Thompson (MIT Press 2000) (ISBN 0-262-18200-9)
  • Dennett, among others, is discussed in John Brockman's The Third Culture.
  • On Dennett John Symons (Wadsworth Publishing Company 2000) (ISBN 0-534-57632-X)
  • Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, P. Hacker and M.R. Bennett (Blackwell, Oxford, and Malden, Mass., 2003) (ISBN 1-4051-0855-X) has an appendix devoted to a strong critique of Dennett's philosophy of mind

[edit] External links

NAME Dennett, Daniel
SHORT DESCRIPTION American philosopher
DATE OF BIRTH March 28, 1942 (1942-03-28) (age 67)
PLACE OF BIRTH Boston, Massachusetts
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