Hans Reichenbach
Born(1891-09-26)September 26, 1891
DiedApril 9, 1953(1953-04-09) (aged 61)
EducationUniversity of Berlin
University of Göttingen
University of Munich
University of Erlangen (PhD, 1916)
Technische Hochschule Stuttgart (Dr. phil. hab., 1920)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Berlin Circle
Logical empiricism
InstitutionsUniversity of Berlin
Istanbul University
Doctoral advisorsPaul Hensel, Max Noether (PhD thesis advisors)
Other academic advisorsMax Born, Ernst Cassirer, David Hilbert, Max Planck, Arnold Sommerfeld, Albert Einstein
Doctoral studentsCarl Gustav Hempel, Hilary Putnam, Wesley Salmon
Main interests
Philosophy of science
Notable ideas

Hans Reichenbach (September 26, 1891 – April 9, 1953) was a leading philosopher of science, educator, and proponent of logical empiricism. He was influential in the areas of science, education, and of logical empiricism. He founded the Gesellschaft für empirische Philosophie (Society for Empirical Philosophy) in Berlin in 1928, also known as the "Berlin Circle". Carl Gustav Hempel, Richard von Mises, David Hilbert and Kurt Grelling all became members of the Berlin Circle.

In 1930, Reichenbach and Rudolf Carnap became editors of the journal Erkenntnis. He also made lasting contributions to the study of empiricism based on a theory of probability; the logic and the philosophy of mathematics; space, time, and relativity theory; analysis of probabilistic reasoning; and quantum mechanics.[4] In 1951, he authored The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, his most popular book.[5][6]

Early life

Hans was the second son of a Jewish merchant, Bruno Reichenbach, who had converted to Protestantism. He married Selma Menzel, a school mistress, who came from a long line of Protestant professionals which went back to the Reformation.[7] His elder brother Bernard played a significant role in the left communist movement. His younger brother, Herman was a music educator.

After completing secondary school in Hamburg, Hans Reichenbach studied civil engineering at the Hochschule für Technik Stuttgart, and physics, mathematics and philosophy at various universities, including Berlin, Erlangen, Göttingen and Munich. Among his teachers were Ernst Cassirer, David Hilbert, Max Planck, Max Born and Arnold Sommerfeld.

Political activism

Reichenbach was active in youth movements and student organizations. He joined the Freistudentenschaft in 1910.[8] He attended the founding conference of the Freideutsche Jugend umbrella group at Hoher Meissner in 1913. He published articles about the university reform, the freedom of research, and against anti-Semitic infiltrations in student organizations. His older brother Bernard shared in this activism and went on to become a member of the Communist Workers' Party of Germany, representing this organisation on the Executive Committee of the Communist International. Hans wrote the Platform of the Socialist Student Party, Berlin which was published in 1918.[9] The party had remained clandestine until the November Revolution when it was formally founded with him as chairman. He also worked with Karl Wittfogel, Alexander Schwab and his other brother Herman at this time.[10] In 1919 his text Student und Sozialismus: mit einem Anhang: Programm der Sozialistischen Studentenpartei was published by Hermann Schüller, an activist with the League for Proletarian Culture. However following his attending lectures by Albert Einstein in 1919, he stopped participating in political groups.[11]

Academic career

Reichenbach received a degree in philosophy from the University of Erlangen in 1915 and his PhD dissertation on the theory of probability, titled Der Begriff der Wahrscheinlichkeit für die mathematische Darstellung der Wirklichkeit (The Concept of Probability for the Mathematical Representation of Reality) and supervised by Paul Hensel and Max Noether, was published in 1916. Reichenbach served during World War I on the Russian front, in the German army radio troops. In 1917 he was removed from active duty, due to an illness, and returned in Berlin. While working as a physicist and engineer, Reichenbach attended Albert Einstein's lectures on the theory of relativity in Berlin from 1917 to 1920.

In 1920 Reichenbach began teaching at the Technische Hochschule Stuttgart as Privatdozent. In the same year, he published his first book (which was accepted as his habilitation in physics at the Technische Hochschule Stuttgart) on the philosophical implications of the theory of relativity, The Theory of Relativity and A Priori Knowledge (Relativitätstheorie und Erkenntnis Apriori), which criticized the Kantian notion of synthetic a priori. He subsequently published Axiomatization of the Theory of Relativity (1924), From Copernicus to Einstein (1927) and The Philosophy of Space and Time (1928), the last stating the logical positivist view on the theory of relativity.

In 1926, with the help of Albert Einstein, Max Planck and Max von Laue, Reichenbach became assistant professor in the physics department of the University of Berlin. He gained notice for his methods of teaching, as he was easily approached and his courses were open to discussion and debate. This was highly unusual at the time, although the practice is nowadays a common one.

