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Nelson Goodman Remembered
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Nelson Goodman Remembered

Catherine Elgin

It was summer in the early ’80s. Nelson Goodman and I were working on Reconceptions. As always, Nelson adamantly insisted that what he was working on was to be given the highest priority. All other matters were to be shelved until his project, whatever it happened to be, was done. He spent his summers in a cottage in Rockport, Massachusetts, but arranged to meet me in Cambridge to confer about the book. When I arrived, I found a message. Owing to an emergency, he would not be in. Naturally, I was alarmed. He was, after all, an old man. Was he sick? Was he injured?

When I telephoned him in Rockport, he seemed surprisingly unruffled. Evidently my view of what qualifies as an emergency and his diverged considerably. He told me that a robin had built her nest and laid her eggs in an apple tree outside his window. This, he remarked in an aside, enabled him to realize the objective, first bruited in Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, of doing ornithology without going out in the rain. That morning the eggs had hatched. This all sounded rather pleasant in a bucolic sort of way, but what, I demanded, was the emergency? “Cats have been sighted,” he replied. That said it all. He stayed at his cottage and patrolled the perimeter until the nestlings flew away. Then he returned to work, insisting as adamantly as ever that all other matters had to be shelved until our project was done.

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