Nicholas Rescher

Nicholas Rescher is Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh and co-chairman of the Center for Philosophy of Science. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has served as president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, the Leibniz Society of North America, the Charles S. Peirce Society, the American Catholic Philosophical Association, and the Metaphysical Society of America. Rescher is the author or editor of more than one hundred books, including Ignorance (On the Wider Implications of Deficient Knowledge), Philosophical Inquiries: An Introduction to Problems of Philosophy, and A Journey through Philosophy in 101 Anecdotes.

Espionage, Statecraft, and the Theory of Reporting

A Philosophical Essay on Intelligence Management

Everything we know about what goes on in the world comes to us through reports, information transmitted through human communication. We rely on reports, which can take any number of forms, to convey useful information, and we derive knowledge from that information. It's no surprise, then, that reporting has many philosophical dimensions. Because it plays such a major role in knowledge management, as Nicholas Rescher argues, the epistemology of reporting not only deserves our attention but also sheds important light on how we understand the theory of knowledge. This book offers a clear, accessible introduction to the theory of reporting, with a special emphasis on national security, particularly military and diplomatic reporting, drawing on examples from historical accounts of espionage and statecraft from the Second World War. Rescher explores the various issues and problems related to the production and reception of reports—including reporter expertise and trustworthiness, transmission modalities, confidentiality, cognitive importance, and the interpretation, evaluation, and utilization of reports—providing readers with a distinctive and well organized philosophical clarification of some central features of the theory of reporting.

A Journey through Philosophy in 101 Anecdotes

Nicholas Rescher presents the first comprehensive chronology of philosophical anecdotes, spanning from antiquity to the current era. He introduces us to the major thinkers, texts, and historical periods of Western philosophy, recounting many of the stories philosophers have used over time to engage with issues of philosophical concern: questions of meaning, truth, knowledge, value, action, and ethics. Rescher’s anecdotes touch on a wide range of themes—from logic to epistemology, ethics to metaphysics—and offer much insight into the breadth and depth of philosophical inquiry. This book illustrates the various ways philosophers throughout history have viewed the issues in their field, and how anecdotes can work to inform and encourage philosophical thought.

On Leibniz

Expanded Edition

Contemporary philosopher John Searle has characterized Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) as “the most intelligent human being who has ever lived.” The German philosopher, mathematician, and logician invented calculus (independently of Sir Isaac Newton), topology, determinants, binary arithmetic, symbolic logic, rational mechanics, and much more. His metaphysics bequeathed a set of problems and approaches that have influenced the course of Western philosophy from Kant in the eighteenth century until the present day.

On Leibniz examines many aspects of Leibniz’s work and life. This expanded edition adds new chapters that explore Leibniz’s revolutionary deciphering machine; his theoretical interest in cryptography and its ties to algebra; his thoughts on eternal recurrence theory; his rebuttal of the thesis of improvability in the world and cosmos; and an overview of American scholarship on Leibniz.

Other chapters reveal Leibniz as a substantial contributor to theories of knowledge. Discussions of his epistemology and methodology, its relationship to John Maynard Keynes and Talmudic scholarship, broaden the traditional view of Leibniz. Rescher also views Leibniz’s scholarly development and professional career in historical context. As a “philosopher courtier” to the Hanoverian court, Leibniz was associated with the leading intellectuals and politicians of his era, including Spinoza, Huygens, Newton, Queen Sophie Charlotte, and Tsar Peter the Great.

Rescher extrapolates the fundamentals of Leibniz’s ontology: the theory of possible worlds, the world’s contingency, space-time frameworks, and intermonadic relationships. In conclusion, Rescher positions Leibniz as a philosophical role model for today’s scholars. He argues that many current problems can be effectively addressed with principles of process philosophy inspired by Leibniz’s system of monadology.

Philosophical Problems of the Internal and External Worlds

Essays on the Philosophy of Adolf Grünbaum

The inaugural volume of the series, devoted to the work of philosopher Adolf Grunbaum, encompasses the philosophical problems of space, time, and cosmology, the nature of scientific methodology, and the foundations of psychoanalysis.

