Gilbert Harman (born 26 May 1938) is an American philosopher, who taught at Princeton University from 1963 until his retirement in 2017. He has published widely in philosophy of language, cognitive science, philosophy of mind, ethics, moral psychology, epistemology, statistical learning theory, and metaphysics. He and George Miller co-directed the Princeton University Cognitive Science Laboratory. Harman has taught or co-taught courses in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Psychology, Philosophy, and Linguistics.
|Born||26 May 1938|
|Doctoral advisor||Willard Van Orman Quine|
|Doctoral students||Stephen Stich, Joshua Knobe, Daniel Rothschild|
|Philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, ethics, epistemology|
|Perceptual experience has intentional content|
Three levels of meaning
Education and career
Harman has a BA from Swarthmore College and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he was supervised by Willard Van Orman Quine. He taught at Princeton from 1963 until his retirement in 2017 as the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Philosophy. He has been named a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society and a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He received the Jean Nicod Prize in Paris in 2005. In 2009 he received Princeton University's Behrman award for distinguished achievement in the humanities. His acceptance speech was titled "We need a linguistics department."
His daughter Elizabeth Harman is also a philosopher and a member of the philosophy department and the Center for Human Values at Princeton University.
Harman's 1965 account of the role of "inference to the best explanation"—inferring the existence of that which we need for the best explanation of observable phenomena—has been very influential. In later work, he argued that all inference or reasoning should be conceived as rational "change in view," balancing conservatism against coherence, where simplicity and explanatory considerations are relevant to positive coherence and where avoiding inconsistency is relevant to negative coherence. He has expressed doubts about appeals to a priori knowledge and has argued that logic and decision theory are theories of implication and consistency and should not be interpreted as theories that can be followed: they are not theories of inference or reasoning.
In Thought and Change in View Harman argued that intuitions about knowledge are useful in thinking about inference. More recently, he and Brett Sherman have suggested that knowledge can rest on assumptions that are not themselves known. He and Sanjeev Kulkarni have suggested that elementary statistical learning theory offers a kind of response to the philosophical problem of induction.
Harman has also argued that perceptual experience has "intentional content" and that it is important not to confuse qualities of the intentional object of experience with qualities of the experience. Perceivers are only aware of qualities that are presented to them in experience, as opposed to properties of experience that represent what we experience as a kind of mental paint.
He has also proposed that perceptual and other psychological states are self-reflective so that the content of a perceptual experience might be: this very experience is the result of perceiving a tree with such and such features (except that the experience is not in language). The content of an intention might be: this very intention will lead me to go home by six o'clock.
In The Nature of Morality, Harman, relying on inference to the best explanation, argued that there are no objective moral facts because we do not need such facts to explain our moral judgments. He has argued that there is not a single true morality. In that respect, moral relativism is true. (This sort of moral relativism is not a theory about what ordinary people mean by their moral judgments.)
Harman has rejected attempts to base moral theory on conceptions of human flourishing and character traits and has expressed skepticism about the need for a good person to be susceptible to moral guilt or shame.
- Thought (Princeton, 1973) ISBN 0-691-07188-8
- The Nature of Morality: An Introduction to Ethics (Oxford, 1977) ISBN 0-19-502143-6
- Change in View: Principles of Reasoning (MIT, 1986) ISBN 0-262-58091-8
- Scepticism and the Definition of Knowledge (Garland, 1990) [This is Gilbert Harman's doctoral dissertation which was submitted to Harvard University in 1964]
- (with Judith Jarvis Thomson), Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity (Blackwell, 1996) ISBN 0-631-19211-5
- Reasoning, Meaning and Mind (Clarendon, 1999) ISBN 0-19-823802-9
- Explaining Value and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (Clarendon, 2000) ISBN 0-19-823804-5
- (with Sanjeev Kulkarni) Reliable Reasoning: Induction and Statistical Learning Theory (MIT Press, 2007)
- (with Sanjeev Kulkarni) An Elementary Introduction to Statistical Learning Theory (Wiley, 2012).
- (with Donald Davidson), Semantics of Natural Language (D. Reidel, 1972)
- On Noam Chomsky: Critical Essays (Anchor, 1974)
- (with Donald Davidson), The Logic of Grammar (Dickenson, 1975)
- Conceptions of the Human Mind: Essays in Honor of George A. Miller (Laurence Erlbaum, 1993)
- (with Ernie Lepore), A Companion to W.V.O. Quine (Wiley, 2014)
- Gilbert Harman, "Three levels of meaning"
- Harman, Elizabeth (2005), "Harman, Gilbert Helms (1938–)", in The Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers, Continuum, ISBN 9780199754663 [republished in The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Philosophers in America: From 1600 to the Present (2016)].
- Altmann, Jennifer Greenstein (26 Oct 2006). "Like father, like daughter: Family ties bind philosophers". Princeton University. Retrieved 31 Dec 2011.
- "Gilbert Harman | Department of Philosophy". philosophy.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2019-09-29.
- "Elizabeth Harman joins father on the philosophy faculty - 10/23/2006 - PWB - Princeton". Princeton University. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
- Official page Including online versions (drafts and preprints) of some of his more recent work.
- Video Interview: Gilbert Harman on Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind, and Ethics