American University of Beirut

AUB Mourns Renowned Philosopher Daniel Dennett (Hon DHL ’22)

Office of Communications, communications@aub.edu.lb ​​

Trail-blazing philosopher, cognitive scientist, educator, public intellectual, and prolific author, Daniel C. Dennett passed away on April 19, 2024, at the age of 82. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the American University of Beirut in June 2022.​

As a child, Dan Dennett attended nursery school in Beirut while his father worked at the US Embassy, and his mother was a teacher at the American Community School Beirut. After becoming an esteemed academician and writer, Dennett returned to Lebanon to give a lecture at AUB and later came back as a visiting professor at the Department of Philosophy (2011), participated in two conferences, and contributed to the published proceedings Contemporary Philosophical Naturalism and Its Implications.

Writing in his autobiography I've Been Thinking (2023), Dennett wrote about how much fun he and his wife Susan had in Lebanon during his semester at AUB, being shown around by a cadre of young faculty members who “adopted" them.  He also noted that, “the students at AUB were intrepid and intellectually curious, and it was a joy to see young men and women from all over the Arabic-speaking world … learning together, living together, preparing to take their places in critical roles in their home countries as generations have done since the founding of AUB."

At the time of his death, Dennett was University Professor Emeritus at Tufts University in Massachusetts, where he worked most of his academic year and served as director of its Center for Cognitive Studies. He received his BA in philosophy from Harvard University (1963) and earned his DPhil at Oxford University (1965). He began his career at the University of California Irvine (1965-71), after which he moved to Tufts. Throughout that time, he held visiting professorships at many world universities including Harvard, Pittsburgh, Oxford, the London School of Economics, and AUB.

A prolific writer and much-sought-after speaker, Dennett authored over 400 scholarly articles and more than 20 books, appealing both to academic and general audiences. He is most famous for his foundational writings on consciousness and the nature of the human mind. A staunch atheist, he also tackled the domain of religion and faith. Two of his most influential books are Consciousness Explained (1991) and Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (1995). Blending the rigorous methods of traditional philosophy with the emerging fields of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, and artificial intelligence, Dennett introduced new ways of comprehending ourselves and the world around us.

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, he was an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1987) and received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Fellowship with the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science. In 2012, Dennett was awarded the Erasmus Prize, one of Europe's most distinguished recognitions.

Introducing Dennett as an honorary doctorate recipient, President Fadlo R. Khuri said, “Holding fast to the concept that the work of philosophy is contiguous with the work of natural sciences, you use science as the foundation for exploring the biggest philosophical concepts and you advance knowledge and enhance understanding in what it means to be human."

Dan Dennett is survived by his wife of 61 years, Susan Bell Dennett; son, Peter; daughter, Andrea Dennett Wardwell; six grandchildren; and two sisters, Cynthia Yee and Charlotte Dennett.

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