Presidential Lecture by Daniel C. Dennett

The Evolution of 'Why' as the Key to Free Will

We human beings are the only living things that can represent, transmit and criticize reasons for doing things and making things. This creates a perspective for us that we can then use to interpret all the rest of the life on the planet, cautiously. Mother Nature's reasons are not just like our reasons. It is our evolved capacity to ask, and answer, “Why” questions that gives us, in the end, the kinds of free will worth wanting, the kinds that no other animal has.

Daniel C. Dennett, the author of "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" (Simon & Schuster, 1995), is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He received his B.A. in philosophy from Harvard in 1963. He then went to Oxford to work with Gilbert Ryle, under whose supervision he completed the D.Phil. in philosophy in 1965. He taught at UC Irvine from 1965 to 1971, when he moved to Tufts, where he has taught ever since.

His first book, "Content and Consciousness," appeared in 1969, followed by "Brainstorms" (1978), "Elbow Room" (1984), "The Intentional Stance" (1987), "Consciousness Explained" (1991), "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" (1995), and "Kinds of Minds" (1996). He co-edited "The Mind's I" with Douglas Hofstadter in 1981. He is the author of over 300 scholarly articles on various aspects of the mind, published in journals ranging from "Artificial Intelligence" and "Behavioral and Brain Sciences" to "Poetics Today" and the" Journal of Aesthetics" and "Art Criticism." In 1998 he published "Brainchildren: A Collection of Essays 1984-1996" (MIT Press and Penguin). "Freedom Evolves" was published by Penguin Books in 2003. "Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness" was published in 2005 by MIT Press. His most recent book, "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon," was published in 2006 by Viking Press.

Date and Time:
 Monday, January 12, 2009.  7:00 PM.
Approximate duration of 1.5 hour(s).
Building 320 (Geology Corner), Room 105 Stanford University  [Map]
General Public
University Events
Humanities Center
Free and open to the public
Last Modified:
December 11, 2008