Nicholas Rescher

ENTRIES IN

REFERENCE WORKS

 (Chronological)

 

Philosophie der Gegenwart, ed. by J. Nida-Rümelin (Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, 1991)

Nicholas Rescher

 

R. wurde 1928 in Hagen (Westfalen) geboren. 1938 emigrierte er mit seiner Familie in die USA. R. studierte Mathematik am Queens College in New York (B.S. 1949) und Philosophie an der Princeton University, wo er 1951 den Ph. D. erwarb. Nach dem Militärdienst arbeitete R. von 1954 bis 1956 in der Mathematikabteilung der RAND Corporation (Santa Monica). Nach einer Lehrtätigkeit an der Lehigh University (1957-1961) ging R. 1961 an die Pittsburgh University, we er seitdem als Professor für Philosophie lehrt. 1977 wurde er zum ständigen Mitglied des Corpus Christi College in Oxford ernannt. R. ist Herausgeber und Mitherausgeber einer Vielzahl von philosophischen Reihen und Zeitschriften; unter anderem gibt er den American Philosophical Quarterly heraus. Bis zum gegenwärtigen Zeitpunkt hat R. über 50 Bücher und eine sehr grosse Anzahl von Aufsätzen zu Bereichen der theoretischen Philosophie, der Moral- und Sozialphilosophie sowie der Geschichte der Philosophie veröffentlicht.

 

Werk

 

PHILOSOPHISCHES PROGRAMM. Formaler und systematischer Ausgangspunkt der Philosophie R.s sind philosophische Positionen, die im wesentlichen durch den logischen Positivismus erabeitet worden sind. Im weiteren bemüht sich R. jedoch darum, die methodischen Fortschritte der analytischen Philosophie in integrative Systemkonzeptionen einmünden zu lassen, die über thematische Verengungen des logischen Positivismus hinausführen und an weitergehende traditionelle und gegenwärtige Problemstellungen anknüpfen R. will vor allem der durch die Konzentration auf Einzelanalysen eingetretene Aufsplitterung der Philosophie entgegenwirken. Formale Analysen können ihm zufolge ihren Sinn nicht ausschliesslich in der Verbesserung argumentationstechnischer Mittel haben, sondern müssen sich in übergreifende philosophische Problemlösungsversuche integrieren lassen. Die systematischen Bemühungen R.s sind dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass sich in seiner Philosophie auf eigentümliche Weise kohäerenztheoretische, pragmatische und idealistische Argumentationsperspektiven vereinigen.

 

KOHÄRENZTHEORIE DER WAHRHEIT. Im Zentrum von R.s Wahrheitstheorie steht der Grundgedanke der idealistischen Tradition, dass Wahrheit als System begriffen werden muss. Zwar ist Wahrheit auch für R. durch ein Korrespondenzverhältnis definiert, seine entscheidende wahrheitstheoretische These ist aber die, dass das Kriterium von wahren Aussagen ihre systematische Kohärenz ist. Kohärenz ist insofern eine kriteriologische Bestimmung, die die Bedeutung des Wahrheitsbegriffs nicht im ganzen erschöpft. Auch im Rahmen der Kohärenztheorie der Wahrheit muss eine Korrespondenz zwischen wissenschaftlichen Aussagen und extralinguistischen Fakten unterstellt werden. Die mit derartigen Korrespondenzverhältnissen zusammenhängenden Problemstellungen eines metaphysischen Realismus werden von R. gleichwohl aus methodischen Gründen ausgeklammert. Vorrangige Zielsetzung ist vielmehr, ein Verfahren zu entwickeln, durch das eine Menge wahrer Aussagen von inkonsistenten Sätzen unterschieden werden kann; dabei rückt die Bewertung des systematischen Zusammenhangs von Aussagen und Aussagenkomplexen zwangsläufig in den Vordergrund. R. grenzt sich in seiner Kohärenztheorie der Wahrheit nachdrücklich von fundamentalistischen Ansätzen ab.

 

BEGRIFFISIDEALISMUS. R.s kohärenztheoretischer Ansatz beruht nicht zuletzt auf einem Begriffsidealismus, der sich an einer durch Kants Erkenntniskritik und den Pragmatismus vorgezeichneten Argumentationsperspektive orientiert. In dieser Theorieperspektive erweisen sich Vorstellungen einer wie auch immer gearteten "Realität an sich" als nicht theoriefähig; damit soll aber weder behauptet werden, dass sich Erkenntnisprozesse nicht rechtfertigungsfähig auf eine extralinguistische Welt beziehen können, noch dass diese Welt kausal von subjektiven Erkenntmisstrukturen abhängig ist. Der konzeptuelle Idealismus stellt nur den Sachverhalt heraus, dass Identifikations- und Erkenntnisprozesse sich über Begriffe und Kategorien vollziehen müssen, die strukturell durch Subjektivität vermittelt sind: Ein neutraler Erkenntnisstandpunkt ist deshalb schon aus epistmologischen Gründen nicht konstruierbar. Daraus folgt letzlich auch, dass Erkenntnisprozesse und wissenschaftlicher Fortschritt notwendig unabgeschlossen bleiben müssen.

 

METHODOLOGISCHER PRAGMATISMUS. Kohärenztheorie der Wahrheit und Begriffsidealismus konvergieren bei R. in eine Theorie des methodologischen Pragmatismus. Ihn setzt R. von der Position eines "Thesen-Pragmatismus" traditioneller Art ab, den er unter anderem auch Peirce unterstellt. Im Gegensatz zum "Thesen-Pragmatismus" sind dem methodologischen Pragmatismus zufolge wahre Sätze nicht einfach Funktionen einer direkt bestätigten Anwendung; stattdessen wird die Frage nach der Geltung und Rechtfertigungsfähigkeit methodischer Standards und Kriterien, die in Erkenntnisprozessen angewendet werden, in das Zentrum der Untersuchung gerückt. Pragmatischer Erfolg bestätigt nach R. nicht einzelne Aussagen, sondern die methodischen und theoretischen Perspektiven, die ihnen zugrunde liegen. Auch wenn die erfolgreiche Anwendung im Einzelfall kein Wahrheitskriterium sein kann, so ist der in langen Zeiträumen gut bestätigte pragmatische Erfolg wissenschaftlicher Methoden und Untersuchungen gleichwohl ein deutliches Wahrheitsindiz, denn ohne ein reales Korrespondenzverhältnis von wissenschaftlichen Aussagen und extralinguistischen Tatsachen wären Erkenntnis und Fortschritt der Wissenschaft über die Zeit hinweg nicht möglich gewesen.

 

MORALPHILOSOPHIE. Die grundsätzliche Problemstellung der Moralphilosophie besteht nach R. in der Frage, wie die kulturelle Vielfalt von Werten und Normen verstanden werden kann, ohne dabei auf Positionen eines ethischen Relativismus oder Indifferentismus festgelegt zu sein. R. greift in dieser Problemsituation auf einen Begriff absoluter Moral zurück. Moralische Prinzipien haben für ihn in dem Sinne absolute Gültigkeit, dass sie Personen universelle, invariante und unveränderliche Forderungen und Verpflichtungen auferlegen. Moralischer Pluralismus stellt sich dagegen erst auf der Ebene der Anwendung moralischer Regeln unter den Bedingungen bestimmter sozialer und kultureller Kontexte ein. R bestreitet die Möglichkeit von alternativen Moralitätskonzepten, die indifferent gegenüber den Bedürfnissen und Interessen von anderen Personen sind. Moralität ist für R. nicht auf Eigeninteresse reduzierbar, die Rationalität moralischer Einstellungen ist vielmehr dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass sie die Interessen von anderen in Rechnung stellen.

