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Machines with a Point of View

Hilary Putnam, 4 February 1982

Minds and Mechanisms: Philosophical Psychology and Computational Models 
by Margaret Boden.
Harvester, 311 pp., £20, October 1981, 0 7108 0005 3
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... Margaret Boden’s somewhat breathless book sings the praises of the new ‘computational’ models in psychology and of what she rightly calls ‘the computational metaphor’. A feature of her writing is the making of (what seem to be) strong claims followed or prefaced by judicious disclaimers. When she is functioning in what I am tempted to call her disclaimer mode, she warns us against various kinds of intellectual ‘imperialism’ that AI people engage in at times (‘AI’ is the acronym for Artificial Intelligence – computer simulation of ‘intelligent’ behaviour), urges a Popperian stance of trying to falsify strong claims, and even denies that computers could in principle be conscious or have intentional states (in a non-metaphorical sense ...

Guilty Statements

Hilary Putnam, 3 May 1984

Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science 
by Ian Hacking.
Cambridge, 287 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 521 23829 3
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... Ian Hacking has written an interesting, confusing, fast-reading, slow-digesting, exasperating, idiosyncratic book which is must reading for anyone interested in the philosophy of science. The introduction is alarming indeed. After describing Feyerabend’s position (‘There are many rationalities, many styles of reason, and also many good modes of life where nothing worth calling reason matters very much’), Hacking adds: ‘My own attitude to rationality is too much like that of Feyerabend to discuss it further ...

A Technical Philosopher

Hilary Putnam, 19 May 1983

The Varieties of Reference 
by Gareth Evans, edited by John McDowell.
Oxford, 418 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 19 824685 4
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... Gareth Evans died of cancer when he was barely 34 years of age. He had been working on this book for several years; the task of completing it from his notes was carried out by John McDowell. (The first two chapters and the introduction were rewritten by Evans himself in the last months of his life.) Evans’s death at such an early age is a tragedy ...

What-it’s-like-ness

Hilary Putnam, 8 February 1996

Mental Reality 
by Galen Strawson.
MIT, 337 pp., £24.95, January 1995, 0 262 19352 3
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... Every so often one encounters a book with which one disagrees, wholly or in large part, but which one regards as a genuine contribution to philosophy precisely because it sets out views with which one disagrees, and does so with exemplary clarity and sophistication. For me, Galen Strawson’s Mental Reality is such a book, and any contemporary course of lectures on the philosophy of mind would be well advised to discuss it: the issues it deals with are important ones, and what Strawson has to say about them is original ...

Misling

Hilary Putnam, 21 April 1988

Quiddities: An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary 
by W.V. Quine.
Harvard, 249 pp., £15.95, November 1987, 0 674 74351 2
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Quine 
by Christopher Hookway.
Polity, 227 pp., £25, March 1988, 0 07 456175 8
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... The Harvard University Press asked ‘the most distinguished and influential of living philosophers’ (Strawson’s description of Quine, on the dust-jacket) to produce a collection of loosely-connected essays on topics of his choice in a format inspired by Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary – and the result is a remarkable addition to English literature ...

Liberation Philosophy

Hilary Putnam, 20 March 1986

Philosophy in History: Essays in the Historiography of Philosophy 
edited by Richard Rorty, J.B. Schneewind and Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 403 pp., £27.50, November 1984, 0 521 25352 7
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... This volume is advertised as ‘confronting the current debate between philosophy and its history’. What it turns out to contain is a series of lectures with the general title ‘Philosophy in History’ which were delivered at Johns Hopkins University during 1982-3, aided by a subvention from the enlightened Exxon Education Foundation. All the papers are of interest, some of major interest; the prospective reader should, however, be warned that this is not a book but a series of lectures, and that the level of sophistication required of the reader varies greatly from lecture to lecture ...

Life at the end of inquiry

Richard Rorty, 2 August 1984

Realism and Reason: Philosophical Papers, Vol. III 
by Hilary Putnam.
Cambridge, 312 pp., £22.50, June 1984, 0 521 24672 5
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... and influential philosopher who changed his mind several times and thereby induced exasperation. Hilary Putnam is another. Just when people have finished writing a devastating critique of Putnam, they discover that Putnam has written a similar critique of his own previous ...

