December 3, 1998
University Gazette


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N. Goodman, Philosopher and Project Zero Co-Founder, Dies

Nelson Goodman, professor of philosophy emeritus and one of the most distinguished philosophers in the last half-century, died last week at age 92.

Goodman, a resident of Needham, Mass., was known not just for the depth of his work, but also for its breadth, touching on a variety of areas, including epistemology, the theory of induction, and the philosophy of art.

"The range of his work is quite astounding," said Professor of the Philosophy of Education Catherine Elgin, a friend who wrote a book with Goodman.

In addition to his work in philosophy, Goodman was an art dealer and collector. At times he even lent pieces to Harvard's Fogg Art Museum, according to Cogan University Professor Hilary Putnam, a friend and colleague of Goodman's.

"I think he's one of the two or three greatest analytic philosophers of the post-World War II period," Putnam said. "His Ph.D. thesis was a masterpiece. He did that while at the same time having a very successful career as an art dealer.

Friends said Goodman's sometimes cantankerous exterior sheltered a cheerful and brilliant interior.

"He affected to be a sourpuss, but he was really enormously cheerful," Putnam said. "In every conversation with him, he was bubbling with ideas."

Goodman was the author of several books, including The Structure of Appearance in 1951, Fact, Fiction and Forecast in 1955, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols in 1968, Problems and Projects in 1972, Ways of Worldmaking in 1976, and Of Mind and Other Matters in 1984.

Goodman was a founder of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Project Zero is a national center for the study of thinking and has done pioneering work in how children use figurative language, symbols, and narrative to express themselves creatively. Project Zero also has done a comparative study on American and Chinese arts education and reports on musical competence.

At its 25th anniversary celebration in 1993, Goodman said Project Zero was so named because "general, communicable knowledge about arts education was zero."

Goodman founded and directed the Dance Center of the Harvard Summer School. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II.

Goodman, who was born in Somerville, Mass., had a long affiliation with Harvard. He graduated from Harvard with a bachelor of science degree in 1928, and received a Ph.D. in 1941. He was a research fellow at Harvard's Center for Cognitive Studies from 1962 to 1963.

Goodman was appointed professor of philosophy at Harvard in 1968. Before taking that post, he taught at Tufts University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brandeis University.

A graveside memorial service will be held Thursday, Dec. 3, at 10:30 a.m. in Woodlawn Cemetery at 302 Elm St., Everett. Arrangements are by the Joyce Funeral Home in Waltham.


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College