 

Rezeption

 

R.s Werk dürfte in seinem Umfang einzigartig in der Gegenwartsphilosophie sein. Thematische Schwerpunkte seiner vielen Bücher und Aufsätze sind die Erkenntnis- und Wissenschaftstheorie, die philosophische Logik, die Moral- und Sozialphilosophie sowie die Geschichte der Philosophie, insbesondere die arabische Philosophie des Mittelalters sowie die philosophischen Systeme von Leibniz und Kant. Exponnierter Bezugspunkt der Rezeption von R.s Werk ist die theoretische Philosophie. Neben den wissenschaftstheoretischen Arbeiten hat vor allem die Kohärenztheorie zustimmende Aufnahme gefunden; sie hat in besonderer Weise auf die gegenwärtigen Bemühungen um eine philosophische Theorie der Wahrheit gewirkt. Die systematischen Intentionen R.s richten sich ferner auf die Entwicklung und Verteidigung des methodologischen Pragmatismus und des Begriffsidealismus. R. bewegt sich mit diesen systematischen Schwerpunkten zwischen einer Vielzahl von Konfliktlinien der gegenwärtigen philosophischen Diskussion. Die Stellungnahmen zur Philosophie R.s sind denn auch stark durch den jeweiligen argumentativen Ort in diesen Auseinandersetzungen bestimmt. Eine übergreifende Bewertung von R.s Werk zeichnet sich noch nicht ab; auch in Sammelschriften zu seinem Werk stehen Detailuntersuchungen im Vordergrund.

D. Sturma

A Companion to Epistemology, ed. by J. Dancy and E. Sosa (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992).

 

Rescher, Nicholas (1928-  ) In various publications Rescher offers a detailed and systematic view of human knowledge and its limits along with core implications for value, theory and ethics broadly conceived. In epistemology and philosophy of science, Rescher is best described as an analytic PRAGMATIST placing epistemic priority on the methods of the natural sciences as a source of both understanding the empirical world and directing our action within it. Rescher regards science as seeking the best fit between the data of experience and the conjecture we make in our attempts to resolve question. He sees scientific methods as the product of an evolutionary process of rational selection which leaves us with only those methods that have proved to work.

 

With regard to foundational beliefs or basic knowledge, Rescher asserts that basic beliefs, like all factual beliefs, are fallible and hence subject to revision in the light of ongoing evidence. Such beliefs begin as working presumptions and are accepted as true until experience requires rejection: but until experience forces such rejection they qualify for acceptance as items of human knowledge.

 
On the question of non-basic knowledge or scientific knowledge, he has argued in Methodological Pragmatism that while particular scientific theses established by the inductive methods of science may be false (although we must presume them to be true) rationality requires us to use such methods because they generally rent to produce more effectively supplementable beliefs about the physical world than any other methods available to us.

 

Truth Rescher construes in terms of correspondence and argues that the criterion for it is fully warrantedly assertible belief. The satisfaction of the criterion does not entail logically that the proposition is true as construed, but it would be irrational to ask for anything more in the pursuit of truth.

 

Human knowledge should not be construed in terms of an impossibly idealized requirement assuring logical certainty. Such a requirement can only guarantee a global scepticism having no plausible justification.

 

Though Rescher ascribes a certain primacy to induction and the methods of the natural sciences because they are the product of the evolutionary process, he has not argued that the only answerable questions are those that admit of answer by appeal to the methods of natural sciences: he has argued against hat thesis. On the question of scientific progress he has argued that unto eternity science is progressive and revolutionary, meaning thereby that there will never be a time when we would be justified in believing that we had answered all answerable questions about the world: but owing to an inevitable exponential decay in our economic capacity to fund scientific technology, scientific progress will accordingly slow, without stopping to increasingly infrequent theoretical and factual advances.

 

On the question of scientific realism, Rescher has argued for a particular form of instrumentalism in science without endorsing instrumentalism as a whole on the issue of factual knowledge. For Rescher, commonsense beliefs (those beliefs so obviously true that we cannot even imagine factual conditions under which they would be false) do succeed in correctly describing the physical world because such beliefs are not in any way likely to suffer truth value revision. Scientific beliefs, however, have no such property and must, for that reason, be regarded as instrumentally reliable beliefs which we can plausibly presume to be true.

 

Finally, the characteristic feature of Rescher's epistemology is its systematic integration of matters of value (i.e., norms—be they cognitive or affective) and matters of experientially determined fact. For Rescher morality is basically a matter of safeguarding the real or best interests of people and while the identification of such interests involves an irreducibly normative element, the processes of their effective cultivation are something we can only learn about empirically. Morality thus weaves issues of fact and value into a seamless whole.

ROBERT ALMEDER

 

 

 Diccionario de filosofía, ed. by J. Ferrater Mora (Barcelona: Editorial Ariel, 1994).

 

RESCHER, NICHOLAS, nac. (1928) en Hagen, Alemania estudió en la Universidad de Princeton, donde se doctoró en 1951. Ha profesado en la Universidad de Lehigh (Pennsylvania) y desde 1961 es profesor en la Universidad de Pittsburgh. Se deben a Rescher numerosas contrivuciones a la historia de la lógica, especialmente la silogística modal de Aristóteles y la obra de varios lógicos árabes mediavales. Junto a esta obra histórica (un ejemplo de la cual puede verse en el artículo BURDÁN [ASNO DE]), se deben a Rescher muchos trabajos de investigación sobre muy diversas áreas filosóficas: lógica polivalente, teoría del razonamiento plausible); teoría de los valores y filosofía social (justicia distributiva, bienestar público), en donde ha aplicado t´wcnicas modernas como la teoría de lost juegos y la teoréia de la decisión; teoría del progreso científical, fundada en los requisitos tecnológicos de la investigación científica; epistemología y metafísica.

 

En lógica, ha impulsado el desarrollo de lógicas que toleran la inconsistencia y, en filosofía de la cienci, la teoría del retraso exponencial del progreso científico basada en el principio epistemológico según el cual el conocimiento sólo aumenta con el logaritmo del aumento de infomación. Sus trabajos iniciales sobre lógica e historia de la lógica han ido acompañados, a partir de los años sesenta, por un interés creciente por problemas de teorís de los valores. En esos trabajos ha intentado reactualizar el idealismo del neohegelianismo inglés. En este sentido, ha destacado la importancia de la sistematizacíon del conocimiento, en el que ocupa un lugar central su concepcíon <<coherentista>> de la verdad (verdad en cuanto conherencia [VÉASE]). Con todo, Rescher se distancia del idealismo al subrayar la importancia de justificaciones basadas en argumentos pragmáticos, procedentes éstos de la tradicíon americana. Su obra combina, pues, el inter´s por la tendencia de la filosofía anglo-americana del siglo xx a realizar investigaciones especializadas, para las que se apoya en los instrumentos propios del análisis filosófico.

En su conjunto, la obra de Rescher se caracteriza por la amplitude de sus investigaciones y por la adopción de puntos de vista equilibrados, apoyados por un análisis riguroso de conceptos.

