Hans Reichenbach (physicist)

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Hans Reichenbach

Hans Reichenbach (born September 26, 1891 in Hamburg , † April 9, 1953 in Los Angeles , California ) was a German physicist , philosopher and logician .


Reichenbach was the son of the businessman Bruno Reichenbach and his wife, the educator Selma Menzel. His brothers were the journalist and KAPD activist Bernhard Reichenbach (1888–1975) and the musicologist Hermann Reichenbach (1898–1958).

In 1910/11 Reichenbach studied civil engineering at the Technical University of Stuttgart , which he soon broke off and moved to Berlin to study mathematics, physics and philosophy. He later switched to the universities of Göttingen and Munich with the same subjects ; his professors there were Max Planck , Max Born , Ernst Cassirer , David Hilbert and Arnold Sommerfeld .

1915 Reichenbach was at the University of Erlangen with his work "The concept of probability of the mathematical representation of reality" by the mathematician Max Noether and the philosopher Paul Hensel doctorate . In the following year, Reichenbach passed his state examination in mathematics and physics and then served as a soldier in the First World War .

In the winter of 1917/18 he was able to continue his studies in Berlin. During this time he met Albert Einstein . With his support, Reichenbach was able to complete his habilitation at the Technical University of Stuttgart in 1920 and was also given a teaching position there as a private lecturer . His seminars ranged from the history of philosophy to radio technology , relativity and philosophy of science .

Even before the war in the youth movement, he was very active in socialist student policy from 1918, partly together with Karl August Wittfogel . Reichenbach wrote the program for the socialist student party in Berlin . At Einstein's suggestion, Reichenbach was appointed associate professor for the philosophy of physics at the University of Berlin in 1926. Reichenbach founded in 1930 a. a. together with Rudolf Carnap the journal Knowledge , the organ of logical positivism.

Reichenbach was among the first faculty which quasi with the seizure of power of the Nazis were dismissed in 1933 by the University. He went to Turkey ( Haymatloz ) and received a professorship there at the University of Istanbul . There he was entrusted with the restructuring and renewal of philosophy classes. In 1938 he went to the USA and taught at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) until his death . In 1948 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences .

An example of Reichenbach's problems in Nazi Germany is a letter from Felix Meiners to Rudolf Carnap, the co-editor of the journal Knowledge , dated July 14, 1937. a. reports that “Professor Reichenbach's remaining in the editorship of the 'Knowledge' was described as intolerable, not only because he is a non-Aryan, but mainly because in the post-war period he made political statements in speeches and brochures that he supported make today's state impossible. "


Reichenbach initially dealt mainly with Einstein's theory of relativity and became one of its most important defenders against objections from different sides as well as one of the best-known critics of popular, often uninformed representations of both theories of relativity.

While initially following a slightly modified Kantianism, in the mid-1920s he developed the program of logical empiricism (also known as logical positivism ) with increasing determination and became one of the main representatives of this in Germany.

After he took over the editing of the journal Annalen der Philosophie under the new title Knowledge , together with Rudolf Carnap , in 1930 Reichenbach summarized the scientific-analytical program that he carried out and largely worked out by him in the formula, “Philosophy not as an isolated science, but in the closest connection with the to drive individual disciplines ”. This distinguishes Reichenbach's approach from the approach cultivated in the Vienna Circle : While the Vienna Circle wanted to reconstruct science formally and logically, for Reichenbach the philosophical approach to science led exclusively to the consideration of scientific disciplines such as psychology and sociology, which science itself could address. Reichenbach cultivated the corresponding interdisciplinary cooperation within the framework of the Berlin group, which of course was also closely connected to the Vienna Circle.

In the 1930s and subsequent years Reichenbach worked on problems of probability logic . For the logical description of quantum mechanics, Reichenbach constructed a three-valued logic ( quantum logic ) with the truth values ​​true, false and indefinite, which has three types of negation (exclusive, diametrical and complete negation) and three types of implication (standard implication, alternative implication, quasi-implication).

In his book Experience and Prediction, Reichenbach uses probabilistic considerations in an innovative, still debated way to clarify the epistemological problem of why we should prefer the assumption of the existence of an outside world independent of our consciousness to solipsism . To this end, Reichenbach organizes the thought experiment of his “Cube World” (also called “Reichenbach's Cube” in the Anglo-Saxon discussion): According to this, all of humanity lives in a gigantic, opaque and impenetrable cube, on the inner surface of which only the shadows of birds flying past are silhouetted. These shadows are systematically distorted so that they can be seen twice at different points on the surface. The inhabitants of the cube initially assume that there is no external reality behind these shadows until a genius among them, whom Reichenbach calls "Copernicus", observes the parallelism between the respective pairs of shadows. "Copernicus" can prove that a coincidental similarity between any two shadows is much less likely than the existence of a common external cause and that the existence of a world outside the cube is therefore very likely. Finally, Reichenbach transfers the result of this thought experiment to the human situation: Even if the cube occupants could pierce the walls of the cube, they would still be in a comparable position, since they asked themselves whether their experiences were only in their consciousness existed or were caused by an independent outside world. Here, too, the above-mentioned probabilistic consideration would then speak for the latter.