Philosophical Inquiries

An Introduction to Problems of Philosophy

In Philosophical Inquiries, Nicholas Rescher offers his perspectives on many of the foundational concerns of philosophy and reminds us that the purpose of philosophy is to “question the questions.” Rescher sees the need to inquire as an evolutionary tool for adapting to a hostile environment and shows how philosophy has thus developed in an evolutionary fashion, building upon acquired knowledge and upon itself. In a historical thread that informs and enriches his overview, Rescher recalls the contributions of Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, Kant, Hegel, Leibniz, Laplace, Bertrand Russell, and others.

Among his many topics, Rescher discusses knowledge and the unattainablity of absolutes, skepticism and its self-defeating nature, the limits of science vs. the limits of cognition, refuting reality as mind-independent, and idealism and divining our role in nature. He considers the universe and intelligence as the product of intelligent design, science and religion as non-conflicting and purposeful pursuits, and determinism and other fallacies surrounding the concept of free will. Rescher views morality in its hierarchal structure, its applicability to human coexistence, and its ontological commitment to the enhancement of value for ourselves and our world. He examines questions of authority and the problem of judging past actions or knowledge by present standards. Overall, he argues for philosophy as an unavoidable tool for rational, cogent responses to large questions.

Cognitive Economy

The Economic Dimension of the Theory of Knowledge

Cost, expected benefits, and risks are paramount in grant agencies' decisions to fund scientific research. In Cognitive Economy, Nicholas Rescher outlines a general theory for the cost-effective use of intellectual resources, amplifying the theories of Charles Sanders Pierce, who stressed an “economy of research.” Rescher discusses the requirements of cooperation, communication, cognitive importance, cognitive economy, as well as the economic factors bearing on induction and simplicity. He then applies his model to several case studies and to clarifying the limits imposed on science by economic considerations.


Rational Deliberation in the Face of Inconsistency

The word apory stems from the Greek aporia, meaning impasse or perplexing difficulty. In Aporetics, Nicholas Rescher defines an apory as a group of individually plausible but collectively incompatible theses. Rescher examines historic, formulaic, and systematic apories and couples these with aporetic theory from other authors to form this original and comprehensive survey. Citing thinkers from the pre-Socratics through Spinoza, Hegel, and Nicolai Hartmann, he builds a framework for coping with the complexities of divergent theses, and shows in detail how aporetic analysis can be applied to a variety of fields including philosophy, mathematics, linguistics, logic, and intellectual history.

Rescher's in-depth examination reveals how aporetic inconsistency can be managed through a plausibility analysis that breaks the chain of inconsistency at its weakest link by deploying right-of-way precedence based on considerations of cognitive centrality. Thus while involvement with cognitive conflicts and inconsistencies are pervasive in human thought, aporetic analysis can provide an effective means of damage control.


(On the Wider Implications of Deficient Knowledge)

Historically, there has been great deliberation about the limits of human knowledge. Isaac Newton, recognizing his own shortcomings, once described himself as “a boy standing on the seashore . . . whilst the great ocean of truth lay all underscored before me.”

In Ignorance, Nicholas Rescher presents a broad-ranging study that examines the manifestations, consequences, and occasional benefits of ignorance in areas of philosophy, scientific endeavor, and ordinary life. Citing philosophers, theologians, and scientists from Socrates to Steven Hawking, Rescher seeks to uncover the factors that hinder our cognition.

Rescher categorizes ignorance as ontologically grounded (rooted in acts of nature-erasure, chaos, and chance-that prevent fact determination), or epistemically grounded (the inadequacy of our information-securing resources). He then defines the basis of ignorance: inaccessible data; statistical fogs; secreted information; past data that have left no trace; future discoveries; future contingencies; vagrant predicates; and superior intelligences. Such impediments set limits to inquiry and mean that while we can always extend our existing knowledge-variability here is infinite-there are things that we will never know.

Cognitive finitude also hinders our ability to assimilate more than a certain number of facts. We may acquire additional information, but lack the facility to interpret it. More information does not always increase knowledge; it may point us further down the path toward an erroneous conclusion. In light of these deficiencies, Rescher looks to the role of computers in solving problems and expanding our knowledge base, but finds limits to their reasoning capacity.

As Rescher's comprehensive study concludes, ignorance itself is a fertile topic for knowledge, and recognizing the boundaries of our comprehension is where wisdom begins.