 

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. by Ted Honderich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

 

Rescher, Nicholas (1928-   ). An amazingly prolific contemporary American philosopher who has written over fifty books in the process of constructing a synoptic system: pragmatic idealism. The system aims at knowledge of reality. Its approach is (a) idealistic because it regards the constructive contribution of the inquiring mind as essential to knowledge, and because it regards systematic coherence as the criterion of truth; (b) fallibilistic because it denies that knowledge can provide more than an imperfect approximation of reality; and (c) pragmatic because it maintains that the validity of knowledge-claims depends on their utility in furthering human purposes. The epistemological part of the system aims at improving human knowledge, while its axiological part aims at deriving values from human needs and purposes and evaluating knowledge-claims in the light of them. As a whole, Rescher's development of pragmatic idealism is characterized by an unusually wide range of sympathy and information. Rescher encapsulates his overall position in the trilogy A System of Pragmatic idealism (Princeton, NJ, 199203). The coherentist aspect of his position is presented more fully in The Coherence Theory of Truth (Oxford, 1973). For biographical information, see his Ongoing Journey (Lanham, MD, 1986). Rescher is the founder and editor of the scholarly journal American Philosophical Quarterly, History of Philosophy Quarterly, and Public Affairs Quarterly.

John Kekes

 Enzyklopädie Philosophie und Wissenschaftstheorie, (Stuttgart: Verlag J B Metzler, 1995).

 

Rescher, Nicholas, Hagen, 15. Juli 1928, amerik. Philosoph, Logiker und Wissenschaftstheoretiker. 1946-1949 Mathematik- und Philosophiestudium am Queens College in Flushing, NY, unter anderem bei C. G. Hempel; 1949 B.S. in Mathematik; 1949-1951 Studium der Philosophie an der Princeton University, unter anderem bei A. Church, W. T. Stace, J. Urmson und A. P. Ushenko, 1950 M. A. in Philosophie, 1951 Ph.D. 1957-1961 Prof. der Philosophie an der Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, seit 1961 an der Universität Pittsburgh. R. stellt hinsichtlich der systematischen und historischen Breite seines Werkes eine Ausnahmeerscheinung in der zeitgenõssischen Philosophie dar. Seine systematischen Studien betreffen fast alle Teilgebiete der Philosophie; als impulsgebend dürfen vor allem die Arbeiten zur Kohärenzkonzeption der Wahrheit (Wahrheitstheorien) und zur Schärfung und Ausdifferenzierung des Begriffs der pragmatischen Rechtfertigung gelten. Unter den historischen Studien ragen die Beiträge zur Entwicklung der arabischen Logik (Logik, arabische) und Philosophie sowie zu G. W. Leibniz hervor.

 

R. führt in seinem pragmatischen Idealismus drei Tendenzen zusammen: (1) Dem Pragmatismus entnimmt er die Gesamtperspektive und damit auch die letzten Rechtfertigungsmassstäbe für die Standards des kognitiven und ausserkognitiven Handelns. (2) Idealismus und Neoidealismus liefern ihm reichhaltige Intuitionen; ausgezeichnete Bedeutung kommt dabei dem Systemgedanken (System, systematisch) zu. (3) Aus der Analytischen Philosophie (Philosophie, analytische) bezieht R. - neben der Wertschätzung der empirischen Wissenschaften - das logische und sprachanalytische Instrumentarium.

 

Als herausragendes Beispiel für das Zusammenwirken dieser Tendenzen und damit als Muster für den pragmatischen Idealismus kann die Wahrheitskonzeption R's angesehen werden. R geht aus von einem prinzipiellen Hiatus zwischen >unseren Wahrheiten<, die stets irrtumsanfällig und daher rivisionsbedürftig sind, und der revisionsentzogenen >wirklichen Wahrheit<. Die Aufstellung kriteriengemässer wahrer Aussagen bildet lediglich eine Schätzung der >Wahrheit schlechthin<; diese wird jedoch weder im Erkenntnisprozess berührt noch in einem kognitiven Idealzustand erreicht. Die Bestimmung der Natur von Wahrheit (Wahrheitsbegriff) erfolgt mit Hilfe von korrespondenztheoretischen Konzeptionen; bei der Formulierung von Kriterien für die Wahrheitsschätzung sind Gebiete zu unterscheiden: Für den (nicht weiter ausgearbeiteten) Bereich der analytischen Aussagen stützt sich R. auf den Gedanken der Evidenz (Evidenztheorie), bei den Tatsachenaussagen orientiert er sich an der Kohärenzvorstellung. Näherhin zerfällt die Wahrheitsetablierung in drei Arbeitsgänge: In der Phase der Datensammlung werden Aussagen, die Antworten auf vorausgehende Fragen darstellen als Daten, d. h. als mutmasslich wahr, klassifiziert. Daten sind Aussagen, die eigene oder fremde Erfahrung ausdrücken sowie andere, wahrscheinliche oder plausible Annahmen. Bei Vollständigkeit der Datenfamilie, der Datenmenge relative auf die vorangehende Frage, ist in der logischen Phase die Konsistenz (widerspruchsfrei/Widerspruchsfreiheit) zu überprüfen. Falls die Konsistenz gegeben ist, darf jede Konsequenz der Datenmenge als wahr klassifiziert werden. Falls keine Konsistenz besteht, sind die maximalkonsistenten Untermengen der Datenfamilie zu bilden, die den Ausgangspunkt für die Phase der materialen Auszeichnung darstellen. Ohne Vollständigkeitsansprüche nennt R. mit dem probabilistischen Verfahren, dem Plausibilitätsverfahren, dem Angelpunktverfahren, dem Mehrheitsverfahren und dem pragmatischen Verfahren fünf Auszeichungsmethoden. Faktisch-wahr sollen nun jene Propositionen sein, die aus jeder ausgezeichneten maximal-konsistenten Untermenge der Datenfamilie folgen. Somit lautet die Regel der Wahrheitsetablierung: Wenn eine Proposition Konsequenz einer konsistenten Datenfamilie ist oder aber Konsequenz jeder ausgezeichneten maximalkonsistenten Untermenge einer inkonsistenten Datenfamilie, dann darf man sie als faktisch-wahr einschätzen.

 

Die in Befolgung dieses Wahrheitskriteriums entstehenden Wahrheitsmengen erfüllen Anforderungen, die als Explikate bekannter kohärenztheoretischer Intuitionen bezüglich kognitiver Systeme dienen können. Sie sind z.B. konsistent, deduktiv geschlossen, logisch-inklusiv und in beschränkter Weise vollständig. Die in der Tradition des Kohärenzdenkens immer wieder als über >blosse< Konsistenz hinausgehend reklamierte Umfassendheit wird bei R. begrifflich nicht nur in den drei zuletzt genannten metalogischen Eigenschaften fassbar, sondern gewinnt auch bei der Forderung nach Vollständigkeit der Datenmenge und beim Mehrheitsverfahren operativen Wert. Während die Wahl von Daten als Ausgangspunkt den >Erfahrungsinput< sichert und so einem Standardeinwand gegen den Kohärenzansatz begegnet, erzwingen die Verfahren die erwähnten Kohärenzeigenschaften. Insgesamt entstehen damit erfahrungshaltige kohärentistische Systeme.

