Born in Chicago (1926), Putnam graduated in literature and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania (BA 1948). After a year spent at Harvard (where he started his postgraduate studies, attending also some classes in mathematics), received his Phd in philosophy at UCLA in 1951 under Reichenbach’s supervision. During his long career he lectured at Northwestern University (1952-53), Princeton (1953-61), MIT (1961-65) and later at Harvard (1965-2001) until his retirement. Married to the moral philosopher Ruth Anna Putnam, he passed away (alas!) on March 13, 2016.
In 2011 Putnam was awarded the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for philosophy.
One of the greatest philosophers of the second part of the Twentieth Century according to many scholars, Putnam had his turning point in the Seventies, when he shifted from an early “strict” analytical point of view, a kind of scientific realism later named “Metaphysical Realism” (roughly a sort of sophisticated physicalism), to a new position labeled “internal realism” (a sort of third way between realism and anti-realism).
This “interim” phase (1976-1989) was later overcome by another view, labeled “naive”, “natural”, “pragmatic” or “common-sense realism”. A stance aiming at a recovery, in some respects, of a different form of “scientific realism” than the previous “metaphysical” one, esplicitly linked to the rediscovery of the insights of the American pragmatists (especially William James, John Dewey and Ch.S.Peirce). In other words a view leading to a “pragmatic” pluralistic account of realism (in opposition to other scientistic and reductivist forms).
In philosophy of mind this pluralistic nuance was at this stage centred on a renewed account of perception, dismissing the overwhelming (since Descartes on) image of the mind based upon the idea of sense-data as a “cognitive interface” between the world and the conceptual level (“direct realism”).
In the rediscovery of a “pragmatist heritage”, however, Putnam disagreed with Rorty’s (or Heidegger’s, or of any other source) “end-of-philosophy” diagnosis, namely its dissolution into a sort of disengaged, ironic, fictional exercise after the end of “Metaphysics”.
Conversely, Putnam’s reflection was based on a lively relationship with a large range of classical thinkers (Aristotle, Kant, James, Dewey, Wittgenstein among the others) and different contemporary views, related both to the so-called “analytical” and the “continental” philosophy.
Putnam’s pluralistic approach concerning epistemological, ontological and metaphysical issues (but pertaining also to ethical and religious concerns) was openly conceived as a necessary step towards the hard task of renewing philosophy.
Putnam’ s blog: A Sardonic Comment
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Un filosofo inquieto. Breve introduzione a Hilary Putnam
Si veda il seguente articolo: Gazzola A., Un filosofo inquieto: Hilary Putnam tra scienza, etica e pensiero religioso, Il margine, n.6, 2006