Nelson Goodman

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Nelson Goodman (born August 7, 1906 in Somerville , Massachusetts , † November 25, 1998 in Needham , Massachusetts) was an American philosopher .

Goodman was a student of Alfred North Whitehead . After graduating from Harvard in 1928, he ran an art gallery in Boston from 1929 to 1940 . In 1941 he received his Ph.D. and then served in the US infantry until 1945.

From 1946 to 1964 he taught at the University of Pennsylvania , where he received a professorship in 1951. In 1959 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1968 as a corresponding member of the British Academy . From 1964 he taught at Brandeis University and Tufts University . In 1968 he received a professorship at Harvard .

Theoretical work

Goodmann was strongly influenced by empiricism and Rudolf Carnap's phenomenalism and took positions of relativistic pluralism . Largely ignored in European philosophy, Goodman played an important role in American analytical philosophy : he was best known for his 'New Riddle of Induction' , which deals with the verification of statements, and the draft of a symbol theory of sign systems . His strictly extensional symbol theory succeeds in avoiding metaphysical constructions of the object-sign link, which Charles S. Peirce, for example, still needed for his symbol theory.

Languages ​​of art

In his work Languages ​​of Art , Goodman argued that the difference between an image and a description of an object is not that the image is more similar to the object than its description. Goodman makes it clear that similarity is neither a sufficient nor necessary condition for representation , since similarity, unlike representation, is a symmetrical relationship. Example: If XY is similar, then YX is also similar, but if X representsY, then YX usually does not represent. So if one twin is similar to the other, the reverse is also true. Still, to claim that one twin represents the other would be absurd. In contrast, an image of myself represents me, but not the other way around. To claim that I look similar to the picture is again untenable. Goodman analyzes the difference between pictorial representation and description as a syntactic difference in the mode of representation: he ascribes the property of a picture to be analog in the logical sense , while a linguistic symbol scheme is digital . Similarly, Goodman considers a symbol scheme that is syntactically 'dense', that is, all elements of the symbol scheme are important, so that no boundaries can be drawn between the individual elements. A digital scheme, on the other hand, is disjoint and finitely differentiated. It consists of inscriptions or 'tokens' that refer to a type or character. A token is disjoint if it cannot be assigned to type 1 and type 2 at the same time. It is finitely differentiated if it can be decided in a finite period of time whether it has to be assigned to type 1 or type 2. The word “duck” exists billions of times as an inscription in the form of copies. A single inscription of “duck” is disjoint because it is certain that it cannot represent “duck” and “end” at the same time. It is finitely differentiated if you can make this decision in a finite number of steps. In the case of a pictorial representation, however, there is no type. Accordingly, the categories disjoint and finitely differentiated cannot even be applied. On this basis, Goodman designs a broad spectrum from completely analogue representations to purely digital ones. A picture is entirely analog, while a score is purely digital. Language, on the other hand, is a hybrid form, as it is syntactically digital, but not semantic. The word “ball” can designate both a piece of sports equipment and a dance event, so it is semantically not disjoint.

In the “ ways of creating the world ”, Goodman turns to ontology . He solves the logical dilemma, according to which two world descriptions can be inconsistent and in this sense true, but contradict one another, to the effect that these two descriptions do not describe the same but two different worlds. For example, both “the earth is moving” and “the earth is still” are both true, depending on the frame of reference. An astronomer studying cosmic motion studies an earth that is moving. A guard with orders to shoot prisoners as soon as they move is more likely not to do so "because they were moving around the sun at high speed". There are two different world versions.

In the " Revisions - Philosophy and other arts and sciences", Goodman finally summarizes together with Catherine Z. Elgin his research results in the theory of science, symbol theory and epistemology and proposes in the third part of the book a "new version of philosophy". At the core of this new version, the concept of “truth” is replaced by that of “correctness”, since the latter does not open up the “notorious philosophical morass” and it can also be applied to non-verbal or proportional symbol systems. So one can say that it is right that a picture expresses sadness, while one can hardly say that this is true.


  • The Structure of Appearance , Harvard University Press 1951. 15 + 315 pp.
  • Fact, Fiction and Forecast , Harvard University Press 1955. 2nd edition 1983. German translation by Hermann Vetter: fact, fiction, prediction . With a foreword by Hilary Putnam . Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1988, 10 + 155 pp. ISBN 3-518-28332-4
  • Languages ​​of Art - An Approach to a Theory of Symbols . Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company 1968, 14 + 277 S. 2., improved edition Indianapolis 1976. German translation by Bernd Philippi: Languages ​​of Art - Draft of a Symbol Theory , Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1995, 254 S. ISBN 3-518-28904 -7 . The older translation by Jürgen Schlaeger (Frankfurt am Main 1973) is problematic due to misinterpreted terms.
  • Problems and Projects . Indianapolis: Hackett 1972.
  • Ways of Worldmaking , Indianapolis: Hackett 1978. German transl . By Max Looser: Weisen der Welterzeugung . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1984, 178 pp. ISBN 978-3-518-28463-6
  • Of Mind and other Matters . Cambridge, Massachusetts, London 1984. German translation by Bernd Philippi: Vom Denk und other things . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1987, 295 pp. ISBN 978-3-518-57831-5
  • with Catherine Z. Elgin: Reconceptions in Philosophy and other Arts and Sciences , Indianapolis: Hackett; London: Routledge, 1988. German translations by Bernd Philippi: Revisionen - Philosophy and other arts and sciences , Suhrkamp: Frankfurt 1989, 225 pp. ISBN 978-3-518-57979-4

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