 

Indem erkennende Subjekte nach dem kohärenztheoretischen Standard agieren, gewinnen sie wahre Aussagen im Sinne >unserer< Wahrheiten, die das extrakognitive Handeln leiten. Ist dieses erfolgreich, d. h., gewährleistet es langfristig Überleben in einer feindlichen Natur, Existenz in relativer Abwesenheit von Schmerz, Leid, Enttäuschung, Not, usw., dann sind die wahrheitserzeugenden Prozeduren gerechtfertigt. Die Pluralität epistemischer Situationen fordert verschiedene Rechfertigungskonzepte wie etwa die Startrechtfertigung (es gibt Indizien für den Erfolg der vorgeschlagenen Methode), die Fortsetzungsrechtfertigung (die Methode hat bislang erfolgreich gearbeitet, für den weiteren Einsatz liegen keine Gegenindikationen vor), die Endrechtfertigung (die Methode hat durchgehend erfolgreich gearbeitet) und die Faute-de-mieus-Rechtfertigung (alle anderen Kandidaten scheiden aufgrund von Gegenindikationen aus). Anders als innerhalb des Thesenpragmatismus klassischen Zuschnitts, der Nutzen und Wahrheit von Aussagen direkt verknüpft, ist für R's Methodenpragmatismus lediglich das wahrheitserzeugende Regelwerk Kandidat pragmatischer Rechtfertigung.

 

R's Methodenpragmatismus bildet den allgemeinen Rahmen für seine weiteren Arbeitsschwerpunkte. In Arbeiten zur Logik beschäftigt er sich unter anderem mit der induktiven Logik (Logik, induktive), der Logik der Befehle (Imperativlogik), der Wahrscheinlichkeitstheorie, sowie mit mehrwertigen Logiken (Logik, mehrwertige) und Fragen einer allgemeinen Argumentationstheorie (>Dialektik<). In seinen Arbeiten zur Wissenschafts- und Erkenntnistheorie verbindet R. den Kantischen Primat des Praktischen (Praxis) mit den Grundannahmen des Methodenpragmatismus. In diesem Rahmen wird auch das Problem des wissenschaftlichen Fortschritts (Erkenntnisfortschritt) behandelt. In mehreren Arbeiten (Scientific Progress, 1978; Empirical Inquiry, 1982; The Limits of Science, 1984; Scientific Realism, 1987) hat sich R. mit den Grenzen wissenschaftlicher Erkenntnis beschäftigt. Die unüberwindbare Beschränkung und Unvollständigkeit wissenschaftlicher Erkenntnis führt zu einer Art idealistischer Begründung des wissenschaftstheoretischen Realismus: Was wir die >reale< Welt nennen, ist nichts anderes als die von uns (beschränkt und unvollständig) wahrgenommene Welt. Einflussreich sind auch R's Arbeiten zur Metaphilosophie. Der Gang der Philosophie erscheint als nicht abbrechende Sequenz von Aporien und ihren Auflösungen durch Distinktion. Der immerwährende >Streit der Systeme< wird auf unaufhebbare Gegensätze zwischen >kognitiven Werten< zurückgeführt (>orientational pluralism<). Einen weiteren Schwerpunkt der Philosophie R's bilden Arbeiten zum Grundlagenproblem der Ethik und der philosophischen Anthropologie, ferner Fragen der angewandten Philosophie, z.B. das Handeln unter Risiko, das Wohlfahrtsprinzip und die Philosophie der Technik. Dabei sucht R. die Gesamtheit seiner Arbeiten als Entfaltung eines umfassenden Systems des >pragmatischen Idealismus< darzustellen.

 

  Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth Century Philosophers, ed. by S. Brown et al (London and New York, 1996).

 

Rescher, Nicholas

 

American. b.: 1928, Hagen, Germany. Cat: Philosophical polymath and pragmatic idealist. Ints: Logic; philosophy of science; Leibniz's philosophy. Educ: Queen's College, New York, and Princeton University. Infls: German idealism and American pragmatism. Appts: 1957-61 Lehigh university; 1961-  , Professor of Philosophy, Research Professor of Philosophy and University Professor of Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh.

 

In his recent trilogy, A System of Pragmatic Idealism (192-3), Rescher aims to combine ideas expounded in more than 50 books and 211 articles that preceded it. The result, a system of pragmatic idealism, endorses traditional idealism's emphasis on the contributions made by our subjectivity to our conception of reality, but does not lose sight of the objective constraints imposed on proper cognitive construction by our given needs and by interests that derive from our circumstances. The pragmatism defended is, moreover, an objective pragmatism of what works impersonally, rather than a subjective pragmatism of what works for me or for us. It is applied not only in our factual commitments but also to our value commitments. With regard to values, again, a good measure of objectivity derives from our emplacement in reality, which imposes upon us certain basic projects not constructed or freely chosen, but given. About these we cannot properly deliberate.

 

The third volume of the trilogy opposes the rampant nihilism of a "post-philosophical" age. Pluralism is regarded as compatible with a philosophical search for truth. Philosophical views are of course bound to reflect differences in backgrounds of experience and reflection. Moreover, people are bound to differ constitutionally as well, in ways that will affect what they find plausible or regard as worth pursuing. Universal acceptance and consensus are hence not in the offing, and may never be realized in philosophy. But that does not entail scepticism or relativism, since equal access to the truth is not guaranteed to all by their very constitution and opportunities.

 

Rescher's most important contributions to philosophy have prominently involved: (i) the rehabilitation of idealism in general and the coherence theory of truth in particular, (ii) the revival and reconstruction of pragmatism; (III) the development of inconsistency-tolerant logic, and (iv) the development of an exponential retardation theory of scientific progress.

In sheer productivity and in the vast scope of his accomplishment, Rescher has few peers in the history of philosophy. From his great energy, intellectual power and restless curiosity has come a system of philosophy unsurpassed in our century.

E. Sosa

 

A Dictionary of Philosophy, ed. by Thomas Mautner (Oxford, Blackwell, 1996).

 

Rescher/'re__/, Nicholas (1928-  ) Rescher came from his native Germany to the United States in 1938, and has been professor in Pittsburgh since 1961. The number of his publications is remarkable, and includes around 50 books, dealing with historical and theoretical aspects of most areas of philosophy and logic, from problems of social justice to medieval Arabic logic.

 

Rescher's theory of knowledge is a kind of pragmatism. It rules out the idea that we can text our theories against an objective reality to which there is direct access. It differs from the original "utilitarian" pragmatism, which takes a theory to be true (or justified) it its acceptance is useful. Instead, Rescher's pragmatism is methodological: a theory is taken to be true (or justified) if it is based on the application of methods which have proved themselves by their usefulness—for instance, by successful predictions. A further important constraint is coherence. We should accept those theoretical perspectives that are capable of long-term survival, and within a theoretical perspective, we should accept as true those propositions which together provide a coherent picture of the world.

 

Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, ed. by William L. Reese, 2nd edition (Atlantic Highlands NJ: Humanities Press, 1996)

 

Rescher, Nicholas. 1928 -  .

 

American philosopher. Born in Hagen Germany. Naturalized U.S. Citizen, 1944. Educated at Queens College and Princeton. Taught at Princeton, Lehigh, and the University of Pittsburgh. At Pittsburgh, founder and editor of the American Philosophical Quarterly,; Director of the Center for the Philosophy of Science (181 -  ). Of his immense corpus of writings we omit the volumes on logic, both Arabic and modern symbolic.

 

Selected Writings: The Philosophy of Leibniz, 1967; Scientific Explanation, 1970; Coherence Theory of Truth, 1973; Conceptual Idealism, 1973; The Primacy of Practice, 1973; A Theory of Possibility, 1975; Methodological Pragmatism, 1976; Induction, 1980; Empirical Inquiry, 1982; The Limits of Science, 1984; The Strife of Systems, 1985; Scientific Realism, 1987; Rationalism, 1988; Baffling Phenomena, 1991.

 

(1) Taking logic as his springboard, Rescher moved into philosophical analysis by puzzling out the relevance of logic for philosophical problems.

