Speaking of pragmatic philosophers, philosopher Hilary Putnam passed away this week at the age of eighty nine. Admittedly there is only one reason I still remember Hilary Putnam and that is because Hilary is a dude, I was introduced to his pragmatism early on in my education. It’s a shame to see him go, so few known working philosophers are still around. I thought in memory of his studies I’d write an essay about his work.
He was born in Chicago Illinois on July 31, 1926 to a Jewish family and he passed away just days ago on March 13, 2016 in Boston Massachusetts. Imagine all the amazing and horrific things this man saw in his life!
He studied at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and UCLA, where he was mainly interested in analytic philosophy and of course pragmatism. To further break this down would be the subjects of philosophy of mind, language, science, and math (Epistemology and metaphysics). He also studied Jewish philosophy, which until modern Haskala was preoccupied with the attempts to reconcile coherent new ideas into Rabbinical teachings. Putnam obviously himself contributed to both western and twentieth century philosophy, he won awards such as the Rolf Schock Prizes in both logic and philosophy for 2011 and the Nicholas Rescher prize for systematic philosophy.
Putnam is also responsible for many notable ideas that I studied in debth, including the brain in a vat. The brain in a vat talks about the idea that for all we know all our experiences could be fake because it is all just happening in our minds. We think that we see, feel, and smell certain experiences but whose to say that any of it is real? I love this idea, it gets me through otherwise miserable experiences. He was also influenced by a few of my favorites; Quine, Kant, James, Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, Marx and of course Freud (who was of course a psychologist rather than a philosopher).
Putnam taught at both Harvard and Cogan University, he became well known for applying his analytic skills and changing his mind accordingly. I see this as the mark of a philosopher. Outside of philosophy Putnam also added a wealth of knowledge to mathematics, computer science, and ethics.