Jennifer Windt: Remembering Dan Dennett (1942-2024)

Remembering Dan Dennett (1942-2024)

Philosophy has lost a giant. Dan Dennett shaped our discipline in so many ways, and it is hard to imagine what philosophy of mind and cognitive science in particular would have been like without him. I have been reflecting on the influence he had on my own philosophical thinking over the years, and the times I had the privilege of meeting him, at different stages of my life and career. He was truly one of my intellectual heroes, and I feel shaken by his death.

Many people have shared and will share their anecdotes of Dennett over the next weeks and months. The one I would like to share does not actually have the real Dan in it. At the time, I was finishing my PhD thesis on dreaming and grappling with my discussion of Dennett’s pivotal paper on dream experience. That paper had, in fact, been a central motivation and challenge for a significant part of my thesis and how I approached my topic, and I keep coming back to the views it expresses to this day. I dreamt I was on an airplane, and there he was, the great philosopher himself. I asked him some question or other about his views on dreaming (in dreamlike fashion I promptly forgot all the details after awakening)—and in reply, he winked at me, smiled, and lifted up that iconic beard of his, revealing it to be a fake. Then he gestured towards a book stand with copies of a newly minted book of his. I felt that mixture of excitement at a new Dennett book and that sinking feeling you get when you realize something has been published that will require you to change what you have already written. I never did get to read that dream-book of his. I woke up.

His real-world books were always full of inspiration, challenge, and insight. And regardless of their content and the specific arguments, they were always a joy to read—he could do magic with words, and he was always funny, both in writing and in person. And always gracious.

Philosophy has lost a giant. His work was an intellectual gift to the philosophical community, and far beyond. His writing is the rare thing that can not just challenge you intellectually, but touch you. It can change your thinking and how you see the world. It was a privilege to have known him. And it was a privilege, for our journal, to have had him on the editorial advisory board. We pay our respects to all those who will be mourning him as a family member, loved one, friend, teacher, and intellectual role model.

Jennifer Windt, editor-in-chief of PhiMiSci, 21/04/2024