 

(2) The necessity for a conceptual framework in the interpretation of any datum, and so of mental involvement, led him to an "idealistic approach to natural philosophy," featuring Conceptual Idealism, a Coherence Theory of truth (where coherence means "coherent with the plausible dada"), and Methodological Pragmatism (a form of pragmatism in which it is one's methodology which is justified pragmatically). Methodological pragmatism is held to be superior to "thesis pragmatism" since the former avoids the regress of having to justify one thesis beyond another, indefinitely.

 

(3) Idealism and pragmatism together shape his conclusions. Physical laws are not so much observed in, as imputed to, nature on the basis of inductive method which is itself justified pragmatically.

 

(4) The laws of logic and the consistency of nature itself turn out to be regulative principle, ordered to our conceptualizing procedures.

 

(5) Possibilities are likewise imputed to the world. The imputation introduces no "iffiness" to the world; since all possibility is mental, Rescher offers a type of conceptualism with no apparent bridge between mental possibility and non-mental actuality.

 

(6) The conflict between realism and conceptualism with respect to possibilities is perhaps reduced by another view he has advanced, that of Orientational Pluralism, which presumes the existence of equally eligible alternative orientations on both sides of incompatible philosophical positions.

 

(7) In any case he has suggested combining plausible versions of realism and idealism with the goal of fruitful collaboration between these positions.

 

(8) Claiming that Hume (q.v. 6) turned reason into the slave of the passions by construing it too narrowly as concern with the means for achieving emotionally held ends, Rescher broadened its applicability to include ends as well as means. Rationality, then, involves the use of appropriate means to achieve appropriate ends, whether the context is belief, action, or evaluation.

 

Brockhaus: Die Enzyklopädie, vol. 18 (F. A. Brockhaus: Leipzig-Mannheim, 1998).

 

Rescher, Nicholas, amerikan. Philosoph und Mathematiker dt. Herkunft, *Hagen 15.7.1928; seit 1961 Prof. für Philosophie an der Univ. Pittsburgh (PA). R. gehört zu den produktivsten und universellsten philosoph. Schriftstellern und Publizisten der Gegenwart (u.a. Begründer und Herausgeber des >American Philosophical Quarterly<). Mit dem >pragmat. Idealismus< arbeitete er eine eigene systemat. Perspektive aus. Idealistisch ist R.s System insofern, als ein konstruktiver Beitrag des forschenden Geistes als wesentlich für die Erkenntnis erachtet wird und Kohärenz als Wahrheitskriterium gilt. Pragmatisch ist es, weil die Methoden letztlich am Erfolg und Nutzen gemessen werden müssen.

 

Werke: The coherence theory of truth (1973); Methodological pragmatism (1977); The limits of science (1984; dt. Die Grenzen der Wiss.); Ongoing journey (1986); Rationality (1988; dt. Rationalität. Eine philosoph. Unters. über das Wesen u. die Rechtfertigung von Vernunft); A system of pragmatic idealism, 3 bde. (1992-94); Essays in the history of philosophy (1995); Process metaphysics (1996).

 

Who's Who in America (2000).

 

Rescher, Nicholas, philosophy educator; b. Hagen, Westphilia, Germany, July 15, 1928; came to U.S. 1938, naturalized 1944; s. Erwin Hans and Meta Anna R.; m. Dorothy Henle, Feb. 10, 1968; children: Mark, Owen, Catherine; 1 child from a previous marriage, Elizabeth. BS in Math., Queen's Coll., 1949; Phd, Princeton U., 1951; LHD (hon.), Loyola U.—Chgo., 1970, Lehigh U., 1993; Dr. honor is causa U. Córdoba, Argentina, 1992, U. Konstanze, Germany, 1995. DSc (hon.), CUNY, 1999. Instr. philosophy Princeton U., N.J., 1951-52; mathematician RAND Corp., 1954-56; assoc. prof. philosophy Lehigh U., Bethlehem, PA., 1957-61; Univ. prof. philosophy U. Pitts., 1961—, vice chmn. Ctr. for Philosophy of Sci., 1988—; trustee St. Edmunds Acad., Pitts., 1980-85; nonresident mem. Corpus Christi Coll., Oxford; disting. vis. lectr. Oxford, Salamanca, Munich, Konstanz; cons. In field. Author: The coherence Theory of Truth, 1973, Methodological Pragmatism, 1977, Scientific Progress, 1978, The Limits of Science, 1985, Luck, 1995, Predicting the Future, 1997, others; exec. editor: Am. Philos. Quarterly., 1961?; mem. editl. bd. 15 jours.: contbr. Over 250 articles to profl. Journs. Sec. gen Internat. Union of History and Philosophy of Sci. Union History and Philosophy of Sci., USENCO, 1969-75. With USMC, 1952-54. Recipient Alexander von Humboldt Humanities prize 1983; fellow Ford Found., 1959-60, Guggenheim /Found., 1970-71. Mem. Am. Philos. Assn. (past pres.) Royal Asiatic Soc., G. W. Leibniz Soc. Am. (past pres.), C. S. Peirce Soc. (past pres.), Inst. Internat. de Philosophie, Academie Internat. de Philosophie des Scis., Acad. Europaea. Roman Catholic. Avocation: reading history and biography. Home 5818 Aylesboro Ave Pittsburgh PA 15217-1446 Office: Univ of Pitts Dept Philosophy 1012 Cathedral Pittsburgh PA 15260. Rescher@pitt.edu

 

World Philosophers and Their Works ed. By John K. Roth (Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 2000) pp. 1627-33

 

Rescher not only contributed significantly to logic, philosophy of science, and the history of philosophy but also developed a system of pragmatic idealism that placed him squarely in the mainstream of the history of American philosophy.

 

Principal philosophical works: Distributive Justice: A Constructive Critique of the Utilitarian Theory of Distribution, 1966; The Philosophy 'of Leibniz, 1967; The Coherence Theory of Truth, 1973; A Theory of Possibility: A Constructivistic and Conceptualistic Account of Possible Individuals and Possible Worlds, 1975; Methodological Pragmatism: A Systems-Theoretic Approach to the Theory of Knowledge, 1977; Scientific Progress: A Philosophical Essay on the Economics of Research in Natural Science, 1978; Cognitive Systematization: A Systems-Theoretic Approach to a Coherentist Theory of Knowledge, 1979; The Logic of Inconsistency: A Study in Non-standard Possible-World Semantics and Ontology, 1979; Induction: An Essay on the Justification of Inductive Reasoning, 1980; The Limits of Science, 1984; The Strife of Systems: An Essay on the Grounds and Implications of Philosophical Diversity, 1985; Ethical Idealism: An Inquiry into the Nature and Function of Ideals, 1987; Rationality: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Nature and the Rationale of Reason, 1988; Pluralism: Against the Demand for Consensus, 1993; A System of Pragmatic Idealism, 1992-1994 (3 volumes); Objectivity: The Obligations of Impersonal Reason, 1997; Communicative Pragmatism and Other Philosophical Essays on Language, 1998.

Born: July 15, 1928; Hagen, Westphalia, Germany


Early Life


In 1938, Nicholas Rescher and his mother emigrated to the United States from Germany to join his father, who had arrived in New York a year earlier. The elder Rescher had made the decision to leave Germany when his law practice began to lose clients after 1933, partly because of his antipathy to Nazism. Rescher quickly became Americanized, a process abetted by the Beechurst community where he lived and the school on Long Island Sound he attended. However, during his adolescence he had an acute awareness of the cultural difference between the Old and the New Worlds and of his being something of a cultural amphibian who belonged to both. He consequently retreated from the life of society to the life of the mind and cultivated the habits of introspection and reflection.


