Bachelor of Fine Arts, Cornell University, 1949. Doctor of Philosophy, Cornell University, 1951.
Instructor philosophy University Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1952-1953. From instructor to assistant professor Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1953-1959. From assistant professor to associate professor University Pennsylvania, 1959-1963.
Professor University Wisconsin, 1964-1968, University Illinois, Chicago, 1968-1970. Kenan professor University North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1970-1988, professor emeritus, from 1988. Chairman board directors Chapel Hill Center Linguistic Research.
Consultant in field.
Educated in the Wittgensteinian milieu of Cornell in the late 1940s and deeply influenced by interactions with J. L. Austin in Harvard and Oxford in the mid-1950s, Ziff was one of the early American practitioners of British-style analytic philosophy. However, unlike most British philosophers of that period. Ziff viewed science as important and relevant in addressing philosophical problems His Semantic Analysis (1960) was a rigorous attempt to develop an empirical program for semantics, and involved bringing together the linguistic philosophy of Austin with the linguistics of Harris and Chomsky.
The first draft of Epistemic Analysis (1984) was composed in the early 1960s and. although much revised, it bears the mark of his attempt to bring the methods of Semantic Analysis to bear on problems of knowledge. During the late 1950s and 1960s he published a series of influential papers exploring the relations between mind and behaviour. His 1965 Journal of Philosophy paper, ‘The simplicity of other minds', is an early statement of an ‘inference to the best explanation" approach to the problem ofother minds.
During the late 1960s and 1970s Ziff increasingly turned his attention away from semantics towards questions about the pragmatics of language use. Some of this work is included in Understanding Understanding (1972). Ziff trained as a painter before studying philosophy, and has been a practising artist throughout his career. His dissertation was on Collingwood's aesthetic theory, and his work in aesthetics has been characterized by close attention both to works of art and to acts of aesthetic appreciation.
Some of his early work in aesthetics is collected in Philosophical Turnings (1966) but his most ambitious contribution is Antiaesthetics (1984). There are unified themes in Ziff’s work, but he was more of a problemoriented than a systematic philosopher. For that reason, as well as others, he has few followers.
His most important contribution was his role in the development of analytic philosophy in America, particularly his bringing together the methods of J. L. Austin with the scientific concerns of American analytic philosophy. His contributions to aesthetics during a period in which, this field was considered marginal by many philosophers will be remembered, and he will also be viewed as a forerunner in the development of serious concern with the pragmatics of language use.
Married Loredana Vanzetto. 3 children.