Hilary Putnam

American philosopher

Hilary Whitehall Putnam (July 31, 1926 - March 13, 2016) was an American philosopher who has been a central figure in analytic philosophy since the 1960s, especially in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and philosophy of science. He is known for his willingness to apply an equal degree of scrutiny to his own philosophical positions as to those of others, subjecting each position to rigorous analysis until he exposes its flaws. As a result, he has acquired a reputation for frequently changing his own position.

Hilary Putnam


  • The physicist who states a law of nature with the aid of a mathematical formula is abstracting a real feature of a real material world, even if he has to speak of numbers, vectors, tensors, state-functions, or whatever to make the abstraction.
    • in What is Mathematics, in Hilary Putnam (1979). Mathematics, matter, and method. Cambridge University Press. p. 60. ISBN 0521295505. 
  • No sane person should believe that something is 'subjective' merely because it cannot be settled beyond controversy.
    • (1987) The Many Faces of Realism. p. 71
  • [Oddly enough, Putnam believes part of the attraction of some of these formalisms is their obscurity]. "I think part of the appeal of mathematical logic is that the formulas look mysterious - you write backward Es!"
  • What we are left with, if what I have said so far is right, is a conclusion that I initially found very distressing: either GRW or some successor, or else Bohm or some successor, is the correct interpretation—or, to include a third possibility to please Itamar Pitowski, we will just fail to find a scientific realist interpretation which is acceptable. (And the ghost of Bohr will laugh, and say, ‘I told you all along that the human mind cannot produce a realist interpretation of quantum mechanics’!)
    • "A philosopher looks at quantum mechanics (again)", Brit. J. Phil. Sci. 56 (2005), 615–634
  • It was Rudolf Carnap’s dream for the last three decades of his life to show that science proceeds by a formal syntactic method; today no one to my knowledge holds out any hope for that project.
    • Hilary Putnam, in: James Conant, Urszula M. Zeglen (2012) Hilary Putnam: Pragmatism and Realism. p. 14

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