In 1942, the economic conditions spawned by World War II forced his father to sell his business at a considerable loss. That same year, the Reschers moved to Armonk, Westchester County. During high school, Rescher discovered his aptitude and interest in mathematics, particularly algebra. He was naturalized as an American citizen in 1944. In 1945, he read Will Durant's Story of Philosophy (1926), which awakened his interest in philosophy. He went on to read the works of thinkers such as Rene Descartes, David Hume, and Arthur Schopenhauer. He was particularly interested in logic, where philosophy and mathematics intersected.

 

In 1946, he entered Queens College in New York, majoring in philosophy and mathematics. He continued to study classical languages and to read extensively in world literature, believing that the culture transmitted by the academy was integral and that inquiry in anyone field fed inquiries in others. He eventually chose philosophy over mathematics because, although proficient in mathematics, he felt he lacked that facility in the field that made for true distinction. Philosophy appealed to him because of the importance and challenge of its questions and the beauty and rigor of logic. Furthermore, this field gave him ample scope to indulge his generalist bent and enabled him to integrate his interests in the sciences and humanities. Among his teachers at Queens were Carl G. Hempel, Donald Davidson, and Arnold Isenberg.

 

Rescher began graduate studies in philosophy at Princeton University in 1949. There he studied logic under Alonzo Church; the philosophies of F. H. Bradley, Alfred North Whitehead, and Bertrand Russell under Walter T. Stace, whose interest in mysticism and deep commitment to philosophy impressed him; and epistemology with Paul Ushenko, whose book on logic he had read in high school. During his first year of graduate studies, Rescher-stimulated by Russell's A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz (1900) and philosopher Louis Couturat's La Logique de Leibniz (1901; Leibniz's logic)-wrote an essay on Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz's cosmology, which dealt specifically with Leibniz's application of science to philosophy. He was intrigued by Leibniz's multifaceted thought and his method of using logic and mathematical symbols to solve philosophical problems, a method that would become Rescher's own. His interest lay not so much in Leibniz's doctrines as in his method. Rescher felt an affinity with this philosopher because he confronted a period of upheaval in philosophy represented by the advent of Cartesianism. Rescher's The Coherence Theory of Truth was in part inspired by Leibniz. His interest in Leibniz took a practical turn when he became a member of the council of the International Leibniz Society and of the editorial board of Studia Leibnitiana, its official journal, and helped organize the American Leibniz Society. From 1951 to 1953, Church enlisted Rescher as a reviewer for The Journal of Symbolic Logic. In the same period, Rescher collaborated with Paul Oppenheim on an essay that analyzed logically the concept of the gestalt; this represented his entry into the philosophy of science. He received a doctorate in 1952.


Life’s Work


From 1952 to 1954, Rescher served in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he was employed in amphibious reconnaissance and in the administration of correspondence courses at the Marine Corps Institute. He attributed his later indefatigableness in writing philosophy to a need to compensate for the time wasted during these two years. However, his military service did give him invaluable practical experience of the "real world" and contributed to his later reflections on the issues of life as well as thought. Between 1954 and 1956, he went to work in the Mathematics Division of the Corporation for Research and Development (the Rand Corporation), a military think tank in Santa Monica, California. His projects were to determine how much damage the U.S. economy could sustain in an aerial bombardment yet remain militarily viable and to assess the human and economic impact of a Soviet nuclear attack on the United States. His work at Rand helped him lay the theoretical foundations for the Delphi method of expert prediction.

 

Religion played only a marginal role in Rescher's boyhood and youth. However, he became increasingly receptive to it because his experiences as a refugee and as a soldier during the Korean War made him realize the radical contingency and vulnerability of human existence. Following his mother's example, he attended the Friends Meeting in Santa Monica. He was impressed by the warmth of the Quakers, by their idea of a still, small voice calling one to higher things, and by the utter simplicity and silence of their way of worship. He particularly liked the Friends' lack of any creed that might give a philosophical skeptic pause and their peaceful resolution of conflict (the need for which was brought home to him during his stints at Rand and in the Maries). His increased commitment to Christianity was the highlight of his California years and a factor in his decision to leave Rand. At the think tank, Rescher learned the value of collaboration in research and the usefulness of empirical inquiries in the social sciences as the basis for social philosophy. It also gave him the opportunity to develop an intimate knowledge of the practical issues of public policy.

 

From 1957 to 1961, Rescher taught philosophy at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. There his interest in the pre-Socratic philosophers was reawakened, and he pioneered work in the joint fields of the history and the philosophy of science. The cousin of Rescher's father, asker Rescher, a distinguished but eccentric scholar of Asian languages who had converted to Islam and lived in Istanbul, sparked Rescher's interest in Arabic. Rescher promptly learned the language and used it to read Arabic philosophers, especially logicians such as AI-Farabi. Among the fruits of his research was the restoration of the text of a polemical tract by Alexander of Aphrodisias, a commentator on Aristotle. The original Greek text had been lost, and the work survived only in an Arabic translation. In 1961, he joined the philosophy department at the University of Pittsburgh

 

A signal event in Rescher's life was his formal reception in 1981 into the Roman Catholic Church. From 1966, he had begun to worship regularly in the Church, being particularly drawn by the drama of its liturgy. His Christian commitment was motivated more by feeling than by thought. On the whole, he felt a greater intellectual and personal kinship with believers, among whom he felt at home, than with nonbelievers. Religion put things in perspective for Rescher and accommodated his insight that life has more questions than answers. His theology was liberal and pluralistic. His membership in the Catholic Church reinforced his belief that adherence to tradition and the observance of traditional rituals and ceremonies were essential to a civilized life

 

Rescher was a polymath who, in more than fifty books and two hundred articles, contributed-sometimes significantly-to virtually every field of philosophy. Of his many contributions to the history of philosophy, his The Philosophy of Leibniz stands out. He also wrote works in the fledgling field of medical ethics, logic, epistemology, the philosophy of science, metaphysics, and social philosophy. Rescher began with abstract and theoretical issues in mathematics and logic, moved to the philosophy of the natural sciences (biology, cosmology) and the social sciences (economics), and then addressed issues in philosophical anthropology (human culture).

 

Like Leibniz, Rescher was more than a cloistered scholar; he was engaged in the practical affairs of founding and editing journals and administering academic societies and organizations. He helped found the American Philosophical Quarterly (1964), founded the History of Philosophy Quarterly (1984) and the Public Affairs Quarterly (1987), and organized The Journal of Philosophical Logic (1971). He served as secretary of the Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science branch of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (1969-1975) and as the administrative director of the Philosophy of Science Center at Pittsburgh. He was named to the board of directors of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies and elected president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association (1989-1990). His manifold accomplishments earned him a number of awards, including the Doctorate of Humane Letters from Loyola University and the Humanities Research Prize from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Influence

Rescher's mission in philosophy was to tackle the perennial questions that were jettisoned by positivism using contemporary and rigorous methods of logical analysis along with the resources of the past. Rescher's own continuity with the history of philosophy is evident in his rehabilitation of the historical movements of idealism and pragmatism and his implementation of the methodology of Leibniz. A persistent theme in Rescher's philosophy is human limitations and the imperfection (and imperfectability) of human knowledge. However, he does not succumb to skepticism, nihilism, or relativism, all of which he roundly rejects. He argues on pragmatic grounds that there is an objective reality that is intelligible, the truth of which can be obtained by human reason; and though perfect knowledge is impossible, adequate knowledge for the realization of human ends is not.