The Reichenbach tense system

Time axis past, E, RS, where E stands for the time allocation when the event takes place
Timeline present, E, R, S, where R stands for the time to which one refers, e.g. B. yesterday, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow
Timeline future, SE, R

Hans Reichenbach (1947) created a terminology for understanding the verbal sequence of tenses, the deictic and narrative tense functions. His tense system is a system of time relations that is valid for all individual languages. Time, he understands, as a dense sequence of infinite points in time without gaps. A time interval has a start and an end point, whereas a time moment does not have this property. The tenses are defined as relations between time intervals. In his view, the time information of a linguistic statement results from three interacting and relationally linked time conditions. The tenses are described by means of two relations between the three reference points mentioned below. Speaking time S and event time E fix the point in time of an utterance or the verbalized event and thus form extra-linguistic variables. For the internal linguistic reference point, however, the reference time R is decisive.

For the correct characterization of the various tense forms, Reichenbach assumes at least three time parameters. So he needs the relation between the speaking time S (which describes the moment of speaking, also speaking time or origio, utterance time, utterance time, speech act, S point of speech ) and the reference point R (which is referred to in a sentence, also viewing time, reference time , Reference point, R point of reference ) and that between the event time E (which represents the interval, also event time or situation time, E point of event ) and the reference point R (which means the interval). In the approach he originally formulated , however, only temporal relationships between these three reference points could be described. Further developments of his theory were then also able to explain complicated descriptions of past tenses, such as that of the imperfect tense . While S and R overlap in the time relation of the present, R completely precedes the S in the time relation of the past . The time relation of the future tense is described by the fact that the speaking time S precedes the reference time R. Between the intervals E and R there is the relation of prematurity ( E is before R ), simultaneity ( E and R are equal) and post-temporality ( R is before E ).

Rainer Bäuerle , among others, further developed his original model .

The tenses are deictic , they can only be understood and interpreted if the speaking time S is known or if the concrete utterance situation is known. The speaking time S is a moment in time, it relates to the moment of speaking.

Considering the tense forms, when is present the talk time point identical to the event time point E , while simple past the event time is E before the talk time point S and at Futur the event time is E after opening timing S . The event time E of a statement is the time interval in which the expressed state applies or the verbalized action or event takes place.

At the time relation of the present tense, the talk time of overlap S and the reference point R , in the past, the reference point is R the talk time point S prepaid in full and in time relation of the future tense talk time goes south to the reference time R ahead. The reference time R in a statement is understood as a time interval different from the speaking time S in order to localize the event or the action on the time axis. It is the interval that is referred to in a sentence and that is characterized by e.g. B. a temporal adverb is introduced.


Through his work in the Berlin group and the UCLA Philosophical Institute, Reichenbach had a significant influence on the development of logical empiricism in Germany and of post-war analytical philosophy in the United States. Reichenbach's numerous students included Carl Hempel , Hilary Putnam and Wesley Salmon . In Berlin and Los Angeles, Reichenbach was a popular professor who worked closely with students and supervised numerous dissertations.


In 1948 Reichenbach was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences .

Works (selection)


