Nicholas Rescher (1928-2024)


Nicholas Rescher, professor of philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, well-known for his work on logic, metaphysics, and epistemology, has died.

Professor Rescher wrote extensively on a wide variety of topics, including logic, epistemology, philosophy of science, metaphysics, political philosophy, and ethics. He is the author of over 100 books and 400 articles, including: Kant and the Reach of Reason (1999), Nature and Understanding: A Study of the Metaphysics of Science (2000), Epistemology: On the Scope and Limits of Knowledge (2003), Free Will (2009), Axiogenesis: An Essay in Metaphysical Optimalism (2010), The Pragmatic Vision: Themes in Philosophical Pragmatism (2014), amongst numerous others. He is well-known for introducing and developing several principles of logic, including the Rescher quantifier, as well as the theory of axiogenesis. You can learn more about Professor Rescher’s work here and here.

Professor Rescher was on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh since 1961. Prior to that, he held positions at Princeton University, the RAND Corporation, and Lehigh University. He earned his PhD in philosophy from Princeton University in 1951 at the age of 22 and his undergraduate degree from Queens College (CUNY) in 1949. Professor Rescher also held eight honorary degrees.

In addition to Professor Rescher’s prolific contribution to philosophical literature, he was also the founder of three academic journals—American Philosophical Quarterly, History of Philosophy Quarterly, and Public Affairs Quarterly—and served as President for several academic organizations, including the American Philosophical Association, the American Catholic Philosophy Association, the American G.W. Leibniz Society, the C.S. Pierce Society, and the American Metaphysics Society. Professor Rescher also received several notable prizes and awards, including the Humbolt Prize and the Aquinas Medal. The University of Pittsburgh established The Nicholas Rescher Prize in his honor, which was later changed to The Nicholas Rescher Medal when the American Philosophical Association introduced The Rescher Prize.

UPDATE: An obituary from the University of Pittsburgh

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5 months ago

His book, A System of Pragmatic Idealism, is brilliant.

Patrick S. O'Donnell
5 months ago

He happens to be one of my favorite philosophers even if he was somewhat repetitive across his many books (my interests were largely in his writings on epistemology and philosophy of science, so there is much more I have not read). I have long been puzzled by the fact that he does not seem to be (comparatively speaking) often cited in more recent philosophy, but perhaps that reflects my failure to be sufficiently acquainted with the full range of published philosophy (i.e., being, as it were, on the outside looking in). At least due recognition and well-deserved honors came in his lifetime rather than appearing post-mortem.

Richard Russell Wood
Richard Russell Wood
5 months ago

A giant. A giant loss. RIP

Pitt person
Pitt person
5 months ago

He wasn’t emeritus, he was still regular faculty (Distinguished Professor) when he died.

Justin Weinberg
Reply to  Pitt person
5 months ago

Thanks. The post has been corrected.

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Pitt person
5 months ago

Can you imagine still working at age 96 the job you’ve had for more than 60 years?? That’s real commitment, and I seriously doubt I have that in me even if this body/mind holds up (which I can already tell it won’t)…

Stephen Grover
Stephen Grover
5 months ago

His BA was from Queens College, not Queen’s College (or Queens’ College). I remember when he faxed his CV to the College in advance of his honorary degree; pages and pages and pages and pages of publications and presentations. A sad loss.

Justin Weinberg
Reply to  Stephen Grover
5 months ago

Thanks. The post has been corrected.

Leonard Waks
Leonard Waks
5 months ago

Nicholas Rescher was without question a great man and a great scholar. What is in my estimation even more important, he was among the kindest and wisest human beings I have had the privilege of knowing.

I visited Pitt on sabbatical 50 years ago. I had recently been suffering from a thyroid disease,had been left by my new girl friend only a couple of years after a devastating divorce, and was profoundly depressed. Looking back at that dark time, I am sure that everyone around me knew that I was Ill.

The highlight of my semester at Pitt was attending Nicholas Rescher’s seminar on the philosophy of science. Rescher was an excellent teacher – patient, balanced, thoughtful. But he always took time after each weekly seminar to speak with me. He would invite me to walk over to his office or car with him and we would speak about both philosophy and life. He also encouraged my work and suggested a journal to consider for publishing the paper I wrote for that seminar.

