Daniel Dennett Obituary Obituary 2024

Daniel Dennett Obituary

Controversial US Philosopher Who Sought to Understand the Science of the Mind

Daniel Dennett, a controversial philosopher, passed away at the age of 82. His writings on consciousness, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology significantly influenced Anglo-American philosophy.

Dennett’s naturalistic account of consciousness, which eliminated first-person agency and qualitative experience, gained popularity outside academia but faced fierce opposition within it.

As one of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism,” Dennett also wrote on Darwinism, memes, free will, and religion.

At the age of 21, Dennett defined his project as “figuring out as a philosopher how brains could be, or support, or explain, or cause, minds.”

Having earned a philosophy degree from Harvard University in 1963, Dennett pursued a BPhil at Oxford University. However, he spent most of his time at the Radcliffe science library studying the brain.

Dennett challenged the prevailing notion of consciousness as a separate entity from science. He proposed that intentionality, the “aboutness” of thoughts, can be ascribed to minds, human brains, bees, computers, and thermostats as a functional relation between object and environment.

According to Dennett, consciousness is an illusion created by unconscious content that has evolved over time. He argued that there is no one-to-one match between brain states and mental states, and that the discrete mental states we experience are an edited version of neural processes.

Dennett’s views on consciousness remained relatively consistent throughout his work, although he later became more lenient towards mental imagery and acknowledged the existence of mental states.

Dennett applied a Darwinian approach to free will, arguing that our ability to predict and influence future outcomes has evolved over time. He also criticized religion and encouraged people to break free from its influence.

Dennett’s philosophical journey was shaped by his experiences, including the loss of his father in a plane crash and his early exposure to Willard van Orman Quine’s work.

Dennett passed away on April 19, 2024, survived by his wife, children, grandchildren, and sisters.

Early Life and Education

  • Born in Boston, Dennett spent early years in Lebanon.
  • Father was a counter-intelligence officer killed in a plane crash.
  • Inspired by Quine’s work to pursue philosophy at Harvard and Oxford.

Philosophical Contributions

  • Naturalistic account of consciousness without first-person agency or experience.
  • Proposed intentionality as a functional relation, present in various systems.
  • Argued that consciousness is an illusion created by unconscious content.
  • Challenged the existence of qualia as determinate mental images.
  • Introduced the concept of memes as units of cultural practice.
  • Applied Darwinian principles to explain free will.
  • Criticized religion and advocated scientific understanding.


  • Influenced Anglo-American philosophy, shifting focus towards science.
  • Work generated both admiration and controversy.
  • Remembered as a brilliant and provocative thinker.