  • Reply to H. Dingler's criticism of the theory of relativity. In: Physikalische Zeitschrift , Volume 22, 1921, pp. 379-384.
  • Report on an axiomatic of Einstein's theory of space-time. In: Physikalische Zeitschrift , Volume 22, 1921, pp. 683-686.
  • The current state of the discussion of relativity. In: Logos , Volume X, 1922, No. 3, pp. 316-378.
  • The theory of movement in Newton, Leibniz and Huyghens. In: Kant studies , Volume 29, 1924, pp. 416-438.
  • The causal structure of the world and the difference between the past and the future. In: Meeting reports of the Bavarian Academy of Science , November 1925, pp. 133–175.
  • Continuous probability sequences. In: Zeitschrift für Physik , Volume 53, 1929, No. 3-4, pp. 274-307.
  • Goals and ways of physical knowledge. In: Handbuch der Physik , Hans Geiger, Karl Scheel (editor), Volume IV, Julius Springer, Berlin 1929, pp. 1-80.
  • The philosophical meaning of modern physics. In: Knowledge 1, 1930, pp. 49-71.
  • To the problem of clarity in geometry. In: Knowledge 2, 1931, pp. 61–72.
  • Kant and science. Die Naturwissenschaften , Volume 21, 1933, Numbers 33-34, pp. 601-606.
  • The logical foundations of the concept of probability. In: Knowledge 3, 1933, pp. 401-425.
  • Probability Logic as a Form of Scientific Thought. In: Actes du Congrès international de philosophie scientifique 4, 1935, pp. 24-30.
  • Reply to Ernest Nagel's Criticism of My Views on Quantum Mechanics. In: Journal of Philosophy 43, 1946, pp. 239-247.
  • Rationalism and Empiricism: An Inquiry into the Roots of Philosophical Error. In: The Philosophical Review 57, 1948, pp. 330-346.
  • The Philosophical Significance of the Theory of Relativity. In: PA Schilpp (Ed.): Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist , La Salle (Ill.): The Library of Living Philosophers Inc. , 1949, pp. 287-311.
  • A Conversation between Bertrand Russell and David Hume. In: The Journal of Philosophy 46, 1949, pp. 545-549.
  • Are Phenomenal Reports Absolutely Certain? In: The Philosophical Review 61, 1952, pp. 147-159.


  • The concept of probability for the mathematical representation of reality. In: Journal for Philosophy and Philosophical Criticism , 1916, No. 161, 210–239; No. 162, 9-112, 223-253. At the same time PhD Erlangen 1915.
  • Relativity theory and knowledge a priori. Springer, Berlin 1920.
  • Axiomatics of the relativistic space-time theory. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig 1924.
  • From Copernicus to Einstein. The change in our worldview. Ullstein, Berlin 1927.
  • Philosophy of space-time teaching. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, Leipzig 1928.
  • Atom and cosmos. The physical worldview of the present. German Book Community, Berlin 1930.
  • Goals and ways of today's natural philosophy. Felix Meiner, Leipzig 1931 (reprint: Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 2011 (Philosophical Library; 621), ISBN 978-3-7873-2144-5 , 160 pages).
  • Probability theory. An investigation into the logical and mathematical foundations of probability. Sijthoff, Leiden 1935.
  • Experience and Prediction. An Analysis of the Foundations and the Structure of Knowledge , University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1938.
  • Philosophic Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. University of California Press, Berkeley 1944.
  • Elements of Symbolic Logic. Macmillan Co., New York 1947.
  • Philosophy and Physics. Faculty research lectures (1946), University of California Press, Berkeley 1948.
  • The Rise of Scientific Philosophy. University of California Press, Berkeley 1951.
  • Nomological Statements and Admissible Operations. North-Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam 1954.
  • The direction of time. H. Reichenbach, editor. University of California Press, Berkeley 1956.

Collections of articles

  • Defending Einstein. Hans Reichenbach's Writings on Space, Time and Motion ; edited by Steven Gimbel. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2006 [contains English translations of, among other things, smaller essays by Reichenbach that were written in the course of the controversy over the theory of relativity and are otherwise difficult to grasp today]
  • Goals and ways of today's natural philosophy. Five essays on the philosophy of science ; edited by Nikolay Milkov. Meiner, Hamburg 2011 [contains, among other things, the goals and paths of today's natural philosophy and the philosophical significance of modern physics ]

Work edition

  • Collected works: in 9 volumes ; edited by Andreas Kamlah and Maria Reichenbach, Wiesbaden: Vieweg
    • 1977 Vol. 1: The Rise of Scientific Philosophy
    • 1977 Vol. 2: Philosophy of space-time teaching
    • 1979 Vol. 3: The philosophical meaning of the theory of relativity
    • 1983 Vol. 4: Experience and prognosis: an analysis of the fundamentals and structure of knowledge
    • 1989 Vol. 5: Philosophical foundations of quantum mechanics and probability
    • 1999 Vol. 6: Basic features of symbolic logic
    • 1994 Vol. 7: Theory of Probability: an investigation into the logical and mathematical foundations of the calculation of probability
    • Volume 8 announced by the publisher: Causality and time calculation
  • Maria Reichenbach & Robert S. Cohen (eds.): Vienna Circle Collection, Vol. 4, Hans Reichenbach: Selected Writings, 1909 - 1953 , Dordrecht: Reidel, 1978.