C’est mon métier

Jerry Fodor, 24 January 2013

Philosophy in an Age of Science 
by Hilary Putnam.
Harvard, 659 pp., £44.95, April 2012, 978 0 674 05013 6
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... It would take at least two workaday philosophers to keep up with Hilary Putnam. Philosophy in an Age of Science is a case in point. It’s a collection of papers, most of them previously published, devoted among lots of other things to: the philosophical interpretation of quantum mechanics, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mathematics, philosophical ethics (analytic and otherwise), and the debate between solipsists, phenomenologists and realists about the epistemological and metaphysical status of ‘external’ objects ...

Putnam’s Change of Mind

Ian Hacking, 4 May 1989

Representation and Reality 
by Hilary Putnam.
MIT, 136 pp., £14.95, September 1988, 0 262 16108 7
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Mental Content 
by Colin McGinn.
Blackwell, 218 pp., £25, January 1989, 0 631 16369 7
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... established working philosophers there is none more gifted at making us think anew about both than Hilary Putnam. His latest book is motivated by large considerations, most of its arguments are driven by small ones, and its topic is deliberately restricted to something middle-sized: the brain, the mind and the computer program. At the end he soars and ...

Terrestrial Thoughts, Extraterrestrial Science

Bernard Williams, 7 February 1991

Realism with a Human Face 
by Hilary Putnam.
Harvard, 347 pp., £23.95, October 1990, 0 674 74950 2
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... well-being anti these confident judgments is not wisdom but weariness’. The American philosopher Hilary Putnam, now in his sixties and with a lot of important and influential philosophy to his credit, shows in this collection of essays and occasional pieces that he is for the most part creditably resistant to the seductions of maturity. He does tell us ...

In and out of the mind

Colin McGinn, 2 December 1993

Renewing Philosophy 
by Hilary Putnam.
Harvard, 234 pp., £19.95, January 1993, 9780674760936
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... knowledge is just one kind of cognitive system among others. Scientism isn’t even scientific. Hilary Putnam’s book is offered as a polemic against scientism, particularly in philosophy and ethics, but he does not work from the sort of general perspective present in Russell and Chomsky – and which I would support. Instead, he engages in piecemeal ...

A Science of Tuesdays

Jerry Fodor, 20 July 2000

The Threefold Cord: Mind, Body and World 
by Hilary Putnam.
Columbia, 221 pp., £17.50, January 2000, 0 231 10286 0
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... Hilary Putnam’s latest book collects two series of his lectures with two chapters of ‘afterwords’. Subsidiary topics go by faster than my eye was able to follow, but the main concerns are: ‘representational’ theories of perception, and ‘identity’ theories of the mind/body relation. The treatment of the mind/body issues, though the dialectic is often intricate, is quite summary: neither philosophical claims for mind/body identity, nor the denials of such claims, are ‘intelligible ...

Encounters with Trees

Jerry Fodor, 20 April 1995

Mind and World 
by John McDowell.
Harvard, 191 pp., £19.95, October 1994, 0 674 57609 8
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... and the tradition that runs from Kant through the Hegelians to Wittgenstein, Rorty, Davidson and Hilary Putnam since he left MIT for Harvard. It’s hard to be articulate about this disagreement; we’re very close to the edge of what we know how to talk about at all sensibly. For reductionists, the world picture that the natural sciences lay out has a ...

Microcosm and Macrocosm

David Pears, 3 June 1982

Reason, Truth and History 
by Hilary Putnam.
Cambridge, 222 pp., £15, February 1982, 0 521 23035 7
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... in a similar way. A skull is quite like a camera obscura and Plato’s Cave is a powerful image. Hilary Putnam’s version of the speculation is more frightening. He imagines brains in a vat of nutrient liquid with a computer giving their sensory nerve-sockets all the stimulations of daily life and collecting and taking account of all the impulses ...

Living Things

Ian Hacking, 21 February 1991

Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science 
by Scott Atran.
Cambridge, 360 pp., £35, August 1990, 0 521 37293 3
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... we know it or not, to the fundamental kinds at which science aims (Saul Kripke and, sometimes, Hilary Putnam). We have an obligation to integrate our commonsense categories into the best knowledge available; when there is conflict, common sense yields to knowledge (most good scientists, starting with Aristotle). That is a diverse collection of ...

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