Daniel Clement Dennett III (born March 28, 1942) is an American philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science.
As of 2017, he is the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University in Massachusetts. Dennett is a member of the editorial board for The Rutherford Journal and a co-founder of The Clergy Project.
A vocal atheist and secularist, Dennett is referred to as one of the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism", along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens.
Daniel Clement Dennett III was born on March 28, 1942, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Ruth Marjorie (née Leck; 1903–1971) and Daniel Clement Dennett Jr. (1910–1947). Dennett spent part of his childhood in Lebanon, where, during World War II, his father, who had a PhD in Islamic Studies from Harvard University, was a covert counter-intelligence agent with the Office of Strategic Services posing as a cultural attaché to the American Embassy in Beirut. His mother, an English major at Carleton College, went for a master's degree at the University of Minnesota before becoming an English teacher at the American Community School in Beirut. In 1947, his father was killed in a plane crash in Ethiopia. Shortly after, his mother took him back to Massachusetts. Dennett's sister is the investigative journalist Charlotte Dennett. Dennett says that he was first introduced to the notion of philosophy while attending summer camp at age 11, when a camp counselor said to him, "You know what you are, Daniel? You're a philosopher."
Dennett graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1959, and spent one year at Wesleyan University before receiving his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy at Harvard University in 1963. There, he was a student of W. V. Quine. In 1965, he received his Doctor of Philosophy in philosophy at the University of Oxford, where he studied under Gilbert Ryle and was a member of Hertford College. His dissertation was entitled The Mind and the Brain: Introspective Description in the Light of Neurological Findings; Intentionality.
Dennett taught at the University of California, Irvine, from 1965 to 1971, before moving to Tufts University, where he settled in for many decades, aside from periods visiting at Harvard University and several other schools.
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".
He is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism. He was named 2004 Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association. In 2006, Dennett received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.
In February 2010, he was named to the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Honorary Board of distinguished achievers.
In 2012, he was awarded the Erasmus Prize, an annual award for a person who has made an exceptional contribution to European culture, society or social science, "for his ability to translate the cultural significance of science and technology to a broad audience."
In 2018, he was awarded an honorary degree by Radboud University, located in Nijmegen, Netherlands, for his contributions to and influence on cross-disciplinary science.
While he is a confirmed compatibilist on free will, in "On Giving Libertarians What They Say They Want"—chapter 15 of his 1978 book Brainstorms—Dennett articulated the case for a two-stage model of decision making in contrast to libertarian views.
The model of decision making I am proposing has the following feature: when we are faced with an important decision, a consideration-generator whose output is to some degree undetermined, produces a series of considerations, some of which may of course be immediately rejected as irrelevant by the agent (consciously or unconsciously). Those considerations that are selected by the agent as having a more than negligible bearing on the decision then figure in a reasoning process, and if the agent is in the main reasonable, those considerations ultimately serve as predictors and explicators of the agent's final decision.