In 1928, Reichenbach founded the so-called "Berlin Circle" (German: Die Gesellschaft für empirische Philosophie; English: Society for Empirical Philosophy). Among its members were Carl Gustav Hempel, Richard von Mises, David Hilbert and Kurt Grelling. The Vienna Circle manifesto lists 30 of Reichenbach's publications in a bibliography of closely related authors. In 1930 he and Rudolf Carnap began editing the journal Erkenntnis.

When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Reichenbach was immediately dismissed from his appointment at the University of Berlin under the government's so called "Race Laws" due to his Jewish ancestry. Reichenbach himself did not practise Judaism, and his mother was a German Protestant, but he nevertheless suffered problems. He thereupon emigrated to Turkey, where he headed the department of philosophy at Istanbul University. He introduced interdisciplinary seminars and courses on scientific subjects, and in 1935 he published The Theory of Probability.

In 1938, with the help of Charles W. Morris, Reichenbach moved to the United States to take up a professorship at the University of California, Los Angeles in its Philosophy Department. Reichenbach helped establish UCLA as a leading philosophy department in the United States in the post-war period. Carl Hempel, Hilary Putnam, and Wesley Salmon were perhaps his most prominent students. During his time there, he published several of his most notable books, including Philosophic Foundations of Quantum Mechanics in 1944, Elements of Symbolic Logic in 1947, and The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (his most popular book) in 1951.[5][6]

Reichenbach died unexpectedly of a heart attack on April 9, 1953. He was living in Los Angeles at the time, and had been working on problems in the philosophy of time and on the nature of scientific laws. As part of this he proposed a three part model of time in language, involving speech time, event time and — critically — reference time, which has been used by linguists since for describing tenses.[12] This work resulted in two books published posthumously: The Direction of Time and Nomological Statements and Admissible Operations.


Hans Reichenbach manuscripts, photographs, lectures, correspondence, drawings and other related materials are maintained by the Archives of Scientific Philosophy, Special Collections, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh.[4] Much of the content has been digitized. Some more notable content includes:

Selected publications

See also


  1. ^ a b "Hans Reichenbach". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Nov 1, 2016 [first published August 24, 2008]. ISSN 1095-5054.
  2. ^ Michael Friedman, Dynamics of Reason: The 1999 Kant Lectures at Stanford University (CSLI/University of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 32.
  3. ^ a b Nikolay Milkov, "The Berlin Group and the Vienna Circle: Affinities and Divergences", in: N. Milkov & V. Peckhaus (eds.), The Berlin Group and the Philosophy of Logical Empiricism. Springer, pp. 3–32. esp. pp. 13–14 (2013).
  4. ^ a b "Guide to the Hans Reichenbach Papers, 1884-1972 ASP.1973.01". ULS Archives & Special Collections. University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  5. ^ a b Salmon, W. C. (2012). Hans Reichenbach: Logical Empiricist. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 721. ISBN 978-94-009-9404-1.
  6. ^ a b MacTutor History of Mathematics archive
  7. ^ Salmon, W. C. (2012). Hans Reichenbach: Logical Empiricist. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 3. ISBN 978-94-009-9404-1.
  8. ^ Milkov, Nikolay; Peckhaus, Volker (2013). The Berlin Group and the Philosophy of Logical Empiricism. Heidelberg: Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-94-007-5485-0.
  9. ^ Reichenbach, Hans (1978). "Report of the Socialist Student Party, Berlin". Hans Reichenbach Selected Writings 1909–1953: 181–185. doi:10.1007/978-94-009-9761-5_10. ISBN 978-90-277-0292-0.
  10. ^ "Wittfogel, Karl August". www.bundesstiftung-aufarbeitung.de. Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  11. ^ Mcadam, Roger Michael. "Hans Reichenbach: philosopher-engineer" (PDF). Durham e-Theses. Durham University. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  12. ^ Derczynski, L; Gaizauskas, R (2013). "Empirical Validation of Reichenbach's Tense Framework". Proceedings of the International Conference on Computational Semantics. Archived from the original on 2016-10-27. Retrieved 2013-03-14.
  13. ^ "Philipp Frank Correspondence" (PDF). Archives of Scientific Philosophy, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  14. ^ "Philosophy Congress" (PDF). Archives of Scientific Philosophy, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  15. ^ "Responses to Questionnaire" (PDF). Archives of Scientific Philosophy, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  16. ^ "Weyl's Extension of the Riemannian Concept of Space and the Geometrical Interpretation of Electricity" (PDF). Archives of Scientific Philosophy, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2015-12-01.