Nelson Goodman

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Nelson Goodman
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Henry Nelson Goodman

August 7, 1906
DiedNovember 25, 1998(1998-11-25) (aged 92)
Needham, Massachusetts
Alma mater Harvard University
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic
Nominalism [1]
Main interests
Logic, induction, counterfactuals, mereology, aesthetics, philosophy of science, philosophy of language
Notable ideas
New riddle of induction, Goodman–Leonard calculus of individuals, [1] counterfactual conditional, languages of art

Henry Nelson Goodman (7 August 1906 – 25 November 1998) was an American philosopher, known for his work on counterfactuals, mereology, the problem of induction, irrealism, and aesthetics.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Philosopher person with an extensive knowledge of philosophy

A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term "philosopher" comes from the Ancient Greek, φιλόσοφος (philosophos), meaning "lover of wisdom". The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.

A counterfactual conditional, is a conditional with a false if-clause. The term "counterfactual conditional" was coined by Nelson Goodman in 1947, extending Roderick Chisholm's (1946) notion of a "contrary-to-fact conditional". The study of counterfactual speculation has increasingly engaged the interest of scholars in a wide range of domains such as philosophy, human geography, psychology, cognitive psychology, history, political science, economics, social psychology, law, organizational theory, marketing, and epidemiology.


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]

Somerville, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts, United States

Somerville is a city located directly to the northwest of Boston, in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. As of 2010, the United States Census lists the city with a total population of 75,754 people, making it the most densely populated municipality in New England. As of 2010, it was the 16th most densely populated incorporated municipality in the country. Somerville was established as a town in 1842, when it was separated from Charlestown. In 2006, the city was named the best-run city in Massachusetts by the Boston Globe. In 1972, in 2009, and again in 2015, the city received the All-America City Award. It is home to Tufts University, which has its campus along the Somerville and Medford border.

Massachusetts State of the United States of America

Massachusetts, officially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is the most populous state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It borders on the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island to the south, New Hampshire and Vermont to the north, and New York to the west. The state is named after the Massachusett tribe, which once inhabited the east side of the area, and is one of the original thirteen states. The capital of Massachusetts is Boston, which is also the most populous city in New England. Over 80% of Massachusetts's population lives in the Greater Boston metropolitan area, a region influential upon American history, academia, and industry. Originally dependent on agriculture, fishing and trade, Massachusetts was transformed into a manufacturing center during the Industrial Revolution. During the 20th century, Massachusetts's economy shifted from manufacturing to services. Modern Massachusetts is a global leader in biotechnology, engineering, higher education, finance, and maritime trade.

Harvard University private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities.

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.

University of Pennsylvania Private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League research university located in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is one of the nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence and the first institution of higher learning in the United States to refer to itself as a university. Benjamin Franklin, Penn's founder and first president, advocated an educational program that trained leaders in commerce, government, and public service, similar to a modern liberal arts curriculum. The university's coat of arms features a dolphin on its red chief, adopted from Benjamin Franklin's own coat of arms.

Noam Chomsky American linguist, philosopher and activist

Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, political activist, and social critic. Sometimes called "the father of modern linguistics", Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. He holds a joint appointment as Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and laureate professor at the University of Arizona, and is the author of over 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media. Ideologically, he aligns with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism.

Stephen Stich American philosopher

Stephen P. Stich is a professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University, as well as an Honorary Professor in Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. Stich's main philosophical interests are in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and moral psychology. His 1983 book, From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science: The Case Against Belief, received much attention as he argued for a form of eliminative materialism about the mind. He changed his mind, in later years, as indicated in his 1996 book Deconstructing the Mind.

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?

<i>Fact, Fiction, and Forecast</i> book by Nelson Goodman

Fact, Fiction, and Forecast is a book by Nelson Goodman in which he explores some problems regarding scientific law and counterfactual conditionals and presents his New Riddle of Induction. Hilary Putnam described the book as "one of the few books that every serious student of philosophy in our time has to have read." According to Jerry Fodor, "it changed, probably permanently, the way we think about the problem of induction, and hence about a constellation of related problems like learning and the nature of rational decision." Noam Chomsky and Hilary Putnam attended some of the lectures on which the book is based as undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania leading to a lifelong debate between the two over the matter of whether the problems presented in the book imply that there must be an innate ordering of hypotheses.

Grue and bleen are examples of logical predicates coined by Nelson Goodman in Fact, Fiction, and Forecast to illustrate the "new riddle of induction" – a successor to Hume's original problem. These predicates are unusual because their application is time-dependent; many have tried to solve the new riddle on those terms, but Hilary Putnam and others have argued such time-dependency depends on the language adopted, and in some languages it is equally true for natural-sounding predicates such as "green." For Goodman they illustrate the problem of projectible predicates and ultimately, which empirical generalizations are law-like and which are not. Goodman's construction and use of grue and bleen illustrates how philosophers use simple examples in conceptual analysis.

David Hume Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian

David Hume was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, scepticism, and naturalism. Hume's empiricist approach to philosophy places him with John Locke, George Berkeley, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes as a British Empiricist. Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1738), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Against philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passion rather than reason governs human behaviour. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge is founded solely in experience.

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.

Carl Gustav Hempel German philosopher

Carl Gustav "Peter" Hempel was a German writer and philosopher. He was a major figure in logical empiricism, a 20th-century movement in the philosophy of science. He is especially well known for his articulation of the deductive-nomological model of scientific explanation, which was considered the "standard model" of scientific explanation during the 1950s and 1960s. He is also known for the raven paradox.

Evidence Material supporting an assertion

Evidence, broadly construed, is anything presented in support of an assertion. This support may be strong or weak. The strongest type of evidence is that which provides direct proof of the truth of an assertion. At the other extreme is evidence that is merely consistent with an assertion but does not rule out other, contradictory assertions, as in circumstantial evidence.

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).


Click here for information about translations of Goodman's books.

See also


  1. 1 2 Nelson Goodman: The Calculus of Individuals in its different versions
  2. Hunter, Bruce, 2016 "Clarence Irving Lewis" in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  3. John K. Roth, Christina J. Moose, Rowena Wildin (eds.), World Philosophers and Their Works: Freud, Sigmund – Oakeshott, Michael, Salem Press, 2000, p. 735.
  4. Daniel Cohnitz & Marcus Rossberg, Nelson Goodman, Routledge (2014), p. 6
  5. "Goodman Dies". Harvard University Gazette. Archived from the original on 14 June 2013. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  6. Gardner, Howard. 2000. Project Zero: Nelson Goodman's Legacy in Arts Education. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (58)3, pp. 245–249.
  7. Gardner, H., and Perkins, D. "The Mark of Zero: Project Zero’s Identity Revealed." HGSE Alumni Bulletin, December 1994, 39(1), 2–6.
  8. Cohnitz and Rossberg (2003), ch. 5

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