(On Our Predicament When Things Go Wrong )

In Error, Nicholas Rescher presents a fresh analysis of the occurrence, causality, and consequences of error in human thought, action, and evaluation. Rescher maintains that error-avoidance and truth-achievement are distinct but equally important factors for rational inquiry, and that error is inherent in the human cognitive process (to err is human). He defines three main categories of error: cognitive (failure to realize truths); practical (failure related to the objective of an action); and axiological (failure in evaluation), and articulates the factors that contribute to each. His discussion also provides a historical perspective on the treatment of error in Greek philosophy, and by later thinkers such as Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, James, Royce, Moore, and Russell.

Error is an important reexamination of the significance of error to the fields of philosophical anthropology, epistemology, ontology, and theology. As Rescher’s study argues, truth and error are inexorably intertwined—one cannot exist without the other. Error is an unavoidable occurrence in the cognitive process—without missteps on the path to truth, truth itself cannot be attained. The risk of error is inherent in the quest for truth.

Cognitive Harmony

The Role of Systemic Harmony in the Constitution of Knowledge

This novel approach to epistemological discourse explains the complex but crucial role that systematization plays-not just for the organization of what we know, but also for its validation. Cognitive Harmony argues for a new conception of the process philosophers generally call induction. Relying on the root definition of harmony, a coherent unification of component parts (systemic integrity) in such a way that the final object can successfully accomplish what it was meant to do (evaluative positivity), Rescher discusses the role of harmony in cognitive contexts, the history of cognitive harmony, and the various features it has in producing human knowledge. The book ends on the issue of philosophy and the sort of harmony required of philosophical systems.

Realism And Pragmatic Epistemology

An examination of philosophical realism from the standpoint of pragmatic epistemology, Realism and Pragmatic Epistemology addresses the core idea of Rescher’s work in epistemology: that functional and pragmatic concerns exert a controlling influence on the conduct of rational inquiry and on the ways in which we can and should regard its products.Pragmatism is widely regarded as a philosophical approach that stands at odds with realism, but Rescher takes a very different approach. He views pragmatism as a realistic position that can be developed from a pragmatic point of view, and utilizes a number of case studies to augment his position. Throughout, he shows how the pragmatic and purposive setting of our putative knowledge of the real world proves to be crucial for the constituting and also for the constitution of our knowledge.

Epistemic Logic

A Survey of the Logic of Knowledge

Epistemic logic is the branch of philosophical thought that seeks to formalize the discourse about knowledge. Its object is to articulate and clarify the general principles of reasoning about claims to and attributions of knowledge. This comprehensive survey of the topic offers the first systematic account of the subject as it has developed in the journal literature over recent decades. Rescher gives an overview of the discipline by setting out the general principles for reasoning about such matters as propositional knowledge and interrogative knowledge. Aimed at graduate students and specialists, Epistemic Logic elucidates both Rescher's pragmatic view of knowledge and the field in general.

Cognitive Pragmatism

The Theory of Knowledge in Pragmatic Perspective

In Cognitive Pragmatism, Nicholas Rescher tackles the major questions of philosophical inquiry, pondering the nature of truth and existence. In the authoritative voice and calculated manner that we’ve come to expect from this distinguished philosopher, Rescher argues that the development of knowledge is a practice, pursued by humans because we have a need for its products. This pragmatic approach satisfies our innate urge as humans to make sense of our surroundings.Taking his discussion down to the level of particular details, and addressing such topics as inductive validation, hypostatization fallacies, and counterfactual reasoning, Rescher abandons abstract generalities in favor of concrete specifics. For example, philosophers usually insist that to reason logically from a counterfactual, we must imagine a possible world in which the statement is fact. But Rescher argues that there’s no need to attempt to accept the facts of a world outside our cognition in order to reason from them. He shows us how we can use our own natural system of prioritizing, our own understanding of the fundamental, to resolve the inconsistencies in such statements as, “If the Eiffel Tower were in Manhattan, then it would be in New York State.” In using dozens of real-world examples such as these, and in arguing in his characteristically succinct style, Rescher casts light on a wide variety of concrete issues in the classical theory of knowledge, and reassures us along the way that the inherent limitations on our knowledge are no cause for distress. In pragmatic theory and inquiry, we must accept that the best we can do is good enough, because we only have a certain (albeit large) set of tools and conceptualizations available to us.A unique synthesis, this endeavor into pragmatic epistemology will be of interest to scholars and students of philosophy and cognitive science.


