Hilary Putnam

Hilary Whitehall Putnam (/ˈpʌtnəm/; July 31, 1926 – March 13, 2016) was an American philosopher, mathematician, and computer scientist, and a major figure in analytic philosophy in the second half of the 20th century. He made significant contributions to philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophy of science.[8] Outside philosophy, Putnam contributed to mathematics and computer science. Together with Martin Davis he developed the Davis–Putnam algorithm for the Boolean satisfiability problem[9] and he helped demonstrate the unsolvability of Hilbert's tenth problem.[10]

Hilary Putnam
Putnam in 2006
Hilary Whitehall Putnam

(1926-07-31)July 31, 1926
DiedMarch 13, 2016(2016-03-13) (aged 89)
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania
Harvard University
University of California, Los Angeles
Spouse(s)Ruth Anna Putnam
AwardsRolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy (2011), Nicholas Rescher Prize for Systematic Philosophy (2015)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Postanalytic philosophy
Mathematical quasi-empiricism
Metaphysical realism (1983)
Internal realism (1987, 1990)
Direct realism (1994)
Transactionalism (2012)
InstitutionsNorthwestern University
Princeton University
Harvard University
ThesisThe Meaning of the Concept of Probability in Application to Finite Sequences (1951)
Doctoral advisorHans Reichenbach
Doctoral studentsPaul Benacerraf
George Boolos
Hartry Field
Jerry Fodor
Alva Noë
Ned Block
Norman Daniels
Georges Rey
Mark Wilson
Elliott Sober
David Macarthur
Other notable studentsRichard Boyd
Main interests
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of language
Philosophy of science
Philosophy of mathematics
Jewish philosophy
Notable ideas
Multiple realizability of the mental
Causal theory of reference
Semantic externalism (reference theory of meaning)
Brain in a vat · Twin Earth
Putnam's model-theoretical argument against metaphysical realism (Putnam's paradox)[2][3]
Internal realism
Quine–Putnam indispensability thesis
Kreisel–Putnam logic
Davis–Putnam algorithm
Rietdijk–Putnam argument
No-miracles argument
Realist account of quantum logic
Framework principles[4]
Mathematical quasi-empiricism
Criticism of the innateness hypothesis

Putnam was known for his willingness to apply equal scrutiny to his own philosophical positions as to those of others, subjecting each position to rigorous analysis until he exposed its flaws.[11] As a result, he acquired a reputation for frequently changing his positions.[12] In philosophy of mind, Putnam is known for his argument against the type-identity of mental and physical states based on his hypothesis of the multiple realizability of the mental, and for the concept of functionalism, an influential theory regarding the mind–body problem.[8][13] In philosophy of language, along with Saul Kripke and others, he developed the causal theory of reference, and formulated an original theory of meaning, introducing the notion of semantic externalism based on a thought experiment called Twin Earth.[14]

In philosophy of mathematics, he and his mentor W. V. O. Quine developed the Quine–Putnam indispensability argument, an argument for the reality of mathematical entities,[15] later espousing the view that mathematics is not purely logical, but "quasi-empirical".[16] In epistemology, he is known for his critique of the well-known "brain in a vat" thought experiment. This thought experiment appears to provide a powerful argument for epistemological skepticism, but Putnam challenges its coherence.[17] In metaphysics, he originally espoused a position called metaphysical realism, but eventually became one of its most outspoken critics, first adopting a view he called "internal realism",[18] which he later abandoned. Despite these changes of view, throughout his career he remained committed to scientific realism, roughly the view that mature scientific theories are approximately true descriptions of ways things are.[19]

In the philosophy of perception, Putnam came to endorse direct realism, according to which perceptual experiences directly present one with the external world. He once further held that there are no mental representations, sense data, or other intermediaries that stand between the mind and the world.[20] By 2012, however, he rejected this commitment in favor of "transactionalism", a view that accepts both that perceptual experiences are world-involving transactions, and that these transactions are functionally describable (provided that worldly items and intentional states may be referred to in the specification of the function). Such transactions can further involve qualia.[21][22] In his later work, Putnam became increasingly interested in American pragmatism, Jewish philosophy, and ethics, engaging with a wider array of philosophical traditions. He also displayed an interest in metaphilosophy, seeking to "renew philosophy" from what he identified as narrow and inflated concerns.[23] He was at times a politically controversial figure, especially for his involvement with the Progressive Labor Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s.[24][25] At the time of his death, Putnam was Cogan University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University.

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