Hans Reichenbach

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Hans Reichenbach (1891-1953) was a leading philosopher of science, a founder of the Berlin Circle, and a proponent of logical positivism (also known as neopositivism, or logical empiricism).

Career

Reichenbach studied physics, mathematics, and philosophy at Berlin, Erlangen, Gottingen, and Munich universities during the first decade of the 20th century. Among equally prominent philosophers, Reichenbach studied with physicists Max Planck, Max Born, and Albert Einstein. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University at Erlangen in 1915 and his dissertation on the theory of probability was published in 1916. He attended Einstein's Berlin lectures on the theory of relativity between 1917 and 1920. It was then that Reichenbach chose the theory of relativity as the subject for his own philosophical research. He became a professor at Stuttgart Polytechnic in 1920.

In exile from the Nazi regime in Turkey, Reichenbach became chairman of the Department of Philosophy at the University at Istanbul. He modernized the philosophy curriculum by introducing interdisciplinary seminars and courses on scientific subjects. Of his major books, The Theory of Probability was published in 1935 and his Experience and Prediction was published in 1938. In 1938 he took a professorship in philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he introduced European notions of logical positivism. Hans Reichenbach is widely recognized as a major 20th century contributor to philosophy. His lifetime contributions to knowledge have been well documented as has his life story if but in part. Archival literature does recognize that he has had to leave his university post in Germany due to Nazi racism. What has been left unsaid is how this valuable intellectual was saved, his trials and tribulations in coming to America, and the difficulty in finding a job within a climate of pervasive anti-Semitism.

While many of the émigrés did interdisciplinary work, perhaps the most diversified generalist was Hans Reichenbach, the founding member of the Berlin Circle. Was he a philosopher? Yes. Mathematician? Yes. Physicist? Yes. Probabilist? Yes. Logician? Yes. And more!

Reichenbach was born on September 26 1891 in Hamburg, Germany, and became a leading philosopher of science, a founder of the Berlin Circle, and a proponent of logical positivism (also known as neopositivism, or logical empiricism). He studied physics, mathematics, and philosophy at Berlin, Erlangen, Gottingen, and Munich during the first decade of the 20th century. Among equally prominent philosophers, Reichenbach studied with Nobel laureate physicists Max Planck, Max Born, and Albert Einstein. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University at Erlangen in 1915 and his dissertation on the theory of probability was published in 1916. He attended Einstein's Berlin lectures on the theory of relativity between 1917 and 1920. It was then that Reichenbach chose the theory of relativity as the subject for his own philosophical research. He became a professor at Stuttgart Polytechnic in 1920.

In Turkey, Reichenbach was given the chairmanship of the Department of Philosophy at the University at Istanbul. While there, hechanged the philosophy curriculum by introducing interdisciplinary seminars and courses on scientific subjects. Significantly, The Theory of Probability was published in 1935 and his Experience and Prediction was published in 1938, the very same year that he moved to the United States. Obviously the stay in Turkey did not inversely impact his productivity or his creativity. Neither did the Turkish sojourn impact Reichenbach’s long-standing working relationship with Albert Einstein. The following letter from Einstein to Reichenbach, circa 1926, demonstrates the mutual respect of that relationship. Einstein begins his letter, writing, “You are totally right, it is wrong to believe that geometrizing is something significant…. ” The letter ends with “If there is anything else I can do, please write.” Their warm interaction on matters both scientific and personal continued until Reichenbach’s premature death in 1953. Einstein outlived him by two years.

A handwritten note from Albert Einstein to Hans Reichenbach April 8 1926

Having accomplished his mandate in Turkey and because Turkey was officially neutral years later he came to these shores and enriched all of our lives, directly or indirectly. Reichenbach was invited to UCLA. In 1938 UCLA was first beginning to emerge from the shadows of its big sister, UC Berkeley. It needed superstar academicians to gain academic stature. It gained at least four via Turkey. One of them was Hans Reichenbach. His legacy has affected many of us in philosophy, mathematics, logic, and the physical sciences. His legacy will affect generations as yet unborn.


See also

Bibliography

  • Reisman, Arnold. “He Replaced Ottoman Theology with Modern Philosophy in Turkey: Hans Reichenbach in Exile from Nazi Rule 1933-1938.” Epistemologia: Italian Journal for the Philosophy of Science 30(1) (2007) June; pgs 77-100

Arnold Reisman TURKEY'S MODERNIZATION: Refugees from Nazism and Ataturk's Vision http://www.newacademia.com/turkeys_modernization/