  • Modern Philosophy of Science: Selected Essays by Hans Reichenbach. M. Reichenbach (editor, translator). Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1959.
  • Selected Writings, 1909-1953. With a Selection of Biographical and Autobiographical Sketches , 2 volumes, Vienna circle collection, D. Reidel, Dordrecht, Boston 1978.
  • 1979 Hans Reichenbach, Logical Empiricist , Synthesis library, Dordrecht; Boston: D. Reidel Pub.
  • 1981 Dieter Zittlau: The philosophy of Hans Reichenbach , Munich: Minerva 1981
  • 1991 Knowledge oriented: a centennial volume for Rudolf Carnap and Hans Reichenbach , Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers
  • 1991 Logic, language, and the structure of scientific theories: proceedings of the Carnap-Reichenbach centennial , University of Konstanz, 21.-24. May 1991, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press - Konstanz: Universitasverlag Konstanz
  • Knowledge , 1930 and 1940 ( knowledge - on behalf of the Society for Empirical Philosophy, Berlin and the Ernst Mach Association, Vienna ), ed. v. R. Carnap / H. Reichenbach, 1939–40 as The Journal of unified science (knowledge) , eds. O. Neurath, R. Carnap, Charles Morris at University of Chicago Press.
  • L. Danneberg / A. Kamlah / L. Schäfer (eds.): Hans Reichenbach and the Berlin group. Vieweg & Sohn publishing company, Braunschweig; Wiesbaden 1994.
  • Hannelore Bernhardt : Richard von Mises in his time in Berlin. In: Hans Reichenbach and the Berlin group, pp. 101–112. Vieweg & Sohn publishing company, Braunschweig; Wiesbaden 1994.
  • Stefan Büttner:  Reichenbach, Hans Friedrich Herbert Günther. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 21, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-428-11202-4 , p. 304 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Utz Maas : Persecution and emigration of German-speaking linguists 1933-1945. Entry on Hans Reichenbach (accessed: April 15, 2018)
  • Reichenbach, Hans Friedrich , in: Joseph Walk (ed.): Short biographies on the history of the Jews 1918–1945 . Munich: Saur, 1988, ISBN 3-598-10477-4 , p. 307
  • Reichenbach, Hans , in: Werner Röder; Herbert A. Strauss (Ed.): International Biographical Dictionary of Central European Emigrés 1933-1945 . Volume 2.2. Munich: Saur, 1983 ISBN 3-598-10089-2 , p. 951
  • Reichenbach, Hans , in: Salomon Wininger : Great Jewish National Biography . Volume 7. Chernivtsi, 1935, p. 394f.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Rainer Hegselmann, Geo Siegwart: On the history of 'knowledge' (PDF) in: Knowledge 35 (1991), 461–471
  2. Introduction , in: Rudolf Carnap / Hans Reichenbach (ed.): Knowledge 1, Leipzig 1930–31, at the same time “Annalen der Philosophie”, Vol. 9
  3. ^ Elliott Sober: Reichenbach's cubical universe and the problem of the external world. In: Synthesis. 181, 2011, pp. 3-21, doi: 10.1007 / s11229-009-9593-x .
  4. ^ Hans Reichenbach: Elements of Symbolic Logic. Macmillan Co., New York 1947.
  5. ^ Hans Reichenbach: Elements of Symbolic Logic. Macmillan Co., New York 1947.
  6. Martin Becker: The Ingredients of the Roman Imperfect ( Memento of the Original from January 13, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF.) In: Günther Grewendorf, Arnim von Stechow (Ed.): Linguistic reports. Issue 221. Helmut Buske, Hamburg 2010, ISSN 0024-3930 , pp. 79-108. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / uk-online.uni-koeln.de 
  7. Temporal and modal meaning. In Johannes Dölling: Semantics and Pragmatics. Institute for Linguistics, University of Leipzig (PDF)
  8. Natascha Pomino: Spanish Verbal Flexion: A Minimalist Analysis in the context of Distributed Morphology. Vol. 523 Linguistic Works. Walter de Gruyter, 2008, ISBN 3-484-97056-1 , p. 31 f.
  9. see also Deixis
  10. ^ Rainer Bäuerle: Temporale Deixis, temporal question, on the propositional content of declarative and interrogative sentences. Results and methods of modern linguistics 5, Narr, Tübingen 1979, ISBN 3-87808-305-X
  11. Sebastian Löbner: Approaches to an integral semantic theory of tense, aspect and types of action. (PDF) In: Veronika Ehrich, Heinz Vater, Heinz (Eds.): Temporalsemantik. Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen 1988, pp. 163-191
  12. ^ Björn Rothstein: Tempus. Winter, Heidelberg 2007, ISBN 978-3-8253-5310-0
  13. ^ Saul Traiger: The Hans Reichenbach Correspondence. An Overview in: Philosophy Research Archives. X, (1984) pp. 501-511.
  14. ^ Members of the American Academy. Listed by election year, 1900-1949 . (PDF) accessed on October 11, 2015