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Daniel C. Dennett quotes Showing 1-30 of 147

“If you can approach the world's complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
“What you can imagine depends on what you know.”
Daniel Dennett
“You don't get to advertise all the good that your religion does without first scrupulously subtracting all the harm it does and considering seriously the question of whether some other religion, or no religion at all, does better.”
Daniel Dennett
“But recently I have learned from discussions with a variety of scientists and other non-philosophers (e.g., the scientists participating with me in the Sean Carroll workshop on the future of naturalism) that they lean the other way: free will, in their view, is obviously incompatible with naturalism, with determinism, and very likely incoherent against any background, so they cheerfully insist that of course they don't have free will, couldn’t have free will, but so what? It has nothing to do with morality or the meaning of life. Their advice to me at the symposium was simple: recast my pressing question as whether naturalism (materialism, determinism, science...) has any implications for what we may call moral competence. For instance, does neuroscience show that we cannot be responsible for our choices, cannot justifiably be praised or blamed, rewarded or punished? Abandon the term 'free will' to the libertarians and other incompatibilists, who can pursue their fantasies untroubled. Note that this is not a dismissal of the important issues; it’s a proposal about which camp gets to use, and define, the term. I am beginning to appreciate the benefits of discarding the term 'free will' altogether, but that course too involves a lot of heavy lifting, if one is to avoid being misunderstood.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained
“There's nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view I hold dear.”
Daniel Dennett
“Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness
“There’s simply no polite way to tell people they’ve dedicated their lives to an illusion.”
Daniel Dennett
“The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore, so it eats it! It's rather like getting tenure.”
Daniel Dennett
“Some years ago, there was a lovely philosopher of science and journalist in Italy named Giulio Giorello, and he did an interview with me. And I don’t know if he wrote it or not, but the headline in Corriere della Sera when it was published was "Sì, abbiamo un'anima. Ma è fatta di tanti piccoli robot – "Yes, we have a soul, but it’s made of lots of tiny robots." And I thought, exactly. That’s the view. Yes, we have a soul, but in what sense? In the sense that our brains, unlike the brains even of dogs and cats and chimpanzees and dolphins, our brains have functional structures that give our brains powers that no other brains have - powers of look-ahead, primarily. We can understand our position in the world, we can see the future, we can understand where we came from. We know that we’re here. No buffalo knows it’s a buffalo, but we jolly well know that we’re members of Homo sapiens, and it’s the knowledge that we have and the can-do, our capacity to think ahead and to reflect and to evaluate and to evaluate our evaluations, and evaluate the grounds for our evaluations.

