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Epilogue: A Memoir. Arthur Pap, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1962, 427-431.


Arthur Pap: A Memoir

 Brand Blanshard

Arthur Pap was one of the ablest younger philosophers of his generation.  In a life of thirty-eight years he accomplished more than most of his colleagues are able to do in twice that time.  In this last book of his, published posthumously, it seems fitting that a few words should be said about him personally.  I cannot claim to have known him intimately; few even of his acquaintances did, for without being a recluse or unsociable, he was singularly impersonal in his interests and would always rather talk about philosophy than about other persons or about himself.  But he was a man of striking individuality, who challenged notice in any company; and after working in the same department with him for four years, and collaborating with him in an undergraduate course, I came to know at least enough about him to admire him greatly.

Pap was born and brought up in Zürich, where his father was a successful businessman, and until he was nineteen years old the language he spoke was German.  The family were of Jewish extraction, and in 1941, when a Nazi invasion of German Switzerland seemed imminent, they uprooted themselves, made their way through unoccupied France, Spain, and Portugal to the United States, and settled in New York.

Arthur's beginning in this country was hardly characteristic.  To those who knew him later it will seem strange to hear that this most single-minded of men suffered for a time from a mind that was painfully divided.  He had a passion for music: he had been a promising student of piano under Walther Frey in Switzerland and had thoughts of becoming a concert pianist.  In New York he entered the Juilliard School and practiced assiduously for eight hours a day.  But he also enrolled for extension classes at Columbia University, where a rival interest developed that before long pushed music into the shadow.  This new interest was in philosophy.  To be sure, it was not quite new.  Already as a gymnasium student in Zürich he had cut his teeth on Hegel, and the first impression he made on his philosophy teachers in this country was that of a rather belligerent Hegelian.  But discussions with such fellow students as John Hospers, Martin Lean, and Morton White instilled doubts in his mind.  After obtaining his bachelor's degree at Columbia, he was still interested enough in speculative philosophy to be drawn by Cassirer to Yale, where he proceeded to a master's degree.  But by this time the empiricist antibodies were working strongly in his blood; his budding interest in analytic philosophy was encouraged by Charles Stevenson, and he found that Cassirer's metaphysical speculation held little appeal for him.  He returned to Columbia to write a doctoral dissertation under Ernest Nagel on "The A Priori in Physical Theory."  This was an acute and competent essay, which won him the Woodbridge prize for the best philosophical thesis of 1946.

Then came a series of difficult years.  Pap had to support himself, and he secured a modest appointment as teacher in one of the Columbia extension courses he had known as a student.  Among his pupils was a young lady whose friendship with him soon ripened into an engagement and marriage and whose enduring confidence in him was a source of much strength.  Fortunately for the two young people, the war had just ended, and the universities were looking for instructors to help them handle the tides of returning servicemen.  Pap was offered and accepted an instructorship at Chicago.  It was an important step in his intellectual life, for here he came for the first time under the direct influence of Rudolf Carnap, who was to affect his thought profoundly.  But Carnap was in the graduate school and Pap's own assignment was in the undergraduate college, where the educational views of Hutchins and Adler were being put to the test.  Departmental barriers were disregarded, and Pap was asked to teach both chemistry and philosophy.  As a natural specialist, he did not like it; he felt that such diffusion of interest was bad for both teacher and taught.  With characteristic outspokenness he said so, and at the end of the year he was again a needy philosopher without a job.

A minor post cropped up at City College, and for two years Pap returned to New York.  Then an assistant professorship came in view on the opposite side of the continent, and he went for four years to the University of Oregon.  His work there was brought to an end by another surprising invitation from a distance.  Putting to use his knowledge of German, he had translated Professor Kraft's history of the Vienna Circle.  On Kraft's recommendation he was appointed a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Vienna for 1953-54.  It was an exciting year: he lectured in German at the University; he went with his wife to see old friends in Switzerland; he took a trip to Italy; by reason of his special competence in analytic philosophy and the rapidly increasing interest in it, he was asked to lecture at Uppsala and Copenhagen, Oxford and Cambridge.  I recall a paper of his at the Congress of Philosophy in Brussels.  His Vienna lectures appeared in revised and expanded form in German under the title Analytische Erkenntnistheorie.

On his return he did not go back to Oregon, but accepted a temporary post at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and before the year was out was looking anxiously round again for some suitable opening.  As it happened, the eye of the Yale philosophy department was at that moment roving the horizon for a philosopher of science, and this eye fell speculatively on Pap, whose production and reputation had by now shot up impressively.  To his delight, Yale asked him to come.  The new assignment was not exactly a bed of roses.  Yale was a stronghold of metaphysics; Pap was notoriously hostile to metaphysics.  Still that was a main reason that Yale wanted him; it has long prided itself on the diversity of its philosophic points of view, each of which is submitted to the frankest criticism by the others.  Pap set out with pleasure to meet the demands upon him.  He gave courses and seminars in logic, in probability and induction, in the philosophy of Russell, and in various phases of analytic philosophy.  The Yale University Press published his book on Semantics and Necessary Truth, which is the most thorough treatment of the topic in English, and articles and reviews flowed ceaselessly from his little office in Linsly Hall.  He had a growing family—three sons and a daughter—to whom he was devoted.  The future looked bright.