 

Perhaps Rescher's crowning achievement is his trilogy, A System of Pragmatic Idealism, a synthesis and systematization of his multifaceted thought. In this work, he presents a system of pragmatic idealism. This system is idealistic insofar as it affirms the mind's active role in the construction of reality; however, it also acknowledges that people's interests and needs, arising adventitiously from their environment, constrain and restrain their subjectivity. It is pragmatic insofar as it values what works well for all human beings as opposed to what works well for one individual or a select group; hence, this pragmatism is objective, not subjective. Undergirding this trilogy is the idea of the dynamic and evolutionary character of human thought, derived from George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Charles Sanders Peirce.

 

Rescher is a quintessentially American philosopher inasmuch as he-like Peirce, C. 1. Lewis, and W. V. O. Quine-fused analytic technique with historical concerns and rehabilitated the specifically American philosophy of pragmatism. Moreover, Rescher is intellectually kin to Josiah Royce, a classic American philosopher who was also a pragmatic idealist. Rescher's philosophical reputation rests on the following achievements: first, the revival of idealism within the analytic tradition; second, a theory of induction and scientific method based on the coherence theory of truth; third, the reconception of pragmatism; fourth, the development of a logic that accommodates inconsistency and the rediscovery of the medieval Arabic logicians' theory of temporal modality; fifth, a theory of progress in the sciences; and sixth, a critique of utilitarian ethics. With respect to his enormous output and the wide range of his achievements, he has few rivals in the history of philosophy. His philosophical system is a monument of twentieth century philosophy.

 

It is, in this context, instructive to take a closer look at one of Rescher’s recent books:

 

OBJECTIVITY


The Obligations of Impersonal Reason

 

Type of philosophy: Epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, axiology, ontology First published: 1997 Principal ideas advanced:

 

  Objectivity is grounded in human reason and seeks to transcend the limitations imposed by personal interests and inclinations and establish uniform standards of rationality valid for all persons.


  The reality of objectivity is disclosed by the fact that some means are more effective and expeditious than others in realizing ends (especially cognitive ones).

 

  Objectivity is a necessary postulate of human communication that presupposes the existence of an objective order, the truths of which can be communicated.

 

  Objectivity is a necessary postulate of experience and knowledge of the world; faith in objectivity is vindicated pragmatically by its fruitfulness in advancing scientific knowledge.

 

  Moral laws and principles are objective because morality is a functional institution that involves achieving practically worthwhile ends; moral objectivity is rooted in the inherent rationality of morality.

 

  Certain values, having to do with what is truly in one's best interest, are objective insofar as they may conflict with and stand in judgment over one's personal desires.

Nicholas Rescher's Objectivity: The Obligations of Impersonal Reason is his critique of the subversion of objectivity and rationality by three intellectual trends that gathered steam in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The first of these trends was cultural relativism, a dogma of the social sciences that maintained that because codes of value emerge from and depend on particular cultures, there is no way to judge their relative superiority and, therefore, they are all equally valid. The second trend was a liberal egalitarianism that denied that any set of values (particularly Western values) is superior to another and urged tolerance of them all. The third trend was postmodernism, which contended that there are no objective, transcendent, and absolute values in the world such as truth, goodness, and beauty, and that the normative distinctions between truth and fiction, or sense and nonsense, are wholly subjective.

 

Rescher’s aim in this volume is to defend the claim of objectivity against its various cultured despisers. He argues that a relativistic indifference to truth and rightness is inherently self-destructive and self-contradictory. To abandon objective standards of truth in fields such as physics, history, and ethics is in effect to abandon those fields altogether. The source of objectivity, Rescher claims, is found in human rationality itself. Thus, to relinquish objectivity is nothing less than to relinquish reason. He conceives of rationality in terms of pragmatism (the view that the meaning and truth of a statement is the sum of its logical and physical consequences) and the coherence theory of truth (the view that the truth of a statement is determined by its consistency with other statements in a system of logically consistent statements). The prestige of objectivity suffered a decline among some thinkers in the last quarter of the twentieth century because either its link to rationality was not understood or, if it was, rationality itself was disparaged for some reason.


Objectivity requires putting aside one's prejudices and personal preferences in choosing one's beliefs, values, and actions and instead following the dictates of impartial reason-in other words, consulting one's head rather than one's heart. Reason is universal: What is rational for one person to believe, value, or do must be so for anyone else in the same situation. Reason does not accommodate itself to the idiosyncratic needs, dispositions, or needs of any individual. Though it does not ignore differences in people's situations or contexts, rationality (objectivity) stipulates that people in similar contexts ought to believe, evaluate, and act in uniform ways.


Misunderstanding Objectivity


Various academic groups have attacked objectivity for different reasons. Some anthropologists have claimed that different cultures have different kinds of rationality, none of which is universal and transcendent. Some historians and sociologists have despaired of ever attaining objectivity in their respective fields. Personalists have believed that objectivity conflicts with our humanity. Feminist epistemologists and Marxists have thought that objectivity, even if attainable, would be undesirable. Postmodernists have regarded all claims to objective truth as specious and nothing more than subjective opinions. Social activists have deemed objectivity illegitimate because it is incompatible with personal commitment. However, Rescher contends that all these attacks are based on misunderstandings of the nature of objectivity.

 

One such misunderstanding is that one must enter into a consensus or agreement with others concerning truth to meet objectivity's requirement that personal idiosyncrasies be ignored. However, this is not so. Consensus does 'not guarantee the truth at which objectivity aims; only in an ideal world would consensus be a decisive indicator of truth. However, in some disciplines-science, for example-consensus is epistemically significant; and in the realm of general principles, with which philosophy deals, its pursuit may be fruitful.

 

A second misunderstanding is that objectivity requires one to ignore the fact that knowledge and truth necessarily emerge from a specific culture or a particular kind of collective experience. Thus, cognitive relativism, which denies that there is a body of objectively true knowledge against which all claims to knowledge must be judged, rejects objectivity. It does so on the basis of an egalitarianism according to which there are different criteria of truth, each criterion being determined by the particular social group from which it emerges, with none being more valid than any other. However, its claim that there are equivalent" alternative standards of rationality" is incoherent; there is only a single, decisive standard of rationality. However, a uniform rational standard does not mean that rationality may not be exercised in diverse contexts or within different domains of experience; it does not demand a uniformity in human experience. Indeed, the exercise of reason is bound to particular social and cultural contexts. Cognitive relativists fail to realize that human activities, particularly scientific inquiry, are purposive, and certain procedures are more effective in realizing those purposes than others. Hence, the effectiveness of the means used to achieve one's ends.

 

A third misunderstanding of objectivity is that it reduces all human experience and knowledge to that which can be quantified and measured. However, Rescher states that objectivity does not presuppose quantification, and quantification by itself does not guarantee objectivity. Furthermore, measurement is something more than quantification; only occasionally do quantities actually measure anything. Measurement is a sufficient but not necessary condition for objectivity.

 

To the objection that the quest for cognitive objectivity does not guarantee certain success in human endeavors, Rescher replies pragmatically that the best hope people have of achieving their goals is through rational means, which presuppose an objective basis. Being rational in pursuit of ends makes more sense than not.


