Putnam taught at Northwestern University, Princeton University, and MIT, until he became Walter Beverly Pearson Professor of Modern Mathematics and Mathematical Logic at Harvard University in 1976.
Drawing on his expertise in the theory of recursive functions and Turing machines, Putnam formulated a philosophical position that he named ‘functionalism’ in the 1950s.
Functionalism became very influential in the philosophy of mind. According to this theory, the mind is, basically, a computing machine, and thus it is organization, and not material composition, that is relevant to the study of cognition.
Putnam’s argument for this relies on the intuition that the same mental state can be realized in different material substrates. He has since rejected functionalism by broadening this claim that the mental is multiply realizable.
Putnam now believes that different computational, or Turing machine states can realize the same mental state, and thus that the mind cannot be identified with any particular computing machine.
Putnam’s espousal of a strong form of multiple realizability of the mental has led him to question the importance of studying the brain, the ‘implementation of the mind’, to understanding the mind.
He is also a critic of connectionist models of mental functioning. The following publications are good entry points into Putnam’s formidable corpus: Philosophical Papers (3 vols., 1975-83), and Representation and Reality (1988).
Major Works of Hilary Putnam
– Ethics Without Ontology (2004)
– The Many Faces of Realism (1990)
– Philosophical Papers, 3 volumes (1979-1985)
– Pragmatism (1995)
– Realism with a Human Face (1992)
– Reason, Truth and History (1981)
– Renewing Philosophy (1995)
– Representation and Reality (1991)
– The Threefold Cord (2001)
– Words and Life, with James Conant (1995)