Nelson Goodman

American philosopher, born in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Received his Ph.D. degree from Harvard in 1941.

He taught at Tufts (1945-46), the University of Pennsylvania (1946–64), and Brandeis University (1964–67) before becoming professor of philosophy at Harvard (1967).

A proponent of nominalism, he has worked with theories of inductive logic and helped to identify strategic problems in many areas of philosophy.

He has argued that philosophy should work to give precise structural descriptions of the world.

His work on representationalism has involved analysis of visual arts, musical notation, and maps.

He died in december 1998, at the age of 92, after a long illness.

Major Works of Nelson Goodman

– The Structure of Appearance (1951)
– Languages of Art (1968)
– Problems and Projects (1971)
– Ways of Worldmaking (1978),
– Fact, Fiction and Forecast
– Of Mind and Other Matters (1984)
– Reconceptions in Philosophy, with Catherine Elgin (1988)

Life and career

Goodman was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, the son of Sarah Elizabeth (née Woodbury) and Henry Lewis Goodman.[3] He was of Jewish origins.[4] He graduated from Harvard University, A.B., magna cum laude (1928). During the 1930s, he ran an art gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, while studying for a Harvard Ph.D. in philosophy, which he completed in 1941.[5] His experience as an art dealer helps explain his later turn towards aesthetics, where he became better known than in logic and analytic philosophy. During World War II, he served as a psychologist in the US Army.[6]

He taught at the University of Pennsylvania, 1946–1964, where his students included Noam Chomsky, Sydney Morgenbesser, Stephen Stich, and Hilary Putnam. He was a research fellow at the Harvard Center for Cognitive Studies from 1962 to 1963 and was a professor at several universities from 1964 to 1967, before being appointed Professor of Philosophy at Harvard in 1968.

In 1967, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, he was the founding director of Harvard Project Zero, a basic research project in artistic cognition and artistic education. He remained the director for four years and served as an informal adviser for many years thereafter.[7]

Goodman died in Needham, Massachusetts.

Philosophical work

Induction and “grue”

In his book Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, Goodman introduced the “new riddle of induction”, so-called by analogy with Hume’s classical problem of induction. He accepted Hume’s observation that inductive reasoning (i.e. inferring from past experience about events in the future) was based solely on human habit and regularities to which our day-to-day existence has accustomed us. Goodman argued, however, that Hume overlooked the fact that some regularities establish habits (a given piece of copper conducting electricity increases the credibility of statements asserting that other pieces of copper conduct electricity) while some do not (the fact that a given man in a room is a third son does not increase the credibility of statements asserting that other men in this room are third sons). How then can we differentiate between regularities or hypotheses that construe law-like statements from those that are contingent or based upon accidental generality?

Hempel’s confirmation theory argued that the solution is to differentiate between hypotheses, which apply to all things of a certain class, and evidence statements, which apply to only one thing. Goodman’s famous counterargument was to introduce the predicate grue, which applies to all things examined before a certain time t just in case they are green, but also to other things just in case they are blue and not examined before time t. If we examine emeralds before time t and find that emerald a is green, emerald b is green, and so forth, each will confirm the hypothesis that all emeralds are green. However, emeralds a, b, c,..etc. also confirm the hypothesis that all emeralds are grue. Thus, before time t, the apparently law-like statements “All emeralds are green” and “All emeralds are grue” are equally well confirmed by observation, but obviously “All emeralds are grue” is not a law-like statement.

Goodman’s example showed that the difficulty in determining what constitutes law-like statements is far greater than previously thought, and that once again we find ourselves facing the initial dilemma that “anything can confirm anything”.

Nominalism and mereology

Goodman, along with Stanislaw Lesniewski, is the founder of the contemporary variant of nominalism, which argues that philosophy, logic, and mathematics should dispense with set theory. Goodman’s nominalism was driven purely by ontological considerations. After a long and difficult 1947 paper coauthored with W. V. O. Quine, Goodman ceased to trouble himself with finding a way to reconstruct mathematics while dispensing with set theory – discredited as sole foundations of mathematics as of 1913 (Russell and Whitehead, in Principia Mathematica).

The program of David Hilbert to reconstruct it from logical axioms was proven futile in 1936 by Gödel. Because of this and other failures of seemingly fruitful lines of research, Quine soon came to believe that such a reconstruction was impossible, but Goodman’s Penn colleague Richard Milton Martin argued otherwise, writing a number of papers suggesting ways forward.

According to Thomas Tymoczko’s afterword in New directions in the philosophy of mathematics, Quine had “urged that we abandon ad hoc devices distinguishing mathematics from science and just accept the resulting assimilation”, putting the “key burden on the theories (networks of sentences) that we accept, not on the individual sentences whose significance can change dramatically depending on their theoretical context.” In so doing, Tymoczko claimed, philosophy of mathematics and philosophy of science were merged into quasi-empiricism: the emphasis of mathematical practice as effectively part of the scientific method, an emphasis on method over result.

The Goodman–Leonard (1940) calculus of individuals is the starting point for the American variant of mereology. While the exposition in Goodman and Leonard invoked a bit of naive set theory, the variant of the calculus of individuals that grounds Goodman’s 1951 The Structure of Appearance, a revision and extension of his Ph.D. thesis, makes no mention of the notion of set (while his Ph.D. thesis still did).[8] Simons (1987) and Casati and Varzi (1999) show that the calculus of individuals can be grounded in either a bit of set theory, or monadic predicates, schematically employed. Mereology is accordingly “ontologically neutral” and retains some of Quine’s pragmatism (which Tymoczko in 1998 carefully qualified as American Pragmatism).

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