Daniel Dennett: ‘We Are Meaningmakers’

Philosopher Daniel Dennett is the author of the excellent book Breaking the Spell and he recently filmed a segment for Chris Johnson‘s multimedia book about atheists and what gives them joy and meaning in life.

In the segment below, Dennett talks about how we can give our lives meaning by, among other things, “adding goodness to the world”:

(via The Atheist Book)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • A3Kr0n

     ‘We Are Meaningmakers’. That’s a deepity.

  • jose


  • machintelligence

    It’s always nice to have something new from Dan Dennett. I wish it were longer.

  • GG

    We make our own meaning only if we are unaware of what the true meaning should be or if we refuse to listen to our own inner voice which very often tells us what is contrary to what we perceive as logic. Many discoveries have been made through intuition which some people call the sixth sense. Real or imagined, is for those who have to know and those who do not seem to have to find out. Is there a reason that the universe is so awesome that finding out about it gives us so much pleasure? Is there a reason we need what we need. Is there a reason why we want to survive? Science can try to tell us how. Common sense and philosophy often lead us to conclude why. The well known saying that common sense is actually not that common may have a lot of truth since most of us actually want proof to confirm that we actually have common sense.

  • ortcutt

    A deepity is something is seemingly profound, but asserts either a trivial truth or a grandiose falsehood.  That we are meaning makers is true, and while it might not be an earth-shattering revelation to those of us who have thought so for decades, it isn’t a triviality.  Many people (religious people particularly) firmly deny that we are meaning makers because they believe the “tricle down theory”.   So, it’s no deepity.

  • http://www.bartontees.com/ Barton Tees

    Had the good fortune to see Dan Dennett debate a christian scientist in Dublin last year, had the opportunity to talk to him after and he was very pleasant. Was a bit awestruct and couldn’t think of anything to say to him that wouldn’t just be trite and come off as vaguely sycophantic.

    Ethics being my field, I love this video, it is simple yes, but so it should be; ‘we create meaning, let’s make more goodness in the world’, can’t argue with that :)

  • KeithCollyer

     It is true that many discoveries have been made through intuition, but they are not accepted unless some non-intuitive proof can be presented. I could “discover” “intuitively” that there is a feathered serpent flying over your house, but nobody is going to believe me without proof.

    At least, I hope that nobody would believe me without proof

  • A3Kr0n

     Ya, I just wanted to say “deepity”. That’s all.

  • Pseudonym

    “I certainly do not deny that I still accept an imperative of knowledge
    and that through it men may be influenced, but then it must come alive
    in me, and this is what I now recognize as the most important of all.”
    – Søren Kierkegaard

  • Danifredo

    DD is really such an arrogant tool. He covers philosophy as if he participates in it but in the end he is just a folk philosopher with a distinctive brand of anti-religion. Atheism has very little to do with his line of reasoning. I do like him as a kind old Santa Claus, but where are the goodies? His books will be forgotten in 20 years and nobody really cares about his tired old saw of a meaningless universe. Ugh!

  • Xena

    What has intuition that bring about ideas that lead to discoveries have to do with flying serpents I wonder. I don’t know about serpents but some such as the indigo children seem to see spirits. Man in general can see and hear within a very limited range so who are you and I to say that a general rule must apply to everyone. I rule out nothing. I only know that man’s knowledge and intelligence is very limited, including mine, obviously.

  • Danifredo

    Existentialism beat DD to the punch. Except any existentialist on a bad day is more eloquent than DD on his best day. He sure looks the part of a kind old fat man, but I suspect he is a seething arrogant on the inside.

  • AxeGrrl

    We make our own meaning only if …….

    Sorry, there’s no “if” or “only if” there.  Why?  because ‘meaning’ and/or ‘meaningfulness’ doesn’t exist in a vacuum ~ there is always an implied referent whenever those words are used; something is “meaningful” TO someone.  

    If Joe Blow down the street finds deep meaning in his toy train collection (perhaps because a family member was employed by the railway, etc) that doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone else will find/see the same ‘meaning’ in that collection that he does.

    Does that mean that his toy train collection isn’t ‘meaningful’?  Of course not.  It’s meaningful because it’s meaningful to him.  Even if he were the ONLY person in the world who felt that way, it could still, validly, be described as ‘meaningful’.

    ….only if we are unaware of what the true meaning should be

    Uhm, “true meaning”?  Sorry, you’re really going to need to substantiate that such a thing even exists before I or anyone else needs to even reply to it.

  • KeithCollyer

     I was taking the argument to an extreme for illustration. But, relating to serpents, Kekule’s discovery of the structure of benzene came about because he dreamed of a serpent swallowing its own tail, leading to the intuition that benzene was a ring. But he did not publish until he had worked through the implications of this intuition to convince himself he was right.

    The point, like my silly example, is that intuition on its own is not enough, you need something else to really believe. Otherwise what you are doing is not science, but religion.

    Oh, and “indigo children”. They are just a fantasy of a mother who does not want to believe that her child is autistic. Guess what, she has an intuition, but no proof.

    I don’t see (no pun intended) what your point about limited range of sight and hearing has to do with general rules.

    To say you rule out nothing is more than an admission of limited knowledge, it is self-delusional. We all rule out many things. It is in the nature of humanity – indeed of conscious life.

  • http://twitter.com/Luckette808 Richard Savery

    You really got it in for Dennett with your cheap shots, eh, Danifredo? I suppose you have a crystal ball, too?