Nicholas Rescher

Nicholas Rescher
Nicholas Rescher

Nicholas Rescher (born July 15, 1928 in Hagen, Germany) is an American philosopher at the University of Pittsburgh. In a productive research career extending over six decades, Rescher has established himself as a systematic philosopher of the old style and author of a system of pragmatic idealism which weaves together threads of thought from continental idealism and American pragmatism. He is the exponent of a realistic pragmatism which, rejecting the deconstructive approach of some recent pragmatists, construes pragmatic efficacy as an evidential index for such normative features as truth and validity rather than being a substitute or replacement for them. And apart from this larger program Rescher’s many-sided work has made significant contributions to logic (the conception autodescriptive systems of many-sided logic), to the history of logic (the medieval Arabic theory of modal syllogistic), to the theory of knowledge (epistemetrics as a quantitative approach in theoretical epistemology), to the philosophy of science (in particular it its economic aspects and as regards the relation of science and religion). Rescher has also worked in the area of futuristics, and along with Olaf Helmer and Norman Dalkey is co-inaugurator of the so-called Delphi method of forecasting. The Encyclopedia of Bioethics credits Rescher with writing one of the very first articles in the field.

One of the first among the increasing number of contemporary exponents of philosophical idealism, Rescher has been active in the rehabilitation of the coherence theory of truth and in the reconstruction of philosophical pragmatism in line with the idealistic tradition. He has pioneered the development of inconsistency-tolerant logics and, in the philosophy of science, the logarithmic retardation theory of scientific progress based on the epistemological principle that our knowledge in a field does not increase in proportion with the volume of information but only with its logarithm.



Rescher came to the United States in 1938 at the age of nine. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during 1952-54, and during 1954-56 worked in the Mathematics Division of the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica. He obtained his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Princeton University in 1951, the youngest person—22 at the time—ever to do so in that department.[1]

During his formative years, Rescher was a student of Carl Gustav Hempel in philosophy of science, of Alonzo Church in logic, Walter Terence Stace in metaphysics, and of Banesh Hoffmann in differential geometry. In 1957-59 Rescher studied Arabic with S.D. Goiten at the University of Pennsylvania, and over the next four years he issued various publications about medieval Arabic Logic.

Rescher arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in 1961 where has been a faculty member ever since. He is a former chair of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Philosophy and currently co-chairs the Center for Philosophy of Science with the status of Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy. Having begun his teaching career with a preceptorship at Princeton in 1960, he continues to be active in this role.

He is among the most prolific of contemporary scholars, having written about 400 articles and 100 books, ranging over many areas of philosophy. Works by Rescher have been translated into German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese. Rescher serves on the editorial board of some dozen academic professional publications, including Process Studies, the principal academic journal for process philosophy and theology. Some dozen books about Rescher’s work have appeared in English, German, and Italian and Arabic. For over three decades Rescher served as editor of the American Philosophical Quarterly.

He has lectured at universities in many countries, and has held visiting lectureships at Oxford, Constance, Salamanca, Munich, and Marburg. He has held fellowships from the J. S. Guggenheim Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the American Philosophical Society. A former president of the American Philosophical Association (Eastern Division), of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, of the Metaphysical Society of America, of the C. S. Peirce Society, and of the G. W. Leibniz Society of America. Rescher has also served as member of the Board of Directors of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies, an organ of UNESCO. His contributions to philosophy have been recognized by honorary degrees awarded by eight universities on three continents.

He was awarded the Alexander von Humboldt Prize for Humanistic Scholarship in 1984, the Cardinal Mercier Prize for International Philosophy in 2005, and the American Catholic Philosophical Society's Aquinas medal in 2007. In response to his substantial gift to its philosophy archive, the University of Pittsburgh established in 2010 a biennial Nicholas Rescher Prize for Systematic Philosophy, to honor an internationally acknowledged contribution with a gold medal and an award of $25,000.

He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009 and is also a member of the Academia Europaea and of the Royal Society of Canada.[1] In 2011 the German Federal Republic awarded Rescher its premier Order of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz Erster Klasse) for his services to philosophy and to German-American collaboration in the field.

In 1968 Rescher married Dorothy Henle and they have three children, Mark (b. 1969), Owen (b. 1970), and Catherine (b. 1975). By an earlier marriage he also has a daughter Elizabeth (b. 1960). His life is detailed in an Autobiography (Frankfurt: ONTOS, 2007). He is a cousin of the eminent orientalist Oskar Rescher.


Rescher has written on a wide range of topics, including logic, epistemology, the philosophy of science, metaphysics, and the philosophy of value. He is best known as an advocate of pragmatism and, more recently, of process philosophy.