Many years later I read one of Nicholas’s autobiographical books and his wonderful book on unselfishness. Both reflect his philosophical wisdom and his own selflessness. I learned a lot from both books. Here is a reference to the book on unselfishness: https://www.amazon.com/Unselfishness-Vicarious-Affects-Philosophy-Social/dp/0822984539

Ernest Sosa
Ernest Sosa
5 months ago

Nicholas Rescher

A consummate scholar *and* human being. And my dear teacher from his earliest days at Pitt, whose support meant everything to me personally and academically. I am so sad to know he is no longer with us. But I focus on the amazing life that he lived fully to the very end, still active across a broad span of academic activity. Good bye, dear Nick!

Patrick Lin
5 months ago

A couple reflections:

I didn’t know Nicholas Rescher personally, but I still remember to this day that he had a chapter “Canons of Distributive Justice”—in a James Sterba anthology used in one of my first philosophy courses as an undergraduate in the late 1980s—that sparked my interest in political and economic philosophy. This is the field I went to graduate school for, and I think I had even switched majors from the sciences to philosophy shortly after this class. And this path later turned into technology ethics, so I really owe Prof. Rescher for who I am today, despite never having met him.

Also, when I read these announcements, I feel sad not only for the loss of the person (and for their families, etc.), but also for the lack of a general practice of telling people how much they mean to us while they’re alive, while it can still mean something to them.

I know it’s weird to reach out to someone like this, esp. at a time where we might want to vet a person’s positions on politics and other issues before we even want to know them. I’ve reached out in the past to some teachers/professors who were crucial in my life, but not to someone I’ve never met. Many of those I owe a debt to are no longer with us since I’m old af, so it’s too late for them (and me). But I’m going to think about this some more and plan to send some notes out to those who are still around, before there’s no time.

Happy New Year, everyone. It’s often hard to know which one will be your last…

https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html

A. Z. Obiedat
5 months ago

What a great loss to humanity. How much I love this man; his books elevate my soul. He managed 170 books as of today! I would call his synthesis: 1- Leibnitz systemism, 2- Kant’s idealism, 3- Peirce’s Pragmatism, within the traditions of 4- analytic philosophy and 5- Modern science.
It is the first time ever that the Plato of our times dies after the Aristotle of our times. I mean the Rescher died two years after Mario Bunge. My attempt to Arabize Rescher’s “Aporetic Method” here: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=pfbid02HzFP5PtDaWMNKg1pskZTjXecibQNEdigya25nc5yBVcBYvRELtfVUhxk9xDyWcTzl&id=100014248891285

Brian Skyrms
Brian Skyrms
5 months ago

Nick Rescher and Adolf Grunbaum inspired me to switch to Philosophy as an undergrad and took a gamble in bringing me to graduate school at Pitt. As an undergrad I took logic from Nick, and a wonderful wide-ranging course on intellectual history, where I first met Ibn Khaldun. I think Nick translated it himself. Readings were distributed in mimeographed form. At Pitt he taught a course on Leibniz’s logic from Couturat, and a course on Aristotle where he defended a new reading of de Interpretatione Ch. 9. He always encouraged me, and was generous with his time. He helped me polish papers, and advised my dissertation. I was lucky to have known him.

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5 months ago

What a loss. His works on logic, philosophy of science, pragmatism, and processism alone are indispensable, let alone the tremendous range of his work I’ve yet to enjoy. We can be grateful to have had him and imagine the satisfaction with a rich and meaningful life he must have felt when his time came.

George Yancy
5 months ago

So saddened to hear this. I had the deep honor of taking Rescher’s Kant course when I was an undergraduate at Pitt. What a beautiful soul.

Cynthia Freeland
Cynthia Freeland
5 months ago

I got to know Nick Rescher when I was a graduate student at Pittsburgh in the 1970’s. He was, as others have written, an impressive scholar and a very nice and decent man. I had a course with him on some of what we might call the pre-history of more radical approaches in philosophy of science (think: Feyerabend), where we read Hempel, Duhem, Neurath, and others. You need to understand how deeply the entire Pitt department was steeped in the philosophy of science at that time, and also the fact that both Sellars and Rescher were dedicated students of Peirce. Haugeland was just new in the departmen,t teaching Kuhn every term, and Grunbaum was well into his critical study of Popper (moving on later into his critiques of Freud). This made for an exciting brew there at the time.

