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He has never renounced their basic methodological precept, which is that philosophers had better keep up with developments in the physical sciences and take them into account when advancing their own agenda. However, that programme was soon exposed to powerful counter-arguments, among them a wholesale demolition-job by Putnam's senior colleague at Harvard, W. So Putnam had cause, early on, to cultivate the habit of critically examining his own preconceptions and where necessary revising or even renouncing them.

The best-known example of this is the sequence of changes in Putnam's outlook as regards scientific realism ; that is, the question of whether or not the world, together with its various objects, properties, structures and causes, objectively exists, independent of our minds and our senses.

Hilary Putnam on Realism, Truth & Reason

They did so, moreover, with the aid of arguments from philosophy of language and logic. The latter had to do with concepts of necessity and possibility; for instance, it is a necessary truth in our physical world and all other worlds physically like ours that water should possess the molecular structure H 2 O or gold the atomic number Putnam used this in his famous Twin-Earth thought-experiment.

And of course an explorer from Twin-Earth would likewise be wrong if she looked around on Earth, uttered the same words, and thereby confused our water with the stuff — XYZ — so abundant back home. This he took to have significant implications for philosophy of science and for the question of what constitutes the truth or falsehood of scientific theories.

Mind & Language

In other words, it is a truth which had to be discovered through some process of empirical investigation but which none the less holds necessarily if that investigation was on the right track. However this applies only to worlds — such as our own — where water is indeed H 2 O and where no other substance can lay proper, scientifically-warranted claim to that title. The case is quite different with a priori truths — like those of logic or mathematics — which apply across all possible worlds and which therefore aren't subject to empirical testing.

Much better, Putnam thought, to give up that inherently self-defeating and scepticism-inducing idea in favour of a conception of knowledge as being framework-relative and an idea of truth — or, more aptly, of veridical warrant — that brought it back within the scope of what could be achieved. This now seemed to Putnam the only hope of heading off the kinds of epistemological doubt that have plagued philosophers ever since Descartes.


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As I think of this same problem, how do you see, then, the relationship between the perception and the mental contents integrating the liberal functionalist theory? Hilary Putnam — I am currently working on papers and a book defending and developing a liberal functionalist view of perception, apperception and consciousness. The brain may be, among other things, a computer, but the mind is more than the brain, according to liberal functionalism. According to the anti-individualist and externalist view I defend, the mind cannot be described without describing the transactions of the organism with an environment, including, in the human case, the social environment.

Like Aristotle, I think that things have many levels of form. However, it denies that mental states can be reduced to physical states, or the brain. In principle, would not thinking the mental contents by means of functional processes resurrect some sort of metaphysical explanation?

Hilary Putnam Philosophy Summary

Hilary Putnam — Of course the view that mental states are ways of functioning is a metaphysical view. But it is also a scientific or proposed scientific picture. And yes, I no longer believe that the computer is the best image to think about the mind. Time will tell. The qualia, it is assumed, are subjective and private to the person, and there are, in addition to public events, physical events that occur in the brain of someone.

If we have the same perception of the object, why do we have different answers? Is it a fault in a relativistic response that one never knows what is happening in the minds of others? Hilary Putnam — Much traditional philosophy with Kant being the great exception assumes that to have qualia is ipso facto to perceive something. I think this is the great mistake of empiricism. In my view, qualia are not perceptions. Even for animals, perception does not begin with qualia insects perceive, but who knows if they have qualia?

The best-known example of this is the sequence of changes in Putnam's outlook as regards scientific realism ; that is, the question of whether or not the world, together with its various objects, properties, structures and causes, objectively exists, independent of our minds and our senses. They did so, moreover, with the aid of arguments from philosophy of language and logic. The latter had to do with concepts of necessity and possibility; for instance, it is a necessary truth in our physical world and all other worlds physically like ours that water should possess the molecular structure H 2 O or gold the atomic number Putnam used this in his famous Twin-Earth thought-experiment.

And of course an explorer from Twin-Earth would likewise be wrong if she looked around on Earth, uttered the same words, and thereby confused our water with the stuff — XYZ — so abundant back home. This he took to have significant implications for philosophy of science and for the question of what constitutes the truth or falsehood of scientific theories.

Hilary Putnam - Wikipedia

In other words, it is a truth which had to be discovered through some process of empirical investigation but which none the less holds necessarily if that investigation was on the right track. However this applies only to worlds — such as our own — where water is indeed H 2 O and where no other substance can lay proper, scientifically-warranted claim to that title. The case is quite different with a priori truths — like those of logic or mathematics — which apply across all possible worlds and which therefore aren't subject to empirical testing.

Much better, Putnam thought, to give up that inherently self-defeating and scepticism-inducing idea in favour of a conception of knowledge as being framework-relative and an idea of truth — or, more aptly, of veridical warrant — that brought it back within the scope of what could be achieved. This now seemed to Putnam the only hope of heading off the kinds of epistemological doubt that have plagued philosophers ever since Descartes. Otherwise there will always be room for the opponent to insert his sceptical wedge and remark that we can either have objective recognition-transcendent truth or knowledge within the bounds of present-best human cognitive grasp but surely not both.

In which case, Putnam concluded, some middle-way solution along internal-realist lines is the best that we can reasonably hope for by way of meeting the sceptic's perennial challenge. There were various reasons for Putnam's retreat to this compromise stance with regard to both the physical and the formal sciences, i.