Hilary Putnam (1926-2016) (updated)


Hilary Putnam, Cogan University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, died earlier today. Professor Putnam was a tremendously influential philosopher, working across a broad range of fields, including philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of math, and moral philosophy. (A list of his works is available here.) He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, his Ph.D. from UCLA, and taught at Northwestern University, Princeton University, and MIT, before joining the faculty at Harvard.

There will be a funeral Monday at 12:30 p.m. at Levine Chapel, 470 Harvard Street, Brookline, Massachusetts. Burial will be immediately after at the Crawford St. Cemetery at 776 Baker Street, West Roxbury.

His wife, Ruth Anna Putnam, writes in an email, “If you would like to make a gift in Hilary’s memory, please donate to Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama 36104.”

I will update this post with further information and memorial notices as they become available.

Putnam 2

(correction: the title of this post initially incorrectly stated Putnam’s birth year as 1929. It is 1926.)

UPDATE: Below are links to related online material. If you have relevant links please mention them in the comments or email them to me. Thank you.

Below is a photo of Putnam participating by video in a conference last October, “The Philosophy of Hilary Putnam” at IIT Bombay, courtesy of Sanjit Chakraborty.

Putnam at Putnam Conference

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Jennifer
Jennifer
5 years ago

One of a kind. A sad lossReport

Larry Cahoone
Larry Cahoone
5 years ago

A great philosopher. He not only knew the contemporary work in his major areas, but the history of Western philosophy. So his contributions were not only technically creative, but philosophically deep. Famously, he was not afraid to change his mind. That’s what the people who keep learning do. And amazing for anyone of his stature, he was a deeply, genuinely good human being. To paraphrase: a circular mensch. That is, a mensch from every perspective. The end of an era.Report

dzc
dzc
5 years ago

So sad to hear this!Report

Adam Omelianchuk
Adam Omelianchuk
5 years ago

Three cheers for the creator of Twin Earth. Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
5 years ago

Professor Putnam lived to see the publication of his Library of Living Philosophers volume, but sadly not the reviews which, having skimmed it, I expect to be ecstatic. It shows a philosopher who managed to maintain his joie de philosophie (not to mention is massive talent) right up to the last. His intellectual autobiography is a model of its kind, his replies to criticisms generous but acute. And I personally am pleased to see that he has largely given up ‘internal realism’ and reverted to the scientific realism of his earlier years. For young philosophers, not raised on Putnam, who want to know what all the fuss was about I strongly recommend it. Report

MADHUCCHANDA SEN
MADHUCCHANDA SEN
5 years ago

I am deeply saddened by this news. He was probably the last of the great Analytical Philosophers and we were still learning from him. He visited India and has had many students and intellectual followers in the country here. In most of the Departments his work is taught.
Our deepest condolence to Professor Putnam’s family and colleagues.
Please can you send me Professor Putnam’s residential address. We shall hold a condolence meeting here at our university and would like to send our message to Professor Ruth Anna Putnam.
Madhucchanda Sen
Jadavpur University
Kolkata India
[email protected]Report

oliver
oliver
5 years ago

I am very sad.professor putnam was one of the most important philosophers in our age.god bless himReport

Muhammad Javed
Muhammad Javed
5 years ago

RIP Hilary Putnam; The great philosopher of our times. Really a great loss to philosophy.Report

Seong-Young Her
5 years ago

The analytics have lost a hero. RIPReport

quidnunc
quidnunc
5 years ago

I’m sad to read of his passing. Anyone interested in his thoughts on “nonscientific” knowledge which Nussbaum mentioned could listen to a good lecture of his on that topic from his 1998 lectures at the University of Adelaide (also I think in his 2007 collected papers):

http://individual.utoronto.ca/djp/archive.html

Also in honor of his thinking on meaning and reference discussed in that 2001 interview with Julian Baggini there is an interesting essay written by Ian Hacking titled “Putnam’s Theory of Natural Kinds and Their Names is not the same as Kripke’s”:

http://www.periodicos.ufsc.br/index.php/principia/article/view/14845/13562Report

JGS
JGS
5 years ago

Thanks for posting the link to Putnam’s “A Half Century of Philosophy,” which I hadn’t come across. As someone who knew the currents of “analytic philosophy” and its history so well, I found this last paragraph on the use of the term quite moving:

“If ‘analytic philosophy’ means, simply, philosophy that is informed by a knowledge of science, a knowledge of the achievements of modern logic, and a knowledge of the great works of past analytic philosophers from Russell, Frege, Reichenbach, and Carnap through the present, then I am most certainly not calling for an end to it. I am concerned about certain tendencies in analytic philosophy — by the tendency to scientism, the tendency to patronize the history of philosophy, the refusal to hear other sorts of philosophy — but fighting those tendencies is not the same thing as fighting analytic philosophy. As a philosopher whose own writing is full of references to Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Quine, Davidson, Kripke, David Lewis, and others, I count myself as an ‘analytic philosopher’ in that sense. But, to mention one last tendency of which I disapprove, I see the tendency to think of analytic philosophy as a ‘movement’ (a tendency that has led to the creation of new — and exclusionary — associations of analytic philosophers in several European countries) as a bad thing. From my point of view, the only legitimate function for ‘movements’ in philosophy is to gain attention and recognition for ideas that are not yet being received or which have been neglected or marginalized. Analytic philosophy has been around a long time, and it is certainly one of the dominant currents in world philosophy. Making it into a ‘movement’ is not necessary, and it only preserves the features I have deplored. Just as we can learn from Kant without calling ourselves Kantians, and from James and Dewey without calling ourselves pragmatists, and from Wittgenstein without calling ourselves Wittgensteinians, so we can learn from Frege and Russell and Carnap and Quine and Davidson without calling ourselves ‘analytic philosophers.’ Why can we not just be ‘philosophers’ without an adjective?”

Hear, hear.Report

SANJIT CHAKRABORTY
SANJIT CHAKRABORTY
5 years ago

My Gurudev Hilary Putnam: A Memoriam
I call Hilary Putnam, my Gurudev, i.e. a mentor whom his disciple can consider as God.
In the last eight years, we have more than 1000 lovely academic and personal email correspondences. We were never physically near, but we are mentally very close to each other and therefore he always remained as the biggest part of my life. Really, He is the man who proved the world that a wonderful relation not only depends on kinship, personal meeting, teaching etc, but on universal love and mental satisfaction that a good soul can exchange with anyone. He is my constant source of thoughts, works and life and always taught me how to live and how to love more and more to yourself and others!

My mentor did a lot for humanities, science, and society. He is now going to take some eternal rest in peace! He achieved peace in his mundane life, and it will remain continuing even after his life.
A person full of wisdom, loves and morality with always a smiling face and beautiful eyes told in his last few communications to me that ‘I feel grateful that I had so many good years’.
I, who is extremely fortunate for being showered by his gracious blessings and loves not only to me but also to my nearest, pray from my heart that Hilary Putnam, my beloved Gurudev will always remain in the core of our hearts, whom he always loved.
Affectionately,
Sanjit Chakraborty
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UG
UG
5 years ago

I recently came across an interview with Alvin Plantinga and Hilary Putnam on God, religion, etc.. Some interesting stuff from both philosophers, and some listeners even call in and ask them questions. Anyway, I thought that the readers here might be interested in this. The link is here, should anyone care: http://reformedaudio.org/audio/plantinga/The_God_Problem_Hilary_Putnam_and_Alvin_Plantiaga_discuss_Gods_existence.mp3
Report