It’s this expandable capacity to represent reasons that we have that gives us a soul. But what’s it made of? It’s made of neurons. It’s made of lots of tiny robots. And we can actually explain the structure and operation of that kind of soul, whereas an eternal, immortal, immaterial soul is just a metaphysical rug under which you sweep your embarrassment for not having any explanation.”
Daniel C. Dennett
“If you want to teach your children that they are the tools of God, you had better not teach them that they are God's rifles, or we will have to stand firmly opposed to you: your doctrine has no glory, no special rights, no intrinsic and inalienable merit. If you insist on teaching your children false-hoods—that the Earth is flat, that "Man" is not a product of evolution by natural selection—then you must expect, at the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at our earliest opportunity. Our future well-being—the well-being of all of us on the planet—depends on the education of our descendants.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
“There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.
—Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 1995”
Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
“The secret of happiness: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”
Daniel C. Dennett
“If I know better than you know what I am up to, it is only because I spend more time with myself than you do.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Freedom Evolves
“Every living thing is, from the cosmic perspective, incredibly lucky simply to be alive. Most, 90 percent and more, of all the organisms that have ever lived have died without viable offspring, but not a single one of your ancestors, going back to the dawn of life on Earth, suffered that normal misfortune. You spring from an unbroken line of winners going back millions of generations, and those winners were, in every generation, the luckiest of the lucky, one out of a thousand or even a million. So however unlucky you may be on some occasion today, your presence on the planet testifies to the role luck has played in your past.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Freedom Evolves
“In the long run I certainly hope information is the cure for fanaticism, but I am afraid information is more the cause than the cure.”
Daniel Dennett
“People are afraid of being more ignorant than their children―especially, apparantly, their daughters.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
“We need to let our children grow up to face the world armed with knowledge, with much more knowledge than we ourselves had at their age. It is scary, but the alternative is worse.”
Daniel C. Dennett
“Is this Tree of Life a God one could worship? Pray to? Fear? Probably not. But it did make the ivy twine and the sky so blue, so perhaps the song I love tells a truth after all. The Tree of Life is neither perfect nor infinite in space or time, but it is actual, and if it is not Anselm's "Being greater than which nothing can be conceived," it is surely a being that is greater than anything any of us will ever conceive of in detail worthy of its detail. Is something sacred? Yes, say I with Nietzsche. I could not pray to it, but I can stand in affirmation of its magnificence. This world is sacred.”
Daniel C. Dennett
“But if it is true that human minds are themselves to a very great degree the creations of memes, then we cannot sustain the polarity of vision we considered earlier; it cannot be "memes versus us," because earlier infestations of memes have already played a major role in determining who or what we are. The "independent" mind struggling to protect itself from alien and dangerous memes is a myth. There is a persisting tension between the biological imperative of our genes on the one hand and the cultural imperatives of our memes on the other, but we would be foolish to "side with" our genes; that would be to commit the most egregious error of pop sociobiology. Besides, as we have already noted, what makes us special is that we, alone among species, can rise above the imperatives of our genes— thanks to the lifting cranes of our memes.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
“Words are memes that can be pronounced.”
Daniel C. Dennett
“If you can approach the world's complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things. Keeping that awestruck vision of the world ready to hand while dealing with the demands of daily living is no easy exercise, but it is definitely worth the effort, for if you can stay centered , and engaged , you will find the hard choices easier, the right words will come to you when you need them, and you will indeed be a better person. That, I propose, is the secret to spirituality, and it has nothing at all to do with believing in an immortal soul.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
“I should emphasize this, to keep well-meaning but misguided multiculturalists at bay: the theoretical entities in which these tribal people frankly believe — the gods and other spirits — don't exist. These people are mistaken, and you know it as well as I do. It is possible for highly intelligent people to have a very useful but mistaken theory, and we don't have to pretend otherwise in order to show respect for these people and their ways.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
“Those who feel guilty contemplating "betraying" the tradition they love by acknowledging their disapproval of elements within it should reflect on the fact that the very tradition to which they are so loyal—the "eternal" tradition introduced to them in their youth—is in fact the evolved product of many adjustments firmly but delicately made by earlier lovers of the same tradition.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
“Problems in science are sometimes made easier by adding complications.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
“To put it bluntly but fairly, anyone today who doubts that the variety of life on this planet was produced by a process of evolution is simply ignorant—inexcusably ignorant, in a world where three out of four people have learned to read and write.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
“One reader of an early draft of this chapter complained at this point, saying that by treating the hypothesis of God as just one more scientific hypothesis, to be evaluated by the standards of science in particular and rational thought in general, Dawkins and I are ignoring the very widespread claim by believers in God that their faith is quite beyond reason, not a matter to which such mundane methods of testing applies. It is not just unsympathetic, he claimed, but strictly unwarranted for me simply to assume that the scientific method continues to apply with full force in this domain of truth.

Very well, let's consider the objection. I doubt that the defender of religion will find it attractive, once we explore it carefully.

The philosopher Ronaldo de Souza once memorably described philosophical theology as "intellectual tennis without a net," and I readily allow that I have indeed been assuming without comment or question up to now that the net of rational judgement was up. But we can lower it if you really want to.

It's your serve.

Whatever you serve, suppose I return service rudely as follows: "What you say implies that God is a ham sandwich wrapped in tin foil. That's not much of a God to worship!". If you then volley back, demanding to know how I can logically justify my claim that your serve has such a preposterous implication, I will reply: "oh, do you want the net up for my returns, but not for your serves?

Either way the net stays up, or it stays down. If the net is down there are no rules and anybody can say anything, a mug's game if there ever was one. I have been giving you the benefit of the assumption that you would not waste your own time or mine by playing with the net down.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
“Philosophers' Syndrome: mistaking a failure of the imagination for an insight into necessity.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained
“One of the surprising discoveries of modern psychology is how easy it is to be ignorant of your own ignorance.”
Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
“I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.”
Daniel C. Dennett
“What you can imagine depends on what you know. Philosophers who know only philosophy consign themselves to a janitorial role in the great enterprises of exploration that are illuminating the mysteries of our lives.”
Daniel C. Dennett

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Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life Darwin's Dangerous Idea
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Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Breaking the Spell
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Consciousness Explained Consciousness Explained
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Freedom Evolves Freedom Evolves
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