Nicholas Rescher

Nicholas Rescher
Born (1928-07-15) 15 July 1928
Hagen, Germany
Alma mater Queens College, CUNY
Princeton University
Religion Roman Catholicism
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Process philosophy
Pragmatic idealism
Institutions University of Pittsburgh
Main interests
Philosophy of subjectivity, history of philosophy, epistemology
Notable ideas
The price of an ultimate theory, Axiogenesis
Nicholas Rescher
Thesis Leibniz' cosmology : a reinterpretation of the philosophy of Leibniz in the light of his physical theories (1951)
Doctoral advisor Alonzo Church
Doctoral students Alexander Pruss
Ernest Sosa

Nicholas Rescher (/ˈrɛʃər/; German: [ˈʀɛʃɐ]; born 15 July 1928) is a German-American philosopher 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.[1] He has served as president for the American Catholic Philosophical Association, American G.W. Leibniz Society, American Metaphysical Society, American Philosophical Association, and C.S. Peirce Society.[2] He is the founder of American Philosophical Quarterly.[3]

Early life and education

Nicholas Rescher was born in the city of Hagen in the Westphalia region of Germany.[2] He relocated to the United States when he was 10. He obtained a degree in mathematics at Queens College, New York.[4] 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.[1][2] 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.[4]


Rescher began his career as an academic at Princeton University in 1951.[4][5] 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.[6] In 1964, he founded the American Philosophical Quarterly.[7] From 1980 to 1981, Rescher served as the chairman of the philosophy department.[4] In July 1988, Rescher changed roles at the Center for Philosophy of Science, resigning as its director and becoming its co-chairman.[8] In 2010, he donated his philosophy collection to the Hillman Library.[4]

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, Academia Europaea, the Royal Society of Canada, and the Institut International de Philosophie, among others.[1]

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.[2][3][9] 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".[9] Rescher has described his own approach to philosophy as synthesizing the idealism of Germany and Great Britain with the pragmatism of the U.S.[10]


Rescher's university biography describes his philosophical work thus:[1]

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.[11] 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.[12]

He has contributed to futuristics, and with Olaf Helmer and Norman Dalkey, invented the Delphi method of forecasting.[1] 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,[13] and the medieval theory of modal syllogistic.[14]


Rescher has been honored many times for his work. In 1984, he received the Humboldt Prize for Humanistic Scholarship.[2] 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(.[1] 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 Foundations.[1]

The Nicholas Rescher Prize

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.[4] The first recipient of the prize was Rescher's former student, Ernest Sosa. As of 2012, the prize included a gold medal and $25,000.00, subsequently raised to $30,000. Later awardees include Alan Plantinga, Juergen Mittelstrass, Hilary Putnam, and Ruth Millikan.[15]

Eponymous concepts

Selected works

For a more complete list of publications (books) from 1960–2006, see

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.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 University of Pittsburgh 2014
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Marsonet 2014
  3. 1 2 Sosa & Cohen 1979, p. ix
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 University of Pittsburgh 2011
  5. "History - Department of Philosophy". Princeton University. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
  6. Center for Philosophy of Science 2001, pp. 2–3
  7. University of Illinois Press 2014
  8. Center for Philosophy of Science 2001, p. 4
  9. 1 2 Marsonet 2008, p. iv-v
  10. Jacquette 2009, p. 1
  11. Jacquette 2009, p. 2
  12. Jacquette 2009, pp. 3–4
  13. 2001, Robert Hahn, Anaximander and the Architects (Albany: SUNY Press).
  14. 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.
  15. Anderson 2012


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