Philosophy Index

Hilary Putnam

Hilary Putnam (1926– ) is an American philosopher, best known for his work in epistemology, philosophy of language and philosophy of science.

Mind: Brain in a Vat

Putnam offers a well-known thought experiment on the issue of scepticism: the brain in a vat. In it, he supposes that a brain in a vat, which is fed sensory data identical to that it would normally receive, has now way of knowing whether it is a brain in a vat or a brain in a skull. Essentially, the problem highlights the epistemic problem of confirming the existence of an external world.

Selected Works

  • The “Innateness Hypothesis” and Explanatory Models in Linguistics (1967)
  • Philosophy of Logic (1971)
  • Reason, Truth, and History (1981)
  • Representation and Reality (1988)
  • Renewing Philosophy (1992)
  • Words and Life (1994)
  • Enlightenment and Pragmatism (2001)
  • Ethics Without Ontology (2002)


Name: Hilary Whitehall Putnam
Born: July 31, 1926
Degrees: Ph.D. (UCLA, 1951)
BA (University of Pennsylvania)