Nicholas Rescher

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Nicholas Rescher
Nicholas Rescher 2.jpg
Born (1928-07-15) 15 July 1928 (age 91)
Alma mater Queens College (CUNY)
Princeton University
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic
Process philosophy
Methodological pragmatism
Pragmatic idealism
Epistemic coherentism [1]
Coherence theory of truth [2]
Institutions University of Pittsburgh
Thesis Leibniz' cosmology: a reinterpretation of the philosophy of Leibniz in the light of his physical theories  (1951)
Doctoral advisor Alonzo Church, Ledger Wood
Doctoral students Alexander Pruss
Ernest Sosa
Diego Marconi
Main interests
Philosophy of subjectivity, history of philosophy, epistemology, value theory
Notable ideas
Philosophical theory of everything, axiogenesis

Nicholas Rescher ( /ˈrɛʃər/ ; German: [ˈʁɛʃɐ] ; born 15 July 1928) is a German-American philosopher, polymath, and author, teaching at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the Chairman of the Center for Philosophy of Science and has formerly served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department. [3]

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, which is 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 most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

University of Pittsburgh American state-related research university located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The University of Pittsburgh is a state-related research university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was founded as the Pittsburgh Academy in 1787 on the edge of the American frontier. It developed and was renamed as Western University of Pennsylvania by a change to its charter in 1819. After surviving two devastating fires and various relocations within the area, the school moved to its current location in the Oakland neighborhood of the city; it was renamed as the University of Pittsburgh in 1908. Pitt was a private institution until 1966 when it became part of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education.


Rescher has served as president for the American Catholic Philosophical Association, Leibniz Society of North America, American Metaphysical Society, American Philosophical Association, and Charles S. Peirce Society. [4] He is the founder of American Philosophical Quarterly , [5] History of Philosophy Quarterly , and Public Affairs Quarterly . [6]

The American Catholic Philosophical Association (ACPA) is an organization of Catholic philosophers established in 1926 to promote the advancement of philosophy as an intellectual discipline consonant with Catholic tradition. Among the means used to achieve this objective, the organization strives to develop philosophical scholarship, to improve the teaching of philosophy, and to communicate with other individuals and groups with similar aims. The organization sponsors an annual conference and several scholarly publications, including a peer-reviewed journal, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, and the Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association. Individual and institutional members of the ACPA receive online access to all ACPA publications as a benefit of membership.

The Leibniz Society of North America is a philosophical society whose purpose is to promote the study of the philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. The society publishes The Leibniz Review, organizes an annual conference, sponsors group sessions at meetings of the American Philosophical Association, holds an annual essay contest, and issues an annual newsletter.

The American Philosophical Association (APA) is the main professional organization for philosophers in the United States. Founded in 1900, its mission is to promote the exchange of ideas among philosophers, to encourage creative and scholarly activity in philosophy, to facilitate the professional work and teaching of philosophers, and to represent philosophy as a discipline.

Early life and education

Nicholas Rescher was born in the city of Hagen in the Westphalia region of Germany. [4] In his autobiography he traces his descent to Nehemias Rescher (1735-1801), a founder of Hochberg-Remseck Jewish community in Swabian Germany. [7] He relocated to the United States when he was 10. He obtained a degree in mathematics at Queens College, New York. [8] Thereafter, he attended Princeton University, graduating with his Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1951 at the age of 22, the youngest person ever to have obtained a Ph.D. in that department. [3] [4] From 1952 to 1954, he served a term in the United States Marine Corps, following which from 1954 to 1957 he worked for the Rand Corporation's mathematics division. [8] He has taught at the University of Pittsburgh since 1961. Rescher is a cousin of the eminent orientalist Oskar Rescher.

Hagen Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Hagen is the 41st-largest city in Germany. The municipality is located in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It is located on the south eastern edge of the Ruhr area, 15 km south of Dortmund, where the rivers Lenne and Volme meet the river Ruhr. As of 31 December 2010, the population was 188,529. The city is home to the FernUniversität Hagen, which is the only state funded distance education university in Germany. Counting more than 67,000 students, it is the largest university in Germany.

Westphalia State part and historic region of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany

Westphalia is a region in northwestern Germany and one of the three historic parts of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It has an area of 20,208 km2 (7,802 sq mi) and 7.9 million inhabitants.

Princeton University University in Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton University is a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1746 in Elizabeth as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution. The institution moved to Newark in 1747, then to the current site nine years later, and renamed itself Princeton University in 1896.


