Gilbert Harman

Gilbert Harman (born 1938) is a contemporary American philosopher, teaching at Princeton University, who has published widely on ethics, epistemology, metaphysics and the philosophies of language and mind. He was educated at Swarthmore College and Harvard University, where he earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy. His daughter, Elizabeth Harman, is also a philosopher and a member of the philosophy department and the center for human values at Princeton University.

Harman shares the belief of his Ph.D. advisor Willard Van Orman Quine that philosophy and science are continuous, as well as his skepticism about conceptual analysis. As a moral philosopher, he is best-known for his explanatory argument for anti-realism and for his defense of a form of ethical relativism, most recently and comprehensively in "Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity" (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), in which he debates the issue with Judith Jarvis Thomson.

According to Harman's view, if we say that A morally ought to perform some action in circumstances C we really mean that A should do so given that he has morally motivating attitudes that she shares with us. Thus the truth of moral claims will be relative to sets of motivating attitudes that are presumed to be shared when we engage in moral discussion. In some cases, however, motivating attitudes are not shared, so that someone being evaluated may be beyond the motivational reach of anything that we can say to them in opposition to their conduct. For example, Hitler's attitudes may have been so different from ours as to put him beyond the reach of any rational argument that we could ever present to him. In such extreme cases, Harman believes, we are entitled to make a judgment that we are dealing with someone who is evil but who is not necessarily making any intellectual mistake relative to his own underlying attitudes. His failure to act as we would prescribe is not based on a mistake or a cognitive deficiency.

More recently, Harman has attacked the idea that people have set characters of the sort that could ground virtue ethics. He was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize in Paris in 2005.

Works

Monographs:
* "Thought" (Princeton,1973) ISBN 0-691-07188-8
* "The Nature of Morality: An Introduction to Ethics" (Oxford,1977) ISBN 0-19-502143-6
* "Change in View: Principles of Reasoning" (MIT,1986) ISBN 0-262-58091-8
* "Scepticism and the Definition of Knowledge" (Garland,1990) [This is Gilbert Harman's doctoral dissertation which was submitted to Harvard University in 1964]
* (with Judith Jarvis Thomson), "Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity" (Blackwell,1996) ISBN 0-631-19211-5
* "Reasoning, Meaning and Mind" (Clarendon,1999) ISBN 0-19-823802-9
* "Explaining Value and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy" (Clarendon,2000) ISBN 0-19-823804-5
* (with Sanjeev Kulkarni) "Reliable Reasoning: Induction and Statistical Learning Theory" (MIT Press, 2007)

Edited:
* (with Donald Davidson), "Semantics of Natural Language" (D. Reidel,1972)
* "On Noam Chomsky: Critical Essays" (Anchor,1974)
* (with Donald Davidson), "The Logic of Grammar" (Dickenson,1975)
* "Conceptions of the Human Mind: Essays in Honor of George A. Miller" (Laurence Erlbaum,1993)

ee also

* List of Jean Nicod Prize laureates
* Moral skepticism

External links

* http://www.princeton.edu/~harman/


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