Daniel C. Dennett

On this date in 1942, philosopher Daniel Clement Dennett III was born in Boston, the son of Ruth Marjorie (née Leck) and Daniel Clement Dennett Jr. He earned his B.A. in philosophy at Harvard in 1963 and his doctorate in philosophy from Oxford in 1965. Since 1971, he taught at Tufts University with the exception of visiting professorships and was Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy there. His specialty was consciousness.

His 1992 book Consciousness Explained was widely credited with advancing the understanding of how various parallel brain processes contribute to consciousness. He also wrote often about the philosophy of the mind and of science and was considered a leading proponent of “neural Darwinism.”

Among his many books are Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995), Freedom Evolves (2003), Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006), Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of Consciousness (1997), Science and Religion (2010), Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind (with Linda LaScola, 2013) and From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (2017).

His well-known 2003 New York Times piece endorsing the use of the term “Bright” to describe the nonreligious began: “The time has come for us brights to come out of the closet. What is a bright? A bright is a person with a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view. We brights don’t believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny — or God. We disagree about many things, and hold a variety of views about morality, politics and the meaning of life, but we share a disbelief in black magic — and life after death.”

His scholarship earned Dennett a place among the “Four Horsemen” of literary atheism, along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens. Dennett received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2008 and in his acceptance speech urged atheists to “come out of the closet.” He was a co-founder of the Clergy Project in 2011 and was an FFRF honorary officer.

He and Susan Bell married in 1962 and lived in North Andover, Mass. They had a son, Peter, and a daughter, Andrea. He died at age 82 at the Maine Medical Center in Portland of complications from interstitial lung disease. (D. 2024)

Freedom From Religion Foundation