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May 3, 2001

Obituary: Wesley C. Salmon

(Editor's note: This obituary was written by Adolf Grünbaum, the Andrew Mellon Professor of Philosophy of Science at Pitt.)

On Sunday, April 22, 2001, Wesley C. Salmon, University Professor Emeritus of philosophy, and professor emeritus of the history and philosophy of science at the University, was killed instantly in an automobile accident.

His wife, Merrilee Salmon, Pitt professor emerita of the history and philosophy of science, and of anthropology, was in the vehicle with him but survived uninjured.

An eminent, internationally renowned philosopher of science, Wesley Salmon was a much beloved colleague, teacher and friend whose premature death is a grievous loss to the local, national and international academic community.

Born in 1925, he earned his doctorate at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1950 under Hans Reichenbach, one of the towering figures of 20th-century philosophy of science, whose collection is part of the Archives of Scientific Philosophy at the University's Hillman Library.

Salmon held appointments at several universities before serving as Norwood Russell Hanson Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University (Bloomington) from 1963 to 1973. He was at the University of Arizona (Tucson) from 1973 to 1981.

Salmon joined the Pitt faculty in 1981 as professor and chairman of philosophy, professor of history and philosophy of science, as well as resident fellow in the Center for Philosophy of Science. From 1983 until his retirement in 1999, he held the rank of University Professor of Philosophy, filling the post in which Carl G. Hempel, a major figure in 20th-century philosophy of science, had preceded him.

His visiting professorships included appointments at the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Minnesota (1963 and fall 1985), the University of Pittsburgh (1968-1969), the University of Melbourne, Australia (1978), and at the University of Konstanz, Germany (1995-1996). His last visiting appointment was in 2000 at Kyoto University in Japan, where Merrilee Salmon had a like appointment.

After giving a series of four lectures in 1988 on "Four Decades of Scientific Explanation" at the University of Bologna in Italy, on the occasion of its 900th anniversary, Salmon acquired mastery of Italian by taking courses at Pitt, and subsequently gave professional lectures in that language at several universities in Italy. To honor the work of both Merrilee and Wesley Salmon, the Florentine Center for History and Philosophy of Science hosted a workshop on "Experience, Reality, and Scientific Explanation" in May 1996.

Wesley Salmon's books and articles have ranged broadly over the theory of scientific explanation, causality, probability, scientific confirmation and induction, and the philosophy of physical science. After Hempel's pioneering models of scientific explanation, which featured the expectability of phenomena, Salmon developed influential rival models abjuring expectability in favor of providing causally relevant factors.

His well-known books include "The Foundations of Scientific Inference" (1967), "Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World" (1984), "Four Decades of Scientific Explanation" (1990), and "Causality and Explanation" (1998), a collection of essays spanning several decades. He was also the editor or co-editor of five volumes.

Recently, he was working on a pedagogical book (with Pitt faculty member Dennis Looney) on Italian science from Dante to Fermi, based on a unique interdisciplinary Pitt honors course that they had co-taught. He also was well along toward completing another collection of his essays, entitled "Reality and Rationality."

Salmon's career was distinguished by the high professional offices he held, the fellowships in learned societies to which he was elected, and by an array of other academic recognitions. They include the presidencies of the American Philosophical Association (Pacific Division, 1977-78), the Philosophy of Science Association (1971-72), the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (1998-1999), and its Division of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science (1996-99). He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Salmon's contributions were recognized by two Festschrift books in his honor: the inaugural volume of the series "Australasian Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science," entitled "What? Where? When? Why?, Essays on Induction, Space and Time, Explanation" (1982, edited by Robert McLaughlin), followed by "Probability and Causality: Essays in Honor of Wesley Salmon" (1988, edited by James Fetzer).

Besides earning a Humboldt Foundation Award for 1995-1996, he had received a Ford Foundation Faculty Fellowship (1953-54), a Creative Teaching Award from the University of Arizona (1977), and a University of Pittsburgh President's Distinguished Research Award (1990), in addition to a number of Research Grants from the National Science Foundation.

His service to the profession was marked by membership of national and international committees, and of the editorial boards of a number of journals. Furthermore, he served on several major committees at Pitt.

Besides his wife Merrilee Salmon, he is survived by a daughter, Victoria (Tori) Gardner of Bloomington, Indiana; a stepdaughter, Charlotte Broome of Pittsburgh; a stepson, Bruce Ashby of Reston, Virginia, and five grandchildren.

Burial was private, and the family requests that no flowers be sent. A memorial fund for graduate education in the philosophy of science is being established in Salmon's memory. Contributions should be made payable to the University of Pittsburgh, specifying the Wesley C. Salmon Memorial Fund, and sent to 1017 Cathedral of Learning.

A memorial service will be announced at a later date.  

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