The Brilliant Randomness Of Everyday Life

Luck touches us all. “Why me?” we complain when things go wrong—though seldom when things go right. But although luck has a firm hold on all our lives, we seldom reflect on it in a cogent, concerted way.
In Luck, one of our most eminent philosophers offers a realistic view of the nature and operation of luck to help us come to sensible terms with life in a chaotic world. Differentiating luck from fate (inexorable destiny) and fortune (mere chance), Nicholas Rescher weaves a colorful tapestry of historical examples, from the use of lots in the Old and New Testaments to Thomas Gataker’s treatise of 1619 on the great English lottery of 1612, from casino gambling to playing the stock market. Because we are creatures of limited knowledge who do and must make decisions in the light of incomplete information, Rescher argues, we are inevitably at the mercy of luck. It behooves us to learn more about it.

Process Philosophy

A Survey of Basic Issues

Process Philosophy surveys the basic issues and controversies surrounding the philosophical approach known as “process philosophy.” Process philosophy views temporality, activity, and change as the cardinal factors for our understanding of the real—process has priority over product, both ontologically and epistemically. Rescher examines the movement’s historical origins, reflecting a major line of thought in the work of such philosophers as Heracleitus, Leibniz, Bergson, Peirce, William James, and especially A. N. Whitehead. Reacting against the tendency to associate process philosophy too closely with this last-named thinker, Rescher writes, “Indeed, one cardinal task for the partisans of process at this particular juncture of philosophical history is to prevent the idea of ‘process philosophy’ from being marginalized through a limitation of its bearing to the work and influence of any one single individual or group.” This book will appeal to both students and professors of philosophy. Those teachers who have not been trained in process philosophy will welcome this new text by one one of North America’s foremost philosophers as a perspicuous and informative introduction.

The Limits Of Science

Revised Edition

Perfected science is but an idealization that provides a useful contrast to highlight the limited character of what we do and can attain. This lies at the core of various debates in the philosophy of science and Rescher’s discussion focuses on the question: how far could science go in principle—what are the theoretical limits on science? He concentrates on what science can discover, not what it should discover. He explores in detail the existence of limits or limitations on scientific inquiry, especially those that, in principle, preclude the full realization of the aims of science, as opposed to those that relate to economic obstacles to scientific progress. Rescher also places his argument within the politics of the day, where “strident calls of ideological extremes surround us,” ranging from the exaggeration that “science can do anything”—to the antiscientism that views science as a costly diversion we would be well advised to abandon. Rescher offers a middle path between these two extremes and provides an appreciation of the actual powers and limitations of science, not only to philosophers of science but also to a larger, less specialized audience.


The Role of the Vicarious Affects in Moral Philosophy and Social Theory

In Unselfishness, Nicholas Rescher criticizes the stance of many contemporary moral philosophers and social theorists-that rationality conflicts with morality, and instead defends the position of historical thinkers who believed that the worth of altruism is irreducible and that its rationalization does not require recourse to prudential self-interest. To support his position, Rescher provides detailed examples, and a theoretical critique of utilitarian morality.

G. W. Leibniz’s Monadology

G.W. Leibniz’s Monadology, one of the most important pieces of the Leibniz corpus, is at once one of the great classics of modern philosophy and one of its most puzzling productions. Because the essay is written in so condensed and compact a fashion, for almost three centuries it has baffled and beguiled those who read it for the first time. Nicholas Rescher accompanies the text of the Monadology section-by-section with relevant excerpts from some of Leibniz’s widely scattered discussions of the matters at issue. The result serves a dual purpose of providing a commentary of the Monadology by Leibniz himself, while at the same time supplying an exposition of his philosophy using the Monadology as an outline. The book contains all of the materials that even the most careful study of this could text could require: a detailed overview of the philosophical background of the work and of its bibliographic ramifications; a presentation of the original French text together with a new, closely faithful English translation; a selection of other relevant Leibniz texts; and a detailed commentary. Rescher also provides a survey of Leibniz’s use of analogies and three separate indices of key terms and expressions, Leibniz’s French terminology, and citations. Rescher’s edition of the Monadology presents Leibniz’s ideas faithfully, accurately, and accessibly, making it especially valuable to scholars and students alike.

