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Hans Reichenbach (1891–1953) and the Philosophy of Science

By rudycl
  • Who is Hans Reichenbach?

    Born in 1891 in Germany, Hans Reichenbach would come to be described as the "greatest empiricist of the 20th century" (2). He would work with eminent names such as Albert Einstein, C.G. Hempel, Erwin Schroedinger, and go on to found the Berlin Circle which associated with the Vienna Circle (1). He survived WWI and WWII, emigrating to first Turkey and then the US. His overall contribution was to the development of the philosophy of science as a cross-disciplinary study and as a logical positivist
  • Doctoral Thesis

    The Concept of Probability in the Mathematical Representation of Reality was Reichenbach's thesis and during which he was drafted during WWI (1). It represented the focus of his studies during his life, especially probability and causality, something he would revisit again and again (1). It "present[ed] an argument to supplement Reichenbach's understanding of Kant's principle of causality" (1).
  • Einstein's Impact

    Reichenbach's staunch approach to science can be linked, in part, to Einstein's theory of relativity (1). He maintained a lifetime friendship with Einstein during this time and publicly defended Einstein's work. Seeing Einstein's predictions confirmed was an important moment to the world, but especially to Reichenbach and his view of science and its methodology (1).
  • "The Theory of Relativity and A Priori Knowledge"

    Strongly impacted by the results of Einstein's work in 1919, especially by its "dramatic experimental confirmations", this work of Reichenbach' was about positivism, issues of epistemology, and Kantism, arguing against demonstrative a priorism (5). However, Reichenbach is known for the tumultuous development of his views and stances in philosophy, and this is reflected in later works (1).
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    Professorship at Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart

    After studying and creating many important connections with other scholars of his time in Germany, Reichenbach began instruction in physics before assuming a position as an associate professor at the Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart (1). He would continue to develop contacts here, and also to write.
  • "Axiomatization of the Theory of Relativity"

    One of three books which focuses on the foundations of physics, it focuses on the issue of axioms (a statement regarded as self-evidently true) and their abstraction from the theory they support, and addresses the theories of general relativity and special relativity along with their relationship (1). However it is viewed as a reiteration of works from another without reference.
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    Position at the University of Berlin

    Reichenbach moved from his professorship to a teaching position at the University of Berlin where much of his impactful work in Germany occurred. He helped organize "discussion groups on scientific philosophy", which evolved into the Berlin Circle. He would also begin publication of the Journal "Erkenntnis" (1).
  • "The Philosophy of Space and Time"

    "An engaging unification of a multitude of ideas Reichenbach had previously published", posturing a variety of ideas in terms of causal relations which he had described in previous works (1). It also restated, with necessary revisions, his previous work "Axiomatization of the Theory of Relativity" (1).
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    Berlin Circle

    A group of scholars focusing on "Empirical Philosophy" founded by Reichenbach and dispersed during the rise of Nazism as members were forced to flee or were killed. Carl Gustav Hempel, Richard von Mises, David Hilbert and Kurt Grelling were all members and the group itself was closely associated with the Vienna Circle. It came to an end in 1933 as Hitler came to power.
  • "Causality and Probability"

    A reprisal of his doctoral thesis, with the substitution of "principle of induction" for the "principle of probability" (1).
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    Alongside Carnap, Reichenbach founded the periodical "Erkenntnis" to be "a forum for the new scientific philosophy". Focused on "philosophical inquiry" in concerns of the procedures and results of scientific efforts, it assumed that philosophy, like science (and assuming here as well), could "attain the status of objective knowledge" (3). Reichenbach presented in it his examinations on probability and causality, while having many well-known names publishing their own works (3).
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    Professorship at the University of Istanbul, Turkey

    After fleeing Germany Reichenbach went to Turkey where he was made the head of the philosophy department at the University of Istanbul. He introduced "interdisciplinary seminars and lecture courses on scientific topics" (1). It was also during this time that he published "Theory of Probability; a Study of the Logical and Mathematical Foundations of Probability Theory" (1).
  • "The Theory of Probability"

    A continuation of his views and ideas on probability (1). It was poorly received by others, in particular Karl Popper, and was overshadowed by works in the same subject by others (1). He would revise it in 1949, addressing works by others and posing his own argument (1).
  • Immigration to America

    Reichenbach's immigration to America was important to American philosophy as the then reigning "pragmatism, idealism, and naturalism" were replaced with "analytic philosophy" and "logical positivism" (4), the focus of his studies and ideas he promulgated. Reichenbach was of course joined, though not at the same time, by the many other academic immigrants, displaced by the war, such as Carnap, Einstein, Hempel and many more.
  • "Experience and Prediction"

    This book displayed Reichenbach's maturation, and a shift in his views and ideas. It moves away from the idea of given knowledge and toward the idea that "knowledge, belief, and conjecture is built around ... conceptions of meaning, probability and convention" (1). This was similar to the viewpoints taken by Hempel and Carnap during this time (1).
  • "Philosophical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics"

    One of three books which focuses on the foundations of physics. It presents an explanation of quantum physics from the perspective of philosophy (6).
  • "The Rise of Scientific Philosophy"

    This was Reichenbach's last work, and his most popular one, and it "presented his broad philosophical viewpoint in an accessible way" (1). It addresses a priori knowledge in the context of metaphysics, epistemology and ethics (1).
  • Death

    Reichenbach passed away prematurely from a heart attack leaving several works unfinished.
  • "Direction of Time"

    Published after his death with help from his wife, it is one of three works which focused on the foundations of physics (1). It has had a last effect, as even now others in discussion of causality use ideas that Reichenbach presented in this work (1). It "offers three accounts of the direction of time" (1).
  • Summary

    "If error is corrected whenever it is recognized, the path of error is the path of truth." -Reichenbach (attributed) (1). A staunch empiricist, and a man who helped facilitate many other great names in science and philosophy, Reichenbach was influential, and his work, though not as famous as his contemporaries, still poses thought today, especially in statistics.