HELMHOLTZ MEDAL LAUDATION

 

Delivered by Academy President Professor Martin Groetschel

on the occasion of

the award to Nicholas Rescher of

the Helmholtz Medal

of the Germany Academy of Sciences, Berlin-Brandenburg

11 June 2016

 

This year the Helmholtz Medal is being bestowed upon Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Nicholas Rescher in recognition of his outstanding lifetime contributions to scholarship.

Nicholas Rescher unquestionably ranks among the most prominent philosophers of our time. As representative of "Pragmatic Idealism" his writings investigate the issues of philosophy in the German and English traditions with the methods both of pragmatism and of analytical philosophizing. Accordingly he is a bridge-builder who systemically connects various philosophical traditions, and a widely informed student of philosophical history, combining the traditions of continental and Anglo-Saxon philosophy in ways fruitful for his own systemic philosophizing.

Nicholas Rescher was born in Hagen in 1928. Owing to the political developments of the time, his family emigrated in the U.S. in 1938. There Rescher studied philosophy and mathematics at New York's Queens College and at Princeton University where he earned his philosophy doctorate already at age 22. Thereupon he worked as a mathematician at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica--a think-tank which in those days made outstanding contributions in my [Dr. Groetschel's] own field of mathematical optimization. Rescher took up his first professorship in 1957 at Lehigh University in Bethlehem PA, and thereafter in 1961 moved to the University of Pittsburgh, where he had remained ever since as Distinguished University professor of Philosophy. In collaboration with Adolf Grunbaum he has been a founder and director of the important Center for Philosophy of Science at that university. In 1968 he was a visiting fellow at Oxford's Corpus Christi College.

Nicholas Rescher's work is amazingly wide-ranging in both its systemic and historical dimensions. In over a hundred books, many translated in various languages, his work covers virtually the entire sphere of theoretical philosophy, from logic and the theory of knowledge and scientific method to the theory of truth, ontology, and metaphysics.

Early in his career he made contributions to the history of logic, especially in the Arabic tradition which made a significant impact in Western philosophizing in medieval times. And in this context he wrote two books, The Development of Arabic Logic (1964) and Studies in Arabic Philosophy (1968) which continue to be held in high regard. Beyond such historical investigations Rescher also made contributions to logic itself, attested by his innovation of the "Rescher quantifier," as well as his work in the areas of many-valued logic, inductive logic, and probabilistic logic, as well as developing quantitative methods in the theory of knowledge. Moreover, in collaboration with his colleagues at the RAND Corporation, Olaf Helmer and Norm Dalkey, Rescher was a co-inventor of the so-called Delphi-Method for systematic forecasting and prediction.

Then too, Rescher laid the groundwork for the reconstruction of G. W, Leibniz's cipher machine, a model of which is now on exhibit in Hannover.

Another important sphere of Rescher's work is the theory of truth and in its wider bearing on the philosophy of science. His approach emphasizes the role of scholarly inquiry as a systematic quest for truth in the light of objectively valid standards. He is one of today's most prominent exponents in the coherence theory of truth as well as of process philosophy. His 1973 book The Coherence Theory of Truth has become a standard of the filed.

Already in 1964 Rescher founded the American Philosophical Quarterly, which nowadays counts among the most important English-language journals for philosophical scholarship. In a more popular direction, mention might be made of his stimulating and yet amusing 2015 book, A Journey Through Philosophy in 101 Anecdotes.

Rescher's work has received widespread recognition. He has received many honorary doctorates--including those of the University of Konstanz and of his birthplace, Hagen--and has held various guest professorships. His membership in various learned societies attests the high esteem of his work throughout the world. In 1984 he received the Humboldt research prize, in 2002 the Prix Mercier, and in 2011 he was awarded the Medal of Merit (1st class) of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The work of Nicholas Rescher affords a striking illustration of the encyclopedic mission of philosophy, and of the challenging dialogue that should ever be maintained among different philosophical traditions.

In bestowing upon Nicholas Rescher the Helmholtz Medal, the very highest recognition at its disposal, the German Academy of Sciences (Berlin-Brandenburg) honors his outstanding lifetime contributions to scholarship.

 

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