Over the course of his six decade research career, Rescher has established himself as a systematic philosopher of the old style, and the author of a system of pragmatic idealism that combines elements of continental idealism with American pragmatism. To this end, he:

  • Projects a system of pragmatic idealism, in which the activity of the human mind makes a formative contribution to the substance of knowledge, and "valid" knowledge contributes to practical success;
  • Defends a coherence theory of truth in a manner differing somewhat from that of classical idealism; see e.g. his exchange in The Philosophy of Brand Blanshard (in the Library of Living Philosophers series);
  • Advocates [2] an "erotetic propagation" of science, asserting that scientific inquiry will continue without end because each newly answered question adds a presupposition for at least one more open question to the current body of scientific knowledge.
  • Propounds an epistemic law of diminishing returns which holds that actual knowledge merely stands as the logarithm of the available information. This has the corollary that the comparative growth of knowledge is inversely propositional to the volume of information already at hand, so that when information grows exponentially, knowledge will grow at a merely linear rate.
  • Articulates a theory of axiogenesis which addresses some of the fundamental questions of philosophical metaphysics on the basis of value-eared considerations.

Apart from this larger program, Rescher has made significant contributions to:

  • Historical studies on Leibniz, Kant, Charles Peirce, and on the medieval Arabic theory of modal syllogistic and logic.
  • The study of rational dialectic as a rhetorical and linguistic process.
  • The theory of knowledge (epistemetrics as a quantitative approach in theoretical epistemology).
  • The philosophy of science (the theory of a logarithmic returns in scientific effort).

One central theme of his thought is the role of unknowing, uncertainty, risk, and luck in human affairs. The resultant need for orientation and support amidst the challenges of life in conditions so largely beyond our control as a prime pillar of religion.

During the 1960s and 70s Rescher worked extensively in symbolic and philosophical logic, contributing various innovations in many-sided logic and temporal logic, including the conception of autodescriptive systems of many-valued logic. He has also contributed to futuristics, and with Olaf Helmer and Norman Dalkey, invented the Delphi method of forecasting.

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.

Eponymous concepts


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.

  • 1964. The Development of Arabic Logic. UPP.
  • 1966. Galen and the Syllogism. UPP.
  • 1968. Studies in Arabic Philosophy. UPP.
  • 1977. Methodological Pragmatism: A Systems-Theoretic Approach to the Theory of Knowledge. Basil Blackwell; New York University Press.
  • 1978. Scientific Progress: A Philosophical Essay on the Economics of Research in Natural Science. UPP
  • 1982 (1973). The Coherence Theory of Truth. UPA.
  • 1982 (1969). Introduction to Value Theory. UPA.
  • 1983. Risk: A Philosophical Introduction to the Theory of Risk Evaluation and Management. UPA.
  • 1985. The Strife of Systems: An Essay on the Grounds and Implications of Philosophical Diversity. UPP.
  • 1988. Rationality. OUP.
  • 1989. Cognitive Economy: Economic Perspectives in the Theory of Knowledge. UPP.
  • 1989. A Useful Inheritance: Evolutionary Epistemology in Philosophical Perspective. Rowman & Littlefield.
  • 1990. Human Interests: Reflections on Philosophical Anthropology. Stanford University Press.
  • 1993. Pluralism: Against the Demand for Consensus. OUP.
  • A System of Pragmatic Idealism
    • 1991. Volume I: Human Knowledge in Idealistic Perspective. PUP.
    • 1992. Volume II: The Validity of Values: Human Values in Pragmatic Perspective. PUP.
    • 1994. Volume III: Metaphilosophical Inquiries. PUP.
  • 1995. Luck. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  • 1995. Essays in the History of Philosophy. UK: Aldershot.
  • 1995. Process Metaphysics. SUNY Press.
  • 1996. Instructive Journey: An Autobiographical Essay. UPA.
  • 1998. Complexity: A Philosophical Overview. Transaction Publishers.
  • 1998. Predicting The Future: An Introduction To The Theory Of Forecasting. SUNY Press
  • 1999. Kant and the Reach of Reason. Cambridge University Press.
  • 1999. Realistic Pragmatism: An Introduction to Pragmatic Philosophy. SUNY Press.
  • 1999 (1984). The Limits of Science. UPP.
  • 2000. Nature and Understanding: A Study of the Metaphysics of Science. OUP.
  • 2001. Paradoxes: Their Roots, Range, and Resolution. Open Court Publishing.
  • 2001. Process Philosophy: A Survey of Basic Issues. UPP.
  • 2003. Epistemology: On the Scope and Limits of Knowledge. SUNY Press.
  • 2003. On Leibniz. UPP.
  • 2004. Epistemic Logic. UPP.
  • 2005. Metaphysics: The Key Issues from a Realist Perspective. Prometheus Books.
  • 2005. Reason and Reality: Realism and Idealism in Pragmatic Perspective. Rowman & Littlefield.
  • 2005-2006. Collected Papers in 14 vols. Ontos Verlag.
  • 2006. Epistemetrics. Cambridge University Press.
  • 2006. Conditionals. MIT Press.
  • 2007. Error: On Our Predicament When Things Go Wrong. UPP.
  • 2009. Aporetics. UPP.
  • 2009. Unknowable Facts. Lexington Books.
  • 2009. Free Will. Transaction Books.
  • 2009. Ignorance: On the Wider Implications of Deficient Knowledge. UPP.
  • 2009. Unknowability. Lexington Books.
  • 2009. Wishful Thinking and Other Philosophical Reflections. Ontos.
  • 2009. Epistemological Studies. Ontos.
  • 2010. Ideas in Process: A Study of the development of Philosophical Concepts. Ontos Verlag.
  • 2010. Studies in Quantitative Philosophy. Ontos Verlag.
  • 2010. Reality and Its Appearance. Continuum.
  • 2010. A Free Will Bibliography. Ontos. With Estelle Burris
  • 2010. Quantitative Philosophy. Ontos.
  • 2010. Philosophical Inquiries. University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • 2010. Infinite Regress. Transaction Books
  • 2010. Axiogenesis: An Essay in Metaphysical Optimalism '. Lexington Books.
  • 2010. Studies in Quantitative Philosophy. Ontos.
  • 2010. Philosophical Textuality: Studies on Issued of Discourses in Philosophy. Ontos.
  • 2010. On rules and principles: A philosophical study of their nature and function. Ontos.
  • 2010. Finitude: A Study of Cognitive Limits and Limitations. Ontos.
  • 2010. Beyond Sets: A Venture in Collection-Theoretico Revisionism. Ontos. With Patrick Grim.
  • 2011. Philosophical Explorations. Ontos.

