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A Tribute to Daniel C. Dennett

A Tribute to Daniel C. Dennett

By Robert Lawrence Kuhn

Philosopher extraordinaire Daniel C. Dennett, who died on April 19 after a lifetime of original and seminal contributions to human thought and sense, was a member of the Closer To Truth community, and we mourn our collective loss with all who knew and loved Dan and who admire his astounding corpus of creative ideas and penetrating insights. Our close affiliation does not mean, of course, that Dan agreed with everything on Closer To Truth, nor that we agree with everything Dan has written or said. Nonetheless, speaking personally, I would rather converse with Daniel Dennett, whose conclusions about consciousness (i.e., deflationary, illusionism) I might disagree with, than with just about anyone else, including those whose conclusions about consciousness (i.e., irreducible, purposeful) I might agree with.

Engaging with Dan, being in Dan’s presence, was exhilarating. Reading Dan’s many books and countless papers/essays provokes and stimulates as well as informs and educates, opening new vistas for viewing the world and for understanding its profundities. His ways of thinking are literally breathtaking. His impact on philosophy of mind, broadly construed (Consciousness Explained and subsequent enhancements), and on philosophy of evolution (“Darwin’s idea of natural selection is the best idea anybody ever had”), cannot be overstated. Daniel C. Dennett is rightly a permanent part of the philosophical canon.

Dan is also known for his atheistic humanism; he is characterized as being one of the “four horsemen” of the “new atheism apocalypse.” I had the privilege of reviewing Dan’s famous (infamous to some) book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, for the International Society For Science & Religion Library Project. Yet, naturalizing religion, Dan told me, was not one of his favorite topics. He preferred the more fundamental questions of life and mind.

Closer To Truth is proud to feature Daniel Dennett in 19 exclusive CTT web videos and 12 CTT TV episodes. In addition, we have four Closer To Truth “Chats” with Dan on topics core to both of us: Free Will and Moral Responsibility (2021), Philosophy of Biology and Evolutionary Causation (2021), Consciousness and Virtual Immortality (2021), and Mysteries of the Mind along with his last book, I’ve Been Thinking (2023).

I’ve Been Thinking is a literary and philosophical masterpiece. All who knew Dan, or would like to know Dan, should read it.

At the 2014 “Toward a Science of Consciousness” conference in Tucson, organized by Stuart Hameroff and known for its dizzying array of diverse and sometimes strange ideas about consciousness, here’s how Dan began his keynote address: “I now know what it feels like to be a policeman at Woodstock.”

To sum up how I personally feel: Well, if I were God, Daniel Dennett would be my prophet.