Realism with a Human Face

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Harvard University Press, 1992 - Philosophy - 347 pages

The time has come to reform philosophy, says Hilary Putnam, one of America's great philosophers. He calls upon philosophers to attend to the gap between the present condition of their subject and the human aspirations that philosophy should and once did claim to represent. Putnam's goal is to embed philosophy in social life.

The first part of this book is dedicated to metaphysical questions. Putnam rejects the contemporary metaphysics that insists on describing both the mind and the world from a God's-eye view. In its place he argues for pluralism, for a philosophy that is not a closed systematic method but a human practice connected to real life. Philosophy has a task, to be sure, but it is not to provide an inventory of the basic furniture of the universe or to separate reality in itself from our own projections. Putnam makes it clear that science is not in the business of describing a ready-made world, and philosophy should not be in that business either.

The author moves on to show that the larger human context in which science matters is a world of values animated by ethics and aesthetic judgments. No adequate philosophy should try to explain away ethical facts. The dimension of history is added in the third part of the book. Here Putnam takes up a set of American philosophers, some firmly within and others outside the canon of analytic philosophy, such as William James and C. S. Peirce, and he explores the pragmatist contribution to philosophy from James to Quine and Goodman.

This book connects issues in metaphysics with cultural and literary issues and argues that the collapse of philosophical realism does not entail a fall into the abyss of relativism and postmodern skepticism. It is aimed primarily at philosophers but should appeal to a wide range of humanists and social scientists.

 

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Realism with a human face

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In this excellent collection of thematically linked essays, Harvard philosopher Putnam argues that it is time for philosophy to leave its world of system-building and to return to its true place as a ... Read full review

Contents

I
xv
II
1
III
3
IV
30
V
43
VI
54
VII
80
VIII
96
XV
179
XVI
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XXI
232
XXII
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XIII
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XIV
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XXIII
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XXIV
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XXVI
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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.

James Conant is Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago.

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