Pitt Selects Mittelstrass, Plantinga for 2012-13 Rescher Prize in Philosophy

Issue Date: 
January 28, 2013

The University of Pittsburgh has selected Jürgen Mittelstrass, a professor of philosophy and the philosophy of science at the University of Constance in Germany, and Alvin Plantinga, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, as the recipients of the 2012-13 Nicholas Rescher Prize for Contributions to Systematic Philosophy.

Named in honor of Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy Nicholas Rescher, Nicholas Rescherwho has been on Pitt’s faculty since 1961 and has made several noteworthy gifts to Pitt’s University Library System (ULS), the prize consists of a gold medal together with a cash award of $25,000. Established in recognition of Rescher’s intellectual legacy, remarkable contributions to philosophy, and extraordinary generosity to the ULS, the prize was inaugurated in 2010 with its award to the distinguished epistemologist Ernest Sosa, who earned the Doctor of Philosophy degree at Pitt in 1964.

Mittelstrass has been a professor at the University of Constance since 1970, and he served as director of that university’s Center for Philosophy of Science from 1990 to 2005. He will receive his award on May 3 during a ceremony at Pitt’s University Club. Jürgen Mittelstrass

Plantinga, who is widely known for his work in philosophy of religion, epistemology, metaphysics, and Christian apologetics, received his award on Nov. 9, also during a ceremony at the University Club.

The recipient of numerous honorary doctorates, Mittelstrass served as a member of the German Science Council from 1985 to 1990; the Senate of the German Research Society from 1992 to 1997; and the German Chancellor’s Council for Research, Technology, and Innovation from 1995 to 1998. In addition, he was vice president from 1994 to 2000 and president from 2002 to 2008 of the Academia Europaea. Since 2005, he has been president of the Austrian Science Council. 

The author of numerous books and monographs, Mittelstrass has worked for decades to mediate between C. P. Snow’s two cultures, striving to make both philosophers and scientists aware of the relevance and usefulness of the other culture’s work. 

“More than any other contemporary investigator, he has brought home to European scientists the utility of philosophical contextualization for their own work,” Rescher said. 

Plantinga earned his PhD at Yale University. He is the author of numerous books, including the influential God and Other Minds (Cornell University Press, 1967), The Nature of Necessity (Oxford University Press, 1974), and the “warrant” series, culminating in Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford University Press, 2000). He has delivered prestigious Gifford Lectures, sponsored by the four major universities in Scotland, three times. The late eminent educator and cultural historian Jacques Barzun described the Gifford Lectures as “the highest honor in a philosopher’s career.”Alvin Plantinga

Plantinga has served as president of the American Philosophical Association’s Central Division and as president of the Society of Christian Philosophers. There are about 24 books devoted wholly or largely to Plantinga’s work. He has held visiting appointments at many universities, including Harvard, Oxford, and Arizona, and he holds seven honorary degrees. 

“Virtually single-handed, Plantinga has created for religious philosophy a prominent place on the agenda of contemporary American analytic philosophy, and his versatile contributions have been widely influential in many areas of philosophy,” Rescher said.

The Rescher Prize for Contributions to Systematic Philosophy sustains comparison with other prestigious prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize, administered by Columbia University and valued at $10,000, and the Fields Medal in mathematics, administered by the International Mathematical Union and valued at $15,000.

Rescher is a former president of the American Philosophical Association, the American Catholic Philosophical Association, the American Metaphysical Society, the G.W. Leibniz Society of America, and the C.S. Pierce Society. In 2011, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in recognition of his service to philosophy and to German-American relations in the field.

At Pitt, Rescher chaired the philosophy department in 1980-81. He is currently cochair of the University’s Center for Philosophy of Science, along with its founder, Adolf Grünbaum, Andrew Mellon Professor of Philosophy of Science at Pitt, who has been Rescher’s colleague ever since helping to recruit him to Lehigh University in 1957.

Rescher is the author of more than 100 books in many areas of philosophy—more than a dozen translated into other languages—and hundreds of journal articles. In the earlier years of his career, Rescher worked extensively in symbolic and philosophical logic. More recently, he has turned to the theory of knowledge and metaphysics. An expert on the philosophy of Leibniz, Rescher has recently been instrumental in building for the first time from that philosopher/scientist’s 1670’s design a cipher machine that was so ahead of its time that it remained unmatched until its most famous descendant, the ENIGMA code-writing and code-breaking machine used by the German military during World War II.