Your Home Your story reservation Daniel Dennett, Tufts professor emeritus and renowned philosopher, dies at the age of 82

Daniel Dennett, Tufts professor emeritus and renowned philosopher, dies at the age of 82


On April 19, Daniel Dennett, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University and Fletcher, has passed away from the Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine. His death was caused by complications of interstitial lung disease.

Known worldwide for his works on consciousness, religion and evolution, Dennett came to Tufts 1971 And was professor of philosophy until his retirement at the end of 2022. Dennett also founded and directed the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts and was a key figure in the creation of Tufts’ first computer science program through his work on the Curricular Software Studio. Dennett is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Susan Bell Dennett, as well as their son, daughter and six grandchildren, and his two sisters.

A statement issued by the Tufts Department of Philosophy praised Dennett for his “wisdom, sense of humor, dedication and generosity” and stated that it was “a privilege and an inspiration” to work with Dennett. A separate statement from James M. Glaser, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciencesgreeted Dennett as one ‘a one-time scholar, teacher and colleague’ stating both the 21 books that Dennett wrote and the 18 written about him as evidence of his status as an esteemed international intellectual figure. The Tufts Department of Philosophy plans to host a larger memorial event to celebrate Dennett’s legacy this October.

George Smith, professor emeritus of philosophy, was Dennett’s closest colleague at Tufts. The two knew each other from 51 yearsfor collaboration 46 years and even retired together at the end of 2022. In Dennett’s final memoir: “I’ve been thinking,” published last year, He devoted an entire chapter to his relationship with Smith. Smith also cited this memoir as where Tufts students interested in Dennett should start exploring his work.

Smith described what he wanted people to take away from Dennett’s life and work: namely his attempt to eliminate what he viewed as sources of confusion caused by belief in the supernatural.

“Philosophers I think one of their jobs as professional philosophers is to identify sources of confusion, expose them, and convince people to give up those sources of confusion,” Smith said. “What united all of Dan’s thoughts is that he thought that one single element was the greatest source of confusion in all human thought: namely, any appeal to the supernatural.”

Teresa Salvato, program manager of Tufts’ cognitive science Ph.D. programbelonged to Dennett assistant for more than 25 years. She cited the clarity and eloquence of Dennett’s writing as one of his most important scholarly contributions.

“I think one of them his greatest contribution is that he was thought provoking,” Salvato said. “He was one fascinating writer who could be read by people from all fields and he asked many thought-provoking questions. Ultimately, whether you agreed or disagreed with him, he made you think. And I think that was one of his greatest gifts.

Avner Baz, chairman of the Department of Philosophy, explained how Dennett’s influence changed his own thinking.

“Nowadays, I will be much more open to considering even speaking about experience, phenomenology, perception (and) empirical findings in a way that I wasn’t open to before,” Baz acknowledged.

Baz also talked about how Dennett has fundamentally changed the direction of the Philosophy Department.

“He has has contributed to making the department a very ambitious department. And a department with many people who are outsiders in one way or another and do not think within the box,” says Baz.

Similarly, Salvato shared details about Dennett’s founding of the Center for Cognitive Studies.

“Tufts The administration wanted to keep (Dennett) and they said, ‘What do you want?’ Salvato said. “So they created this place that, from an academic standpoint, was a fun playroom, a place where he could do whatever he wanted. So he did all the research he wanted to do, and the postdocs who came were people who wanted to do that work with him.”

As for his personality outside the classroom, Smith emphasized his consistency in manner and behavior across all walks of life.

“Than in public was the exact same person as Dan was in private,” Smith said. “He just lived to the max, all the time. So how he presented himself to students, how he presented himself to colleagues (and) how he presented himself to other philosophers is exactly how he was. And I can’t say the same about myself.”

Salvato similarly described Dennett’s friendliness, easy-going nature and close relationships with students and teachers.

“(Dennett) loved telling stories. He traveled a lot and had a lot of experiences, so he always had a story ready to tell you,” Salvato said. “He often organized parties at his home for students, postdocs and guest researchers. … He had cider bottling days where everyone showed up (at Dennett’s farm) and helped bottle the cider.

Enoch Lambert, a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, described his time under Dennett’s wing as a postdoc in an email to the Daily.

“In the classroom, One thing Dan liked to do was present a slide with something quite provocative, often one of his more controversial ideas about consciousness, and then sit back and raise objections,” Lambert wrote. “In the classroom he could not have been more open to criticism, he absorbed them, showed students how seriously he took their ideas, and responded as a partner in the cooperative intellectual enterprise in which he always involved himself and his students .”

Similarly, Smith conveyed his experience co-teaching with Dennett in the 1990s the two gave a seminar on Descartes’ corpus.

“He was very easy to teach because he viewed the classroom as a means of learning. And when it was taught together, we learned from each other,” Smith said.

Regarding how Dennett influenced Tufts as an institution, Smith shared how Dennett’s great academic stature significantly enhanced the university’s international recognition.

“I think (Dennett) has done more than anyone at Tufts to make Tufts recognized worldwide,” he said.

When asked why Dennett’s work matters today, Smith explained how many fellow philosophers, outraged by Dennett’s fervent beliefs, seemed unable to understand Dennett’s larger purpose.

“Other professional philosophers have often asked me how we could have coexisted all this time, and my answer is always that that was never a problem,” says Smith. “They just see (Dennett) as this barracuda attacking other people’s valuable ideas. And he saw himself as trying to please the world.”