Suddenly fate struck at him with a brutal lack of warning.  He had not been feeling up to the mark and in March, 1959, went round to the university hospital for a casual check-up.  It was clear to the examining physicians when tests were made that he was suffering from a kind of nephritis for which there is no known remedy.  They did not betray their hopelessness, and he returned to his classes.  Work became increasingly difficult, however, and, puzzled and impatient, he had to return recurrently to his hospital bed.  Through the summer he was manifestly getting weaker, though with an indomitable buoyancy he talked to the end about resuming his classes with the opening of the fall term.  It was not to be.  He died on September 7, 1959.

What Arthur Pap would have achieved if he had lived, no one can say.  But when one considers what he accomplished in the less than twenty disturbed and anxious years between his arrival as a somewhat forlorn immigrant boy in this country and his death at thirty-eight—five technical books on philosophy, two more translated or edited, and scores of able articles and reviews—one finds it hard to set limits to what he might have done.  Driving himself as he might, of course, have burned himself out quickly.  But he had a sturdy physique (I found that he had been an enthusiastic and vigorous soccer player in Switzerland), and while thinking with him was an arduous and exacting business, it was also a delight.  If he had been able to continue the curve of work supplied by the short arc of his life, it would certainly have soared high; he would, I suspect, have come to be recognized as one of the outstanding thinkers of our time.

To those who knew him, the most striking thing about him was his total devotion to philosophy.  This was not something reserved for classroom or office; it was an incessant gnawing torment and unending delight.  His gift of concentration was extraordinary.  One would meet him walking the street with unseeing eyes, lost in his thoughts; he would calmly write on intricate points in epistemology in his living room with his children climbing happily over him.  Indeed his absorption in analysis became almost too exclusive: he read little except professional literature, his idea of a cozy evening at home was a bout with Russell's last pronouncement on sense data and physics, he was frankly uninterested in any of the arts except music, and he was interested in religion only as a set of doctrines for which the evidence seemed tenuous.  There was something astringent and almost withering in the singleness of his eye for fact and truth.  To believe something because one wanted to believe it was for him (though he would never have used the word) a sin.  To talk philosophy with such a man, if one was on one's toes, was a tonic.  His gift for argument was formidable, but one did not feel that he argued for victory; he could and did change his opinions, though only in the light of evidence that seemed clear and cogent.  Perhaps with a fuller presentiment than he admitted, he was reading on his hospital bed Ducasse's Nature, Mind, and Death; it was characteristic of him to conclude quietly that survival, while a logical possibility, was not empirically probable.

He was not as happy a man as one would wish.  The lot of the scientist, it is often said, is happier than that of the artist; but Arthur Pap combined passionate theoretical curiosity with an artistic temperament, and that is not the best recipe for happiness.  Moods of exhilaration when the current of thought ran clear were followed by moods of deep dejection when a promising theory was deflated or when he could not intellectually see his way.  One felt too that his pleasure in contacts with others reflected an unconscious estimate of their degree of devotedness to truth.  For example, he had little use for students who took his courses merely for credit, and he at times made this sharply clear to them; on the other hand, students who were genuinely interested and ready for work he was willing to help untiringly.  It was significant that his students’ feeling for him as a teacher tended to vary directly with their own intellectual quality.

Of Pap's books it is no doubt his Elements of Analytical Philosophy that has had the widest reading.  It was his first full-scale venture into print; it was written with the verve and iconoclasm of a man in his twenties who has seen through the metaphysicians and theologians and is determined to put them in their place.  I hope many of them have read it, for even if they often disagree with it, they should be grateful, as I was, for the castigation.  It has faults of brashness and overstatement, but it seems to me one of the most useful books produced by the analytic movement, notable for range as well as lucidity. Semantics and Necessary Truth is more mature and sophisticated, but is harder reading.  With his eye always fixed on substance rather than form, and impatient to get on to something new rather than linger with a blue pencil over the old, Pap wrote with more firmness and clarity than grace.  His writing was the thinking aloud of a disciplined mind, not the creation of a literary craftsman; its texture is close-knit and must be followed with an equally close attention if the path of the argument is not to be lost; but the path is firmly marked out and is made plainer by many examples, of which he had an inexhaustible supply.

Books on the philosophy of science often suffer from one or other of two faults: they are either so technical scientifically that the philosophers are lost among equations or so philosophical that the scientists are lost among the clouds.  In this book the technicalities are not ignored, but the writer is never bogged down in them, and their bearing upon philosophical issues is unfailingly made clear.  It is a great satisfaction to those who admired Arthur Pap to know that the last work of his amazingly fertile mind, so eager at once to make philosophy scientific and to make science philosophically responsible, is now available to us.

Posted March 20, 2007

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