Our Greatest Mental Acrobat?

In the Introduction of his book, Renewing Philosophy, Hilary Putnam reports that, for some time, he was simultaneously an atheist philosopher, and a practicing, believing Jew. He said he simply kept the two attitudes in separate compartments.

(By the way, since when he wrote that he was still a practicing Jew, it seems that is the position that won out.)


  1. Gene can you elaborate on this? I was talking with a very sharp Christian guy a while ago, and he loves the free market econ stuff, but he thought we Misesians were fooling ourselves with the value-free stuff. Obviously I repeated to him the standard schtick, but he didn't buy it. And, it wasn't that he thought we occasionally slipped and let stuff slip in like "prosperity is good" or "unemployment is bad"; he thought the whole idea of a value-free science was preposterous and something medieval scientists would have laughed at.

    I challenged him by asking if he thought mathematicians could be atheists, and he said no (basically). He said our whole faith in the non-contradiction of arithmetic etc. can't be derived from math itself, but can only be grounded in a reasonable God.

    What do you think? And if possible, post before Sunday, because I'm doing something on this and will link to you. (NB I'm talking about a separate blog post that you do, otherwise I might miss your response.)

  2. I can't elaborate on the basic post, Bob, because that was all that Putnam said!

    But I will think about your general question.

    (By the way, Putnam totally denies the fact / value dichotomy: he says the assertion "this is true" is a normative statement.)

  3. Since the origin of Salamanca is considered to be the translation of lost classics made by the learned Jews form Arabic, it's generally accepted one can be practicing Jew and many other things simultaniously.

    As for religion on its own, as far as I'm aware, everybody loves Hume's rational limitations.

  4. Cool, JEK, but he said he was a *believing* Jew, not merely a practicing one. I mean, it's Putnam himself here who says he just had to keep these two aspects of himself in two separate compartments, not me.


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