Nicholas Rescher was born in Hagen in the Westphalia region of Germany. In his autobiography he traces his descent to Nehemias Rescher (1735-1801), a founder of the Hochberg-Remseck Jewish community in Swabian Germany. He relocated to the United States when he was 10 and obtained a degree in mathematics at Queens College, New York. Thereafter, he attended Princeton University, graduating with his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1951 at the age of 22, the youngest person to earn a Ph.D. in that department. From 1952 to 1954 during the Korean War he served a term in the United States Marine Corps, and then from 1954 to 1957 he worked for the Rand Corporation's mathematics division. After a time at Lehigh University, he has taught philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh since 1961. The orientalist Oskar Rescher is the first cousin of his father.
Rescher began his career as an academic at Princeton University in 1951. 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. In 1964, he founded the American Philosophical Quarterly. From 1980 to 1981, Rescher served as the chairman of the philosophy department. In July 1988, Rescher changed roles at the Center for Philosophy of Science, resigning as its director and becoming its chairman. In 2010, he donated his philosophy collection to the Hillman Library.
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. 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". He is known for his system of pragmatic idealism, which synthesizes British idealism with the pragmatism of the U.S.
Rescher's university biography describes his philosophical work thus:
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. 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. In 1966, Rescher collaborated with Herbert A. Simon on a ground-breaking paper on the theory of causality.
He has contributed to futuristics, and with Olaf Helmer and Norman Dalkey [sk], invented the Delphi method of forecasting. 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, and the medieval Islamic theory of modal syllogistic.
Rescher's A Journey through Philosophy in 101 Anecdotes is a successful framework to reach a broader audience in the field. At first glance it seems an easy book to write. But at least in philosophy, it's easy to write in a complicated style and it's hard to write in a simple, clear, and readable fashion.
The Nicholas Rescher Prize and MedalEdit
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. 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 have included Alvin Plantinga, Jürgen Mittelstraß, Hilary Putnam, Ruth Millikan, and Thomas Nagel. 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.
For a more complete list of publications (books) from 1960 to 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. UCP = University of California Press.
1964. The Development of Arabic Logic. UPP.
1966. Galen and the Syllogism. UPP.
1966. The Logic of Commands. Dover Publications, New York, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.
1967. Studies in Arabic Philosophy. UPP.
1969. Introduction to Value Theory. (Reissued 1982) UPA.
1973. The Coherence Theory of Truth. (Reissued 1982) UPA.
1977. Methodological Pragmatism: A Systems-Theoretic Approach to the Theory of Knowledge. Basil Blackwell; New York University Press.
1978. Scientific Progress: A Philosophical Essay on the Economics of Research in Natural Science. UPP
1983. Risk: A Philosophical Introduction to the Theory of Risk Evaluation and Management. UPA.
1984. The Limits of Science. (Reissued 1999) UPP.
1985. The Strife of Systems: An Essay on the Grounds and Implications of Philosophical Diversity. UPP.
Sosa, E.; Cohen, Laurence Jonathan (31 August 1979). The Philosophy of Nicholas Rescher: Discussion and Replies. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-90-277-0962-2.
University of Illinois Press. "American Philosophical Quarterly". Retrieved 8 February 2014.
University of Pittsburgh (6 December 2011). "Internationally Renowned Pitt Philosopher Honored by Germany With the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit at Dec. 8 Ceremony". Retrieved 8 February 2014.
University of Pittsburgh (2014). "Nicholas Rescher". pitt.edu. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
Michel Weber has worked on the meaning and significance of Rescher's process works: Michel Weber (ed.), After Whitehead: Rescher on Process Metaphysics, Frankfurt / Paris / Lancaster, Ontos Verlag, 2004; "Rescher on Process", in Robert Almeder (ed.), Rescher Studies. A Collection of Essays on the Philosophical Work of Nicholas Rescher. Presented to Him on the Occasion of His 80th Birthday, Frankfurt / Lancaster, Ontos Verlag, 2008, 429–444; "Nicholas Rescher, Autobiography, Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag, Nicholas Rescher Collected Papers. Supplementary Volume, 2007. Critical review", Process Studies 37.2, 2008, pp. 211–213.
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Ernest Sosa (ed), The Philosophy of Nicholas Rescher (Dordrecht, 1979).
Robert Almeder (ed.), Praxis and Reason: Studies in the Philosophy of Nicholas Rescher (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982).
Heinrich Coomann, Die Kohaerenztheorie der Wahrheit: Eine kritische Darstellung der Theorie Reschers von Ihrem historischen Hintergrund (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag, 1983).
Andrea Bottani, Veritá e Coerenza: Suggio su'll epistemologia coerentista di Nicholas Rescher (Milano: Franco Angeli Liberi, 1989).
Michele Marsonet, The Primacy of Practical Reason: An Essay on Nicholas Rescher's Philosophy (Lanham MD: University Press of America, 1995).
A. Wüstehube and M. Quante (ed's.), Pragmatic Idealism: Critical Essays on Nicholas Rescher's System of Pragmatic Idealism (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998).
Martin Carrier et al. (eds.), Science at the Century's End: Philosophical Questions on the Progress and Limits of Science (Pittsburgh and Konstanz: University of Pittsburgh Press and University of Konstanz Press, 2000).
Lotfallah Nabavi, Avicennan Logic Based on Nicholas Rescher's Point of View (Tehran: Scientific and Cultural Publication Co., 2003).
Michel Weber (ed.), After Whitehead: Rescher and Process Philosophy: Critiques and Replies (Frankfurt: ONTOS Verlag, 2004).
Robert Almeder (ed.), Rescher Studies: A Collection of Essays on the Philosophy of Nicholas Rescher (Frankfurt: ONTOS Verlag, 2008).
Wenceslao González, La predicción científica: concepciones filosófico-metodológicas desde H. Reichenbach a N. Rescher (Barcelona: Editorial-Montesinos, 2010).
Wulf Kellerwessel, Nicholas Rescher: Das philosophische System (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014).
Sami Piltsröm (ed.), Pragmatism and Objectivity: Essays Sparked by the Work of Nicholas Rescher (London: Routledge, 2017).
F. L. Giralido Gutiérrez, Racionalidad technológia en el uso y consumede technológia (Bogala: Institutio Technológico Metropolitano, 2017).
Amanda Guillán, Pragmatic Idealism and Scientific Predication (Berlin: Springer, 2017).
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