Renewing philosophy

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Harvard University Press, 1992 - Philosophy - 234 pages
A renewal of philosophy is precisely the point of this book, drawn from the 1989 Gifford Lectures by one of America's most distinguished philosophers. In a wide-ranging survey of major issues, Hilary Putnam proposes a revitalized approach to philosophical questions. Putnam contests the view that only science offers an appropriate model for philosophical inquiry, that only a metaphysics congruent with physics suffices, while questions of art and ethics, love, death, and religion must be set aside due to the lack of an adequate language or perspective. His discussion of topics from artificial intelligence to natural selection, and of reductive philosophical views derived from these models, identifies the insuperable problems encountered by philosophy when it ignores the normative or attempts to reduce it to something else. Looking for a better way of doing philosophy, Putnam takes up the problems posed by religious discourse - often viewed by philosophers as prescientific and primitive, an unlikely survivor from the age of superstition. In luminous pages on Wittgenstein, he refutes this view and shows how the philosopher's frequently misunderstood forays into religious discourse actually open up philosophy to a broad range of practical, moral, and political issues. In closing, Putnam considers Dewey, who occupies a middle ground between metaphysics and skepticism, and whose broadly epistemological arguments in favor of democracy this book eloquently advances. Written in Putnam's characteristically lucid and engaging style, this is a compelling call to reject the confusions and reductions that obscure the human issues which it has always been philosophy's highest goal to articulate.

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Renewing philosophy

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By criticizing some theses of cognitive science and evolutionary theory, noted Harvard philosopher Putnam tries to show that present-day science does not provide an adequate metaphysics. He then ... Read full review


The Project of Artificial Intelligence
Does Evolution Explain Representation?
A Theory of Reference

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About the author (1992)

According to John Passmore, Hilary Putnam's work is a "history of recent philosophy in outline" (Recent Philosophers). He adds that writing "about "Putnam's philosophy' is like trying to capture the wind with a fishing-net." Born in Chicago and educated at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Los Angeles, Putnam taught at Northwestern University, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before moving to Harvard University in 1965. In his early years at Harvard, he was an outspoken opponent of the war in Vietnam. Although he writes in the idiom of analytic philosophy, Putnam addresses major themes relating science to ethics and epistemology. If these themes are reminiscent of David Hume---as, for that matter, is much of analytic philosophy---his treatment of them is not. Putnam's work is far more profoundly shaped by recent work in logic, foundations of mathematics, and science than would have been possible for Hume; Putnam has contributed to each. He differs from Hume and stands more in the tradition of Willard Quine and American pragmatism in his treatment of the crucial distinctions between analytic and synthetic statements and between facts and values. Both distinctions, sharply made by Hume, are claimed by Putnam not to be absolute. He attempts to show, for example, that basic concepts of philosophy, science, and mathematics all are interrelated, so that mathematics bears more similarity to empirical reasoning than is customarily acknowledged.

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