Objective Reality

 

Rescher demonstrates that objectivity is a necessary presupposition of language and science: It is a postulate that makes these activities possible. Thus, ordinary language is committed to the existence of objective standards of truth. The existence of an intercommunicative community fosters objectivity. People's beliefs about the world are always provisional; the correctness of their beliefs depends upon their rightly discovering the important properties of things. However, discovery of these properties depends on human intercommunication over time. Thus, human thought and knowledge revolve around the possibility of communal inquiry into and interpersonal communication about an objective order of things. Without the assumption of that objective reality, human intercommunication about a shared world would cease to work. The existence of objective knowledge rests on the existence of an objective reality that serves as a functional or "regulative" presupposition of it. Ontological objectivity is not discovered but postulated. If people's purely subjective opinions wholly determined reality, then communication and the advance of knowledge would be impracticable.

 

Physical objects, which help make up the real world, cannot be perfectly known. This means that the world people know is only a limited part of the world that exists. This limited knowledge of the world suggests that there is a vaster reality out there independent of people's minds (the thesis of metaphysical realism). This objective reality is not discovered through experience but is presupposed by people's experience and empirical inquiries. Its presupposition (postulation) is justified not by evidence but by its enabling people to learn and know. Objective reality, then, is a functional postulate of experience and knowledge, it is ultimately justified pragmatically by being an essential part of a useful and necessary cognitive enterprise (the sciences).

 

Objectivity and Values

 

Rescher next turns to the objectivity in value theory, particularly ethics. Morality, by definition, claims to be objectively true, and therefore to reduce it to subjectivity is to abandon it. Morality is an inherently functional institution insofar as it serves a purpose. Moral reasoning and disputes are possible only because morality is functional. Because morality involves the goods in life that people should pursue, there can be rational thought about the nature of these goods and how best to acquire them. Though the moral codes operative in various cultures differ, the moral principles underlying all these codes displays functional uniformity. Despite the diversity among moral codes, the moral code of a particular society should be normative for its citizens. Morality formulates moral rules and duties that are objective and universal, which means that all human beings must abide by them and that they are rational and true. Moral rules and obligations get their objective force from neither the social benefits that will accrue from abiding by them (utilitarianism) nor from a mutual promise to obey them (the social contract), but solely from their inherent rationality. Because moral principles are part of rational principles, which are absolutely true and universal, moral principles share these characteristics. Obeying moral rules and meeting obligations benefits everyone; thus, the polity of a just society will seek to harmonize morality with the self-interest of individuals.

 

The issue of whether values in general (moral and nonmoral) are objective boils down to the issue of whether rational thought about them is possible. Philosophers who are disciples of Scottish philosopher David Hume claim that values are purely subjective, being nothing but expressions of personal desire-of people's wants and preferences. However, humans have interests that may conflict with their desires and determine their validity. As soon as people start seriously to evaluate what is really in their best interest, independently of whether they desire it, they commit themselves to a rational activity. That people can rationally weigh their values means that they are not merely subjective but have a rational and, therefore, objective element.

 

Rationality and Texts

 

Rescher finally considers objectivity as it applies to the interpretation and meaning of texts. He claims, against deconstructionists, that texts do have an objective meaning that is rationally discoverable. Deconstruction, a relativist theory about the meaning of texts, holds that no one interpretation of a text is correct or true to the exclusion of other interpretations and, therefore, that all interpretations are equally valid. The meaning of a text is purely subjective and relative to its reader's viewpoint. However, notes Rescher, deconstructionists woefully misunderstand and underestimate the critical role played by a text's broadest context in its interpretation. Indeed, it is the consistency of the interpretation of a text with its context-how well its presumed meaning fits in with the larger meaning of its background that helps determine whether that interpretation is the right one and provides the basis for its rationality and objectivity. In communication, people's purposes help establish whether their interpretations are appropriate or not.

 

It is perhaps a psychological necessity that each person has a private domain where subjectivity is the rule and one's imagination is given free play, where one can freely indulge one's prejudices, biases, idiosyncrasies, whims, and personal peculiarities. However, this necessity, if it is a fact, is objective and is disclosed to one by rational inquiry. There is, then, no limit to the scope of rational objectivity because it determines even the fact and propriety of a subjective domain.

 

Objectivity is significant because it defends the values of objectivity and rationality using pragmatism and the coherence theory of truth. More specifically, it demonstrates how pragmatism, which originated as a theory of scientific explanation, can be fruitfully used to combat subjectivism, skepticism, nihilism, relativism, and other manifestations of the cult of irrationality. It also shows the continuing relevance of pragmatism, which is arguably the United States' most distinctive contribution to the history of philosophy, and demonstrates the relevance of the coherence theory of truth to domains outside its traditional ones of philosophy and the sciences.

 

Additional Reading

 

Almeder, Robert, ed. Praxis and Reason: Studies in the Philosophy of Nicholas Rescher. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982. This volume, which is intended for specialists, considers specifically Nicholas Rescher's pragmatism and theory of truth.

 

Marsonet, Michele. The Primacy of Practical Reason: An Essay on Nicholas Rescher's Philosophy. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1995. This is perhaps the best introduction for the general reader because it deals synoptically with Rescher's philosophy. It puts the philosopher's thought in historical perspective as well as locates its place in contemporary philosophical thought. Pragmatic Idealism: Critical Essays on Nicholas Rescher's System of Pragmatic Idealism. Atlanta, Ga.: Rodopi, 1998. This book, addressed to specialists in the field, is a discussion of different perspectives of Rescher's distinctive philosophical system.

 

Rescher, Nicholas. Instructive Journey: An Essay in Autobiography. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1997. This informative work introduces the man as well as the philosopher and is particularly valuable in showing how Rescher's distinctive ideas emerged from his life's experience.

 

Sosa, Ernest, ed. The Philosophy of Nicholas Rescher: Discussion and Replies. Boston: Kluwer Academic, 1979. This book records the discussion of Rescher by Ernest Sosa and 1. Jonathan Cohen together with Rescher's responses to their critique. It is most suitable for advanced readers who already have some background in Rescher's thought.

 

Richard A. Spurgeon Hall

 

Philosophenlexicon (2001)

 

Nicholas Rescher (b. 1928). Nicholas Rescher emigrated from Germany to the U. S. A. in 1938 and studied mathematics and philosophy there.

 

Rescher’s philosophy is based on the idea of classical idealism that truth can only be comprehended as a system. He conjoins the correspondence theory of truth with a coherence theory of justification. According to Rescher, coherence is the criterion of truth but not a definition of truth. Such a coherence theory has as its object to discriminate the true from the false, the two pivotal components of coherence being comprehensiveness and consistency. Coherence, so understood, is a relation between a potentially true empirical statement A and a nonempty set of statements M which exhibits those coherence determinate features of comprehensiveness and consistency. Specifically this relation obtains when: (1) the conjunction of A with M is logically selfconsistent. (2) There is a subset of M that contains all (but only) those statements from which A can be derived. (3) Every subset of M will, when supplemented by A, form a coherent whole. Rescher proceeds to argue that not only can this criterion itself be maintained on coherentist grounds but can also be substantiated on the basis of success application. (This constitutes his “methodological pragmatism.”)

 

In ethics Rescher is particularly interested in the question of how a cultural pluralism of values and norms can be accepted without succumbing to ethical relativism. Here he maintains that there indeed is an absolute morality categorically possessed of universal validity, but that this absolute morality gives rise to a diversified plurality of moral rules subject to a variation of social and cultural conditions in different contexts. Such a morality will, accordingly to Rescher, not only take account of the interests of an individual, but will also take into account the interests of others.

 

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