See also

  • American philosophy
  • List of American philosophers
  • Delphi method
  • Vagrant predicate


  1. ^ "Rescher elected AAAS fellow", University Times (University of Pittsburgh), 2009-05-14,, retrieved 2009-05-15 
  2. ^ 1984, "The Limits of Science" in Paul Weingartner and Hans Czermak, eds., Epistemology and Philosophy of Science: Proceedings of the 7th International Wittgenstein Symposium: 223-231.
  • Robert Almeder ed., 1982. Praxis and Reason: Studies in the Philosophy of Nicholas Rescher (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America) A collection of critical and expanding essays with brief replies by Rescher. The contributors include: Timo Airaksinen, Robert Almeder, Antonio Cua, John E. Hare, Risto Hilpinen, John Kekes, Gerald J. Massey, Jack W. Meiland, Mark Pastin, Friedrick Rapp, James Sterba, and Dennis Temple.
  • Bottani, Andrea, 1989. Verità e Coerenza: Suggio su’ll epistemologia coerentista di Nicholas Rescher (Milano: Franco Angeli Liberi). A systematic study of Rescher’s coherence theory of truth.
  • Carrier, Martin et al., eds., 2000. Science at the Century’s End: Philosophical Questions on the Progress and Limits of Science (Pittsburgh and Konstanz: University of Pittsburgh Press and University of Konstanz Press). Pp. 40-134 contains a symposium devoted to NR’s work on the Limits of Science with contributions by Robert Almeder, Laura Ruetsche, Juergen Mittelstrass, and Martin Carrier.
  • Coomann, Heinrich, 1983. Die Kohaerenztheorie der Wahrheit: Eine kritische Darstellung der Theorie Reschers von Ihrem historischen Hintergrund (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Peter Lang).
  • Marsonet, Michele, 1995. The Primacy of Practical Reason: An Essay on Nicholas Rescher’s Philosophy (Lanham, MD: University Press of America).
  • Moutafakis, Nicholas J., 2007. Rescher on Rationality, Values, and Social Responsibility (Frankfurt: ONTOS Verlag).
  • Murray, Paul D., 2004. Reason, Truth and Theology in Pragmatist Perspective (Leuven: Peeters). A theological study largely devoted to NR’s ideas.
  • Nabavi, Lotfallah, 2003. Avicennan Logic Based on Nicholas Rescher’s Point of View (Tehran: Scientific and Cultural Publication Co.).
  • Ernest Sosa ed., 1979. The Philosophy of Nicholas Rescher (Dordrecht: D. Reidel). A collection of critical essays with brief replies by Rescher. The contributors include: Annette Baier, Stephen Barker, Nuel D. Belnap, Jr., Laurence BonJour, Robert E. Butts, Roderick M. Chisholm, L. Jonathan Cohen, Jude J. Dougherty, Brian Ellis, R.M. Hare, Hide Ishiguro, Georg H. von Wright, and John W. Yolton.
  • Roland Wagner-Döbler, "Rescher's Principle of Diminishing Marginal Returns in Scientific Research, Scientometrics, vol. 50 (2001), pp. 41-46.
  • Weber, Michel, ed., 2004. After Whitehead: Rescher and Process Philosophy (Frankfurt: ONTOS Verlag).
  • Wüstehube, Axel, and Michael Quante, eds., 1998. Pragmatic Idealism: Critical Essays on Nicholas Rescher’s System of Pragmatic Idealism (Amsterdam: Rodopi). Critical essays on NR’s “Pragmatic Idealism” trilogy by eighteen contemporary philosophers in Europe and the USA.
  • Almeder, Robert (ed.), Rescher Studies: A Collection of Essays on the Philosophical Work of Nicholas Rescher (Frankfurt: ONTOS, 2008).
  • Jacquette, Dale (ed.), Reason Method and Value: A Reader on the Philosophy of Nicholas Rescher (Frankfurt: ONTOS, 2009).
  • Wenceslao J. Gonzalez, La prediccion scientifica desde H. Reichenbach a N. Rescher (Barselona: Moutesinos, 2010).

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