Daniel Clement Dennett (born March 28 1942) is an American philosopher. Dennett's research centers on philosophy of mind and philosophy of science, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently (February 2005) employed as Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.
Dennett is the author of several major books on evolution and consciousness. He is a leading proponent of the theory known by some as Neural Darwinism (see also greedy reductionism).
Dennett is also well known for his argument against qualia, which claims 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. This argument was presented most comprehensively in his book Consciousness Explained.
Texts on Dennett
- Daniel Dennett edited by Andrew Brook and Don Ross (Cambridge University Press 2000) (ISBN 0521008646)
- Dennett's Philosophy: A Comprehensive Assessment edited by Don Ross, Andrew Brook and David Thompson (MIT Press 2000) (ISBN 0262182009)
- Dennett, among others, is discussed in John Brockman's The Third Culture.
A quote from Chapter 25 of Brain Children that is fundamental to understanding Dennett's work:
- "The first stable conclusion I reached … was that the only thing brains could do was to approximate the responsivity to meanings that we presuppose in our everyday mentalistic discourse. When mechanical push comes to shove, a brain was always going to do what it was caused to do by current, local, mechanical circumstances, whatever it ought to do, whatever a God's-eye view might reveal about the actual meaning of its current states. But over the long haul, brains could be designed - by evolutionary processes - to do the right thing (from the point of view of meaning) with high reliability. … [B]rains are syntactic engines that can mimic the competence of semantic engines. … The appreciation of meanings - their discrimination and delectation - is central to our vision of consciousness, but this conviction that I, on the inside, deal directly with meanings turns out to be something rather like a benign "user-illusion".