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Hilary Putnam Quotes

Some quotes from a 20th century philosophical giant:

“When I claim that the murder and suffering of innocent people is wrong, I do not, I think, really care about the question whether this judgment would be valid for a being of a totally alien constitution and psychology. If there are beings on, say, Alpha Centauri, who cannot feel pain and who do not mind individual death, then very likely our fuss about ‘murder and suffering’ will seem to them to be much ado about nothing. But the very alienness of such a life form means that they cannot understand the moral issues involved. If our ‘objectivity’ is objectivity humanly speaking, it is still objectivity enough.”

“Talk of moral ‘perception’, like talk of mathematical intuition, or of reference and understanding, is not reducible to the language or the world-picture of physics. That does not mean physics is ‘incomplete’. Physics can be ‘complete’–that is, complete for physical purposes. The completeness physics lacks is a completeness all particular theories, pictures, and discourses lack. For no theory or picture is complete for all purposes. If the irreducibility of ethics to physics shows that values are projections, then colors are also projections. So are the natural numbers. So, for that matter, is ‘the physical world’. But being a projection in this sense is not the same thing as being subjective.”

Here’s a longer one and a more complex one. But understanding this can be quite revolutionary for one’s view of the world:

“Of course, if metaphysical realism were right, and one could view the aim of science simply as trying to get our notional world to ‘match’ the world in itself, then one could contend that we are interested in coherence, comprehensiveness, functional simplicity, and instrumental efficiacy only because they are instruments to the end of bringing about this ‘match’. But the notion of a transcendental match between our representation and the world in itself is nonsense. To deny that we want this kind of metaphysical match with a noumenal world is not to deny that we want the usual sort of empirical fit (as judged by our criteria of rational acceptability) with an empirical world. But the empirical world, as opposed to the noumenal world, depends upon our criteria of rational acceptability (and, of course, vice versa). We use our criteria of rational acceptability to build up a theoretical picture of the ’empirical world’ and then as that picture develops we revise our very criteria of rational acceptability in the light of that picture and so on and so on forever. The dependence of our methods on our picture of the world is something I have stressed in my other books; what I wish to stress here is the other side of the dependence, the dependence of the empirical world on our criteria of rational acceptability. What I am saying is that we must have a criteria of rational acceptability to even have an empirical world, that these reveal part of our notion of an optimal speculative intelligence. In short, I am saying that the ‘real world’ depends upon our values (and, again, vice versa).” (emphasis added)

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  1. 12/02/2008 at 6:54 pm

    If values are subjective, is what constitutes the "real world" intrinsically subjective?

  2. 12/02/2008 at 11:18 pm

    What constitutes the 'real world' for those like Putnam or Kant is the interaction between mind and world. Or it is an interaction between the world and our values. According to Putnam, values ARE facts and are objective. Our picture of the world depends upon our values. For instance, there is no one true answer or description as to the number of objects in any given room. The number of objects in a room depends upon our values i.e. depends upon what we choose to count as an object. But sure, if we suppose that our values make up much of the world and that values are subjective, then it would seem to follow that much of what constitutes the 'real world' is subjective. But as Putnam (I think) convincingly argues, values are not subjective. Values are objective. Not the sort of Platonic or God's-Eye objective, but objective humanly speaking.

  1. 11/21/2015 at 2:57 am

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