I also became the graduate assistant of the APQ for one semester, a paid position someone had in lieu of being a TA, and I worked with Nick on that. Much of the work involved dragging big stacks of books from the library over to his office. But you also had to read the manuscripts of his current books in progress (there were three that year, one of them being the 2nd edition of his Leibniz book), and write comments on his material and then meet with him once a week to discuss them. (His secretary kept a big calendar of his commitments, and each book had specific plans, dates, and deadlines for the completion of its various chapters.) This was a daunting task because I didn’t feel I had expertise in the things he was writing on (except for the Leibniz book), but I learned a valuable skill, namely, just sitting down with a manuscript and thinking up things that might be an issue with some of what it said and writing them out. It was a job and I did it, and I guess I did it ok.

I also was the house-sitter (along with my then-husband) for his house when he and his family went off to Oxford for the summer. This was a perk of doing the APQ job. We did it two years: the first year the Reschers were living in Highland Park, and then they moved over to Squirrel Hill into a bigger house. It was quite fun as a grad student getting by in a little apartment to be able to lord it over a large fancy house and make meals in a nice big kitchen, then invite people over to dinner in a pleasant dining room. I especially enjoyed the fact that the second house had a very nice piano I could practice on each morning. Nick did not strike me as a very warm person as Grunbaum was) or a charismatic teacher (like Sellars). I found him more the polite and distant type; even in class at times he seemed sometimes rather vague or absent minded in his teaching–but in a way that conveyed he was thinking about hard problems that lay elsewhere. I was really taken aback when he invited me to call him “Nick,” but I did learn to do so.

It’s been so interesting to me to read what others have said here about him and through others’ comments I’ve learned a lot more about him, and want to thank everyone. It’s made me remember him and feel more appreciation for who he was. I’m glad I got to know him, at least a bit, and I felt that perhaps it would be appropriate to add in my own reminiscences of him here.

Current Philosophy PhD Student
Current Philosophy PhD Student
5 months ago

In 2017, when I was in my last year as an undergrad at Pitt, Nicholas Rescher taught an advanced undergraduate seminar on Peirce, James, and Dewey which I had the good fortune to attend. It was only a group of about 10 students and really felt like a graduate seminar (some weeks we would read well over 100 pages of dense pragmatist texts). I can’t quite put into words how much that seminar meant to me, it was the kind of course that I look back on and wish that I could take a second time.

One day in the seminar, I asked an offhand question about the relevance of Hegel to some remark in a William James reading, and Professor Rescher ended up inviting me to come chat in his office and spent nearly two hours asking about my philosophical interests. Even in the very warm and intellectually stimulating environment that Pitt provided me as a philosophy undergrad, he really stood out to me as an unbelievably kind and generous person (in addition, of course, to being a truly great thinker).

About a year ago I wrote him an email thanking him for that conversation and saying how much it had meant to me, and he not only wrote me a lovely reply but even mailed me a copy of a book of his that I had asked about! I feel very lucky to have crossed paths with Nick Rescher, thank you for everything.

Last edited 5 months ago by Current Philosophy PhD Student
Zenon Marko
Zenon Marko
4 months ago

R.I.P. Dr. Rescher. Your work presents an immense wealth of thought-provoking ideas, and encompasses an ambitious — and rare in our age of specialization — attempt to generate a complete philosophical system. You have been a great source of inspiration, and through your written words, shall continue to be so for many years to come.

Priyedarshi Jetli
Priyedarshi Jetli
4 months ago

I first emailed Nicholas Rescher on October 3, 2021 inviting him to speak online to our group in India which began during Covid in 2020. He responded on October 4 and since then we had a few email exchanges and he always encouraged me to pursue my projects. I was surprised that he did not have a Google Scholar profile page so I urged him to have one put up soon. He did so within a month and his h-index was 80, which I had already somewhat manually calculated. Right now it is at 86. The breadth and depth of his work speaks for itself. He was humble but not void of wit. In a write-up in a book introducing the Pittsburgh School of Sellars, McDowell, Brandom, Nicholas Rescher mentioned in passing the name “Nicholas Rescher” with a qualifying phrase “who was at Pittsburgh before Sellars arrived.” In the context, this was not arrogant but a display of humility and it stated a simple fact that most ignore. In any case his 191 (by my count) journal publications alone for a total of 2411 pages is astounding and I don’t think will ever be surpassed!!!!!

Nadia Maftouni
Nadia Maftouni
4 months ago

Dear Nicholas,
Just now I realized that you have passed away, when I was preparing my slides including some lessons of your invaluable book: A journey through Philosophy.
I am teaching your books in my courses.
Your knowledge was more than your virtues and your virtues, more than your knowledge.
I love you and my sincere condolences to your family.
Rest in peace,

Nadia Maftouni
University of Tehran, Iran