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Hilary Putnam on mind and meanings – Philosopher of the Month

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Hilary Putnam was one of the most influential philosophers of science of the twentieth century and had an impact on philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics. Along with Richard Rorty, he was also a key figure in the revival of Pragmatism and was influenced by the philosophies of John Dewey, William James, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. As a philosopher, he tended to hold a middle and liberal position and was famous for changing his views.Putnam was born in Chicago in 1926. His father, Samuel, was a scholar of Romance languages and translator, and a Communist who wrote a column for the Daily Worker. His mother, Riva, was Jewish but Putnam had a secular upbringing. Putnam grew up in France and Philadelphia and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, in philosophy and mathematics, in 1948. He began his PhD at Harvard under Willard Van Orman Quin and completed it at University of California, Los Angeles, taught by the leading figures in logical empiricism, Hans Reichenbach and Rudolf Carnap.  Although Putnam distanced himself from logical empiricism and became a critic of the movement, his close contacts with his mentors remained visible in his work. He taught at North-western, Princeton, and M.I.T before joining Harvard in 1965.In the 1960s and 70s, Putnam was well-known for his theory of semantic externalism and the functionalist theory of the mind. According to Putnam, words get their meaning not from images or descriptions that individual speakers associate with those words in their minds, but from the causal links and contacts we have with the external world. He wrote about his views on meaning in two articles, “Meaning and Reference” (1973) and “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’” (1975). He used a famous Twin Earth Thought Experiment to demonstrate that meanings are not subjective or “in the head” as he put in, and depend partly on the social and natural world.In the 1960s and early 1970s Putnam helped to refine. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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