Hilary Putnam

By: Peggy Nelson
July 31, 2009


HILARY PUTNAM (born 1926) is the most important philosopher you’ve never heard of. In an era when most theorists build their careers by limning the edges of history, Putnam is one of the hands-on few who has built his own box. But instead of resting in his receptacle, he climbed out before the rest of us finished climbing in — and not just once, but over and over. Discards were grabbed and recycled by computer scientists, communists, continental philosophers, and scientific realists, among others. Within his manic mutability lies a consistent meta-philosophy: all systems of concepts — the contraptions which philosophers call ontologies — are comprised of arbitrary yet necessary building blocks, which not only assemble different worldviews but which themselves must be periodically reassembled. Putnam has also argued that we are not (and could not be) brains in a vat, to the dismay of Extropians and evil demons, and the vast relief of everyone else. Rather than following the academic quest for an ever-smaller square in which to turn his spade, Putnam has renewed an ancient approach to the love of wisdom, at once pragmatic and demanding.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Kaz | Frans Masereel |

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).


HiLo Heroes, Philosophy