Rescher to Donate Massive Philosophy-Materials Collection to Hillman Library; Pitt to Create Rescher Fund for Advancement of Department of Philosophy

Issue Date: 
February 22, 2010
Nicholas RescherNicholas Rescher

Eminent, esteemed, wide-ranging, prolific—these are adjectives that have been aptly used to describe Nicholas Rescher and his contributions to the field of philosophy in a career that spans six decades, with nearly a half century of those years devoted to teaching and research at the University of Pittsburgh.

In acknowledgement of his decades-long career at Pitt, Rescher, Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy, is donating his massive collection of materials on philosophy to the University’s Hillman Library.

In turn, the University is honoring Rescher for his lifetime of achievement and devotion to the University with the establishment of the Dr. Nicholas Rescher Fund for the Advancement of the Department of Philosophy, which will include a prestigious biennial award, the Nicholas Rescher Prize for Contributions to Systematic Philosophy.

“We are immensely grateful to Professor Rescher—one of the most accomplished, committed, respected, and beloved members of our faculty—both for his lifetime of contributions to the advancement of philosophy and the philosophy of science and for the invaluable gift of his personal collection of original and rare materials," said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg.

"The collection will provide both students and more senior scholars with access to a special set of materials, including the writings and correspondence of some of the world’s most renowned philosophers. We have long been the direct beneficiaries of all that Professor Rescher has done to elevate the University through the excellence and impact of his work, and we now also are the beneficiaries of his generosity," the chancellor said.

Rescher is a renowned systematic philosopher and author of a system of pragmatic idealism that weaves together threads of thought from continental idealism and American pragmatism. “As a whole, Rescher’s development of pragmatic idealism is characterized by an unusually wide range of sympathy and information,” writes John Kekes in the authoritative encyclopedia The Oxford Companion to Philosophy.

Early in his career, during the late 1940s and early ’50s, Rescher collaborated extensively with philosophers from the Berlin School of scientific philosophy, a philosophical movement inspired by the work of Albert Einstein. Rescher’s collection includes original manuscripts and typescripts of 20th-century philosophers, especially materials relating to this school.

“My interests include the historical aspects of philosophy and the philosophy of science,” said Rescher, who, during his graduate study at Princeton University, was drawn to G.W. Leibniz, an inventor of and contributor to calculus. “Over many years I have built up a substantial collection of rare material relating to Leibniz’s work, including an original manuscript letter,” he said.

The core of Rescher’s gift to Hillman Library is his Leibniz collection and various materials that have “a special relationship” to the Berlin School, including works relating to philosophers Paul Oppenheim, Kurt Grelling, late Pitt philosophy professor Carl Gustav Hempel, Olaf Helmer, as well as such other philosophers as Jürgen Habermas and Frank P. Ramsey.

“Pitt’s Library System has an Archives of Scientific Philosophy that includes archival material from the Berlin School,” said Rescher. “The items from my collection will integrate nicely into that archive.”

According to Rush G. Miller, director of the University Library System, Pitt’s philosophy collections are very strong and, in addition to the papers of Hempel and Ramsey, include those of Rudolph Carnap, Hans Reichenbach, and late Pitt philosophy professors Wesley Salmon and Wilfrid Sellars, among others.

“We are very pleased that Dr. Rescher has placed his papers with us,” said Miller. “The materials in these collections are not only used by our own students and faculty, but also by visiting scholars from both the United States and abroad. Dr. Rescher’s papers include correspondence, administrative files, papers delivered at conferences, and drafts of his own publications. His correspondence, amounting to more than 40,000 pages, includes letters to and from respected individuals in philosophy as well as people with other academic interests. Since it is a premier collection, I’m sure that it will attract significant scholarly attention.”

“Professor Rescher’s gift to the University is extraordinary,” said James V. Maher, Pitt provost and senior vice chancellor. “It is a fitting tribute to Dr. Rescher that the University would honor him for his monumental contributions to the field of philosophy and his dedicated service to the University with the Rescher Fund and Prize.”

Income from the Rescher Fund will be used to achieve key initiatives of the Department of Philosophy and to establish the Nicholas Rescher Prize. Awarded biennially, the prize will recognize an individual “for distinguished contributions to philosophical systematization” and include a gold medal, a $25,000 award, and an invitation to the University to deliver a lecture. Currently there is no major recognition in the field of philosophy, says Rescher, that is even remotely akin to the Field Medal in mathematics; the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, letters, and the arts; or the Nobel Prize in the sciences, medicine, economics, and literature.

The prize—to be awarded for the first time in the fall of 2010—reflects the seriousness of Pitt’s commitment to philosophy. “It is our aspiration that the new Rescher Prize will become recognized as the most prestigious award in the field of philosophy, emphasizing the life’s work and contributions to philosophy by a preeminent, world-renowned figure,” Maher said.

According to Rescher, there are 12,000 members of the American Philosophical Association, making it a very crowded field. He noted that philosophy has come into an age of specialization, which, he said, is to be expected when there are so many scholars doing philosophical research.

“The philosopher’s key job is to integrate philosophy and to provide a systematic picture of the whole field: Systematic thinking across frontiers is not fashionable but nevertheless crucial,” said Rescher, who explained that the systematic approach is important even in an age of specialization and the division of labor. “Virtually all of the major contributors to philosophy have been systematic thinkers.”

The Rescher Fund also will support such other key initiatives as faculty research and professional development, student scholarship and research, teaching awards, guest lectures, and special programs in the department.

Rescher’s many honors include the Alexander von Humboldt Prize for Humanistic Scholarship in 1983, the Belgian Cardinal Mercier Prize in 2005, and the Thomas Aquinas Medal of the American Catholic Philosophical Association in 2007. An honorary member of Oxford’s Corpus Christi College, Rescher has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the European Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Royal Society of Canada, the Institut International de Philosophie, the Academie Internationale de Philosophie des Sciences, and the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. His contributions to philosophy have been recognized by the award of honorary degrees from seven universities on three continents.

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. He has been editor for more than three decades of the American Philosophical Quarterly, which he founded, and has served as editor of both the History of Philosophy Quarterly and the Public Affairs Quarterly.

In the earlier years of his career, Rescher worked extensively in symbolic and philosophical logic. His innovations in this field include the “Rescher quantifier” as well as the “Rescher-Dienes implication relation” with the “Rescher-Manor consequence relation.” Over the years, some dozen books and monographs have been published on his philosophical work.

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. He also has served as an officer of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies, an organ of UNESCO.

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.

Born in Hagen, Germany, in 1928, Rescher immigrated to the United States at the age of 10. He attended Queens College in New York City, majoring in mathematics, and earned his doctorate in philosophy at Princeton University in 1951, at the age of 22—the youngest person ever to do so in the history of Princeton’s Department of Philosophy.

Rescher served in the U.S. Marine Corps, from 1952 to 1954, and was subsequently employed in the mathematics division of the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., from 1954 to 1957. He left Rand for Lehigh University in 1957 and joined Pitt’s Department of Philosophy in 1961.

In placing his collection of philosophical material in Hillman Library, Rescher follows in the footsteps of his cousin, Arabist scholar Oscar Rescher, whose extensive collection of rare Arabic manuscripts is housed in the libraries of Yale University and several European institutions.