The Strife of Systems

An Essay on the Grounds and Implications of Philosophical Diversity

The disagreement of philosophers is notorious. In this book, Rescher develops a theory that accounts for this conflict and shows how the basis for philosophical disagreement roots in divergent 'cognitive values'-values regarding matters such as importance, centrality, and priority. In light of this analysis, Rescher maintains that, despite this inevitable discord, a skeptical or indifferentist reaction to traditional philosophy is not warranted, seeing that genuine value-conflicts are at issue. He argues that philosophy is an important and worthwhile enterprise, notwithstanding its inability to achieve rationally constrained consensus on the issues. Given the nature of the enterprise, consensus is not a realistic goal, and failure to achieve it is not a defect. Accordingly, Rescher argues against the revisionist views proposed by Richard Rorty and Robert Nozick. His discussions are devoted to providing a clear view of why philosophical problems arise and how philosophers address them.

Unpopular Essays on Technological Progress

Nicholas Rescher examines a number of controversial social issues using the intellectual tools of the philosopher, in an attempt to clarify some of the complexities of modern society, technology, and economics. He elucidates his thoughts on topics such as: whether technological progress leads to greater happiness; environmental problems; endangered species, costly scientific research on the frontiers of knowledge, medical/moral issues on the preservation of life; and crime and justice, among others.

Essays in Philosophical Analysis

This book presents twenty essays by Nicholas Rescher, representing more than a decade of his work. The first part of the collection offers thoughts on the history of philosophy from the Presocratics to the twentieth century; the second part features essays on epistemology, the philosophy of science, metaphysics, the theory of historiography, and the logic of temporal concepts. Despite the range of topics, all essays are closely integrated at the methodological level.

Studies in Arabic Philosophy

Nicholas Rescher presents ten essays that offer the thoughts of major Arabic philosophers in history and speak to their origins in Greek philosophy, as well as the subsequent influence of Arabic philosophy on the West. Much of the material is presented for the first time in print. Topics include: the concentric structure of the universe; the concept of existence; the Theory of Temporal Modalities; the Platonic Solids; and several essays on logic.

The Logic of Decision and Action

The four main essays in this volume investigate new sectors of the theory of decision, preference, act-characteristics, and action analysis. Herbert A. Simon applies tools developed in the theory of decision-making to the logic of action, and thereby develops a novel concept of heuristic power. Adapting ideas from utility and decision theory, Nicholas Rescher proposes a logic of preference by which conflicting theories proposed by G. H. von Wright, R. M. Chisholm, and others can be systematized. Donald Davidson discusses difficulties in specifying the structure of action sentences to elucidate how their meaning depends on that structure. G. H. von Wright devises a method for describing each “state of the world” that results from an action, in a revision of his own earlier work. Additionally, a study of the logic of norms by Alan Ross Anderson is presented as an appendix, along with an appendix by Rescher outlining the aspects of action.

Galen and the Syllogism

In this book, Nicholas Rescher seeks to settle debates about whether Galen originated the fourth figure of the categorical syllogism. For his definitive evidence, Rescher examines Arabic sources, one of which is “On the Fourth Figure of the Syllogism” by twelfth-century mathematician Ibn al-Salah, and is reproduced here in Arabic with an annotated English translation. Rescher also explores the history and importance of the syllogistic figures in the evolution of logic in Islamic and European cultures, and discusses the debate about the actual number of syllogistic figures.

Al-Farabi’s Short Commentary on Aristotle’s Prior Analytics

During the years 800-1200 A.D., Arabic scholars studied many of the works of Greek philosophy, and recorded their interpretations. Significant Arabic interpretations of Aristotle's Prior Analytics, the key work of his logical Organon, however, have remained largely unavailable in the West. The recent discovery of several Arabic manuscripts in Istanbul revealed the “Short Commentary on Prior Analytics” by the medieval Arabic philosopher al-Farabi. Nicholas Rescher here presents the first translation of this work in English, and supplements this with an informative introduction and numerous explanatory footnotes.


An Annotated Bibliography

Abu Nasur al-Farabi (ca. 872-950) was an Arabic polymath and philosopher, and the first Arabic logician credited with developing a non-Aristotelian logic. He discussed the topics of future contingents, the number and relation of the categories, the relation between logic and grammar, and non-Aristotelian forms of inference. He is also credited with categorizing logic into two separate groups, the first being “idea” and the second being “proof.” Nicholas Rescher assembles this annotated bibliography, listing printed materials relating to al-Farabi, and summaries that provide further details of these works.