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Ernst Mach

(1838—1916) Austrian physicist and philosopher of science


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(1838–1916)

Austrian physicist and philosopher. Born in Turas, Mach studied at Vienna, and held chairs in mathematics at Graz, physics at Prague, and then history and theory of inductive science at Vienna. He is widely regarded as the major precursor of logical positivism. His philosophy is usually interpreted as radically empiricist: the mind knows only its own sensations, and theory is nothing but an instrument for predicting how they will occur. It was as a kind of subjective idealism that it was attacked by Lenin, and ironically the belief that the theory of relativity was inspired by Mach impeded its acceptance in the Soviet Union. But Mach's empiricism is allied with a new insistence on the importance of a logical analysis of the structure of scientific theory. Probably the most important work in which this combination is developed is Die Mechanik in ihrer Entwicklung historisch-kritisch dargestellt (1883, trs. as The Science of Mechanics, 1893). Mach's principal other treatise was the Beiträge zur Analyse der Empfindungen (1906, trs. as The Analysis of Sensations, 1914). Einstein paid him this tribute: ‘