Putnam, Hilary


Putnam, Hilary
born July 31, 1926, Chicago, Ill., U.S.

U.S. philosopher.

After receiving his Ph.D. in 1951 he taught at Northwestern University, Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard. Early in his career he was a defender of scientific realism. In the 1960s he extended the causal theory of reference to natural-kind and other scientific terms. He is known as the originator of functionalism in the philosophy of mind, though he later rejected that approach (see philosophy of language). Beginning in the mid-1970s he gradually abandoned his earlier scientific realism in favour of a pragmatically oriented view he called "internal realism." According to this view, scientific theories are not true absolutely but only relative to large-scale conceptual schemes. Among his many works are Philosophical Papers (3 vol., 1975–83), Reason, Truth, and History (1981), and Pragmatism (1995).

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▪ American philosopher
born July 31, 1926, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
 
 leading American philosopher who made major contributions to metaphysics, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, the philosophy of science (science, philosophy of), the philosophy of mathematics (mathematics, philosophy of), and the philosophy of logic (logic, philosophy of).

      Putnam's father, Samuel Putnam, was an active communist and a writer for the Daily Worker, then the semi-official voice of the American Communist Party. Putnam studied mathematics and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and attended graduate school in philosophy at Harvard University and the University of California at Los Angeles, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1951. He taught mathematics at Northwestern University and Princeton University until 1961 and the philosophy of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology until 1976, when he joined the philosophy department at Harvard. He retired in 2000.

      Early in his career Putnam was a defender of scientific realism, the view that well-developed scientific theories refer to real features of the world, and a critic of conventionalism, which holds that the laws of logic, mathematics, and geometry are true merely by stipulation. Unless one assumed the truth of realism, Putnam argued, the success of science would be a miracle.

      In the philosophy of language (language, philosophy of) Putnam extended the causal theory of reference, developed in the 1960s by the Princeton philosopher Saul Kripke and others, from proper names to natural-kind and other scientific terms. Against the more traditional view, Putnam attempted to show that the referents of nouns like “water” and “tiger” cannot be determined by their associated “meanings” as they appear in the heads of English speakers, because one can easily imagine a hypothetical duplicate “Twin Earth” in which the mental states of the speakers were the same though the entity the term referred to was chemically or in some other way different. In fact, Putnam urged, the entity picked out by any given use of such a term is fixed through a “causal chain” of prior uses leading back to the thing itself.

      In the early 1960s Putnam developed a new approach in the philosophy of mind (mind, philosophy of), known as functionalism, which defined mental states in terms of their causal roles relative to other mental and physical states and behaviours. Thus, pain might be defined as the type of state that is caused by events such as bumps and cuts and that results in mental states such as fear and worry and physical states such as muscle contractions and increased blood pressure and behaviours such as saying “Ouch.” In later decades Putnam abandoned this view, largely because its conception of mental states as “internal” to the individual rendered it unable to account for mental states (such as beliefs about water and tigers) that, according to Putnam, essentially involve reference to things in the external world.

      Beginning in the mid-1970s Putnam gradually abandoned his earlier scientific realism, which he now characterized as “metaphysical,” in favour of a pragmatically-oriented view that he called “internal realism.” Extrapolating from results obtained in set theory, Putnam concluded that even an ideal scientific theory of the world, one that met all observational and theoretical constraints, would still be compatible with a potentially infinite number of “models,” or pairings of theoretical terms with possible entities in the world. Hence it does not make sense to say that the terms of one theory refer to “real” entities whereas the terms of another do not, or alternatively, that one theory rather than another is absolutely “true.” Instead, scientific theories are true or plausible only relative to large-scale conceptual schemes.

      Among Putnam's many publications are Philosophical Papers, 3 vol. (1975–83), Reason, Truth, and History (1981), Renewing Philosophy (1992), and Pragmatism (1995).

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • PUTNAM, HILARY — (1926– ), U.S. scholar. Born in Chicago, Putnam is the son of Samuel Putnam, a writer and translator. Hilary Putnam received his bachelor s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1948 and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Los… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Putnam, Hilary — (1926– ) American philosopher. Born in Chicago, Putnam was educated at the university of Pennsylvania and university of California, Los Angeles. He taught at Northwestern, Princeton, and M. I. T. before joining Harvard in 1965. Putnam is widely… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Putnam, Hilary — (n. 31 jul. 1926, Chicago, Ill., EE.UU.). Filósofo estadounidense. Después de obtener su Ph.D. en 1951, enseñó en la Northwestern University, en la Universidad de Princeton, en el Instituto de Tecnología de Massachussets, y en Harvard. Al… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Putnam — Putnam, Hilary …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Hilary Whitehall Putnam — Hilary Putnam Pour les articles homonymes, voir Putnam. Hilary Putnam Philosophe Époque contemporaine …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Hilary W. Putnam — Hilary Putnam Hilary Whitehall Putnam (* 31. Juli 1926 in Chicago, Illinois) ist ein amerikanischer Philosoph. Er gilt als eine der Schlüsselfiguren der Sprachphilosophie und der Philosophie des Geistes im 20. Jahrhundert. Inhaltsverzeichnis …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Hilary Whitehall Putnam — Hilary Putnam Hilary Whitehall Putnam (* 31. Juli 1926 in Chicago, Illinois) ist ein amerikanischer Philosoph. Er gilt als eine der Schlüsselfiguren der Sprachphilosophie und der Philosophie des Geistes im 20. Jahrhundert. Inhaltsverzeichnis …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Hilary Putnam — Hilary Whitehall Putnam (* 31. Juli 1926 in Chicago, Illinois) ist ein amerikanischer Philosoph. Er gilt als eine der Schlüsselfiguren der Sprachphilosophie und der Philosophie des Geistes im 20. Jahrhundert …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Hilary Putnam — Retrato de Putnam. Hilary Whitehall Putnam (nacido el 31 de julio de 1926, en Chicago (Illinois)) es u …   Wikipedia Español

  • Hilary Putnam — Infobox Philosopher region = Western Philosophy era = 20th century philosophy color = #B0C4DE name = Hilary Whitehall Putnam birth = July 31, 1926 flagicon|USA|size=20px Chicago, Illinois school tradition = Analytic main interests = Philosophy of …   Wikipedia


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