Rescher began his career as an academic at Princeton University in 1951. [8] [9] He joined the philosophy department at the University of Pittsburgh in 1961, becoming the first associate director of its new Center for Philosophy of Science the following year. [10] In 1964, he founded the American Philosophical Quarterly. [11] From 1980 to 1981, Rescher served as the chairman of the philosophy department. [8] In July 1988, Rescher changed roles at the Center for Philosophy of Science, resigning as its director and becoming its chairman. [12] In 2010, he donated his philosophy collection to the Hillman Library. [8]

Hillman Library library

Hillman Library is the largest library and the center of administration for the University Library System (ULS) of the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. Located on the corner of Forbes Avenue and Schenley Drive, diagonally across from the Cathedral of Learning, Hillman serves as the flagship of the approximately 7.1 million-volume University Library System at Pitt.

An honorary member of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, he has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain, the Academia Europaea, the Royal Society of Canada, and the Institut International de Philosophie, among others. [3]

Corpus Christi College, Oxford college of the University of Oxford

Corpus Christi College, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1517, it is the 12th oldest college in Oxford.

American Academy of Arts and Sciences United States honorary society and center for independent policy research

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the oldest learned societies in the United States. Founded in 1780, the Academy is dedicated to honoring excellence and leadership, working across disciplines and divides, and advancing the common good.

Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Learned society in the field of Asian studies in the United Kingdom

The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, commonly known as the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS), was established, according to its Royal Charter of 11 August 1824, to further "the investigation of subjects connected with and for the encouragement of science, literature and the arts in relation to Asia." From its incorporation the Society has been a forum, through lectures, its journal, and other publications, for scholarship relating to Asian culture and society of the highest level. It is the United Kingdom's senior learned society in the field of Asian studies. Fellows of the Society are elected regularly. Fellows include highly accomplished and notable scholars of Asian Studies. They use the post-nominal letters F.R.A.S.

Rescher is a prolific writer, with over 100 books and 400 articles, generating the jest that Rescher is not a single person, but a committee sharing the name. [4] [5] [13] Philosopher Michele Marsonet, who has published extensively on Rescher's philosophy, writes that his prolific publication is in itself the most common objection against Rescher, adding "it is, indeed, a leitmotiv of all those unwilling to discuss his ideas". [13] Rescher has described his own approach to philosophy as synthesizing the idealism of Germany and Great Britain with the pragmatism of the U.S. [14]

Michele Marsonet is professor of philosophy of science and methodology of the human sciences, chairman of the philosophy department and vice-rector for international relations at the University of Genoa in Italy. Having worked as Associate Professor, first of Logic and then of Philosophy of Science, at the University of Genoa from 1992 to 1999, he was then a Full Professor of Theoretical Philosophy and Institutions of Philosophy. He was also dean of the faculty of arts and humanities of the University of Genoa from 2002 to 2008. His main areas of study are in pragmatism, philosophy of science, metaphysics, methodology of the social sciences, political philosophy and philosophical logic. He has published extensively on the works of Nicholas Rescher.

German idealism was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It began as a reaction to Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. German idealism was closely linked with both Romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment.

British idealism A philosophical movement that was influential in Britain from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century.

A species of absolute idealism, British idealism was a philosophical movement that was influential in Britain from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. The leading figures in the movement were T. H. Green (1836–1882), F. H. Bradley (1846–1924), and Bernard Bosanquet (1848–1923). They were succeeded by the second generation of J. M. E. McTaggart (1866–1925), H. H. Joachim (1868–1938), J. H. Muirhead (1855–1940), and R. G. Collingwood (1889–1943). The last major figure in the tradition was G. R. G. Mure (1893–1979). Doctrines of early British idealism so provoked the young Cambridge philosophers G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell that they began a new philosophical tradition, analytic philosophy.


Rescher's university biography describes his philosophical work thus: [3]

His work envisions a dialectical tension between our synoptic aspirations for useful knowledge and our human limitations as finite inquirers. The elaboration of this project represents a many-sided approach to fundamental philosophical issues that weaves together threads of thought from the philosophy of science, and from continental idealism and American pragmatism.

In the mid and late 1960s, his studies were focused on medieval Arabic logic, but he soon broadened his areas of inquiry in metaphysics and epistemology, moving towards the methodological pragmatism he would define. [15] In the 1970s, he began working more extensively with American pragmatism with a focus on the writings of C. S. Peirce, who was to number among his major influences. [16] In 1966, Rescher collaborated with Herbert A. Simon on a ground-breaking paper on the theory of causality. [17]

He has contributed to futuristics, and with Olaf Helmer and Norman Dalkey, invented the Delphi method of forecasting. [3] A lifelong aficionado of the philosophy of G. W. Leibniz, Rescher has been instrumental in the reconstruction of Leibniz's machina deciphratoria, an ancestor of the famous Enigma cipher machine. Rescher is also responsible for two further items of historical rediscovery and reconstruction: the model of cosmic evolution in Anaximander, [18] and the medieval Islamic theory of modal syllogistic. [19]


Rescher has been honored many times for his work. In 1984, he received the Humboldt Prize for Humanistic Scholarship. [4] In 2005, he received the Cardinal Mercier Prize, and in 2007 the American Catholic Philosophical Society's Aquinas Medal. In 2011, his contributions as a German-American to philosophy were recognized with the premier cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Founder's Medal of the American Metaphysical Society (2016), and the Helmholtz Medal of the German Academy of Sciences Berlin-Brandenburg. [3] He holds eight honorary degrees. Having held visiting lectureships at Oxford, Konstanz, Salamanca, Munich, and Marburg, he has been awarded fellowships by the Ford, Guggenheim, and National Science Foundation s. [3]

The Nicholas Rescher Prize and Medal

In 2010, the University of Pittsburgh created the Dr. Nicholas Rescher Fund for the Advancement of the Department of Philosophy which bestows the Nicholas Rescher Prize for Contributions to Systematic Philosophy. [8] The first recipient of the prize was Rescher's former student, Ernest Sosa. As of 2012, the prize included a gold medal and $25,000, subsequently raised to $30,000. Later awardees include Alvin Plantinga, Juergen Mittelstrass, Hilary Putnam, and Ruth Millikan. [20] When the American Philosophical Association inaugurated its own Rescher Prize for Systematic Philosophy in 2018, the University of Pittsburgh redesignated its award as the Rescher Medal.

Eponymous concepts

Selected works

For a more complete list of publications (books) from 1960–2016, see the Chronological List of Books by Nicholas Rescher.

OUP = Oxford University Press. PUP = Princeton University Press. SUNY Press = State University of New York Press. UPA = University Press of America. UPP = University of Pittsburgh Press.

Books About Nicholas Rescher's Work

Membership in Academies

See also


  1. Coherentist Theories of Epistemic Justification (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  2. The Coherence Theory of Truth (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 University of Pittsburgh 2014
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Marsonet 2014
  5. 1 2 Sosa & Cohen 1979 , p. ix
  6. John Kekes (1995). "Nicholas Rescher, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy , p. 771.
  7. Nicholas Rescher, Autobiography: Second Edition, Walter de Gruyter (2010), p. 308
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 University of Pittsburgh 2011
  9. "History - Department of Philosophy". Princeton University. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
  10. Center for Philosophy of Science 2001 , pp. 2–3
  11. University of Illinois Press 2014
  12. Center for Philosophy of Science 2001 , p. 4
  13. 1 2 Marsonet 2008 , p. iv-v
  14. Jacquette 2009 , p. 1
  15. Jacquette 2009 , p. 2
  16. Jacquette 2009 , pp. 3–4
  17. Herbert Simon and Nicholas Rescher, "Cause and Counterfactual," Philosophy of Sciences, vol. 34 (1966). pp.323-340.
  18. 2001, Robert Hahn, Anaximander and the Architects (Albany: SUNY Press).
  19. 2000, Tony Street, "Toward a History of Syllogistic after Avicenna: A Note on Rescher's Studies in Arabid Modal Logic," Journal of Islamic Studies, vol. 11, pp. 209-28.
  20. Anderson 2012
  21. Rescher, Nicholas (2018-02-16). "Leibniz Essays". MoreBooks!. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  22. Rescher, Nicholas (2018-03-22). "Philosophical Encounters". MoreBooks!. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  23. Rescher, Nicholas (2018-05-28). "Family Matters". MoreBooks!. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  24. Rescher, Nicholas (2018-08-01). "Kant Essays". MoreBooks!. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  25. Rescher, Nicholas (2018-09-06). "A PHILOSOPHER'S STORY: The Autobiography of an American Philosopher". MoreBooks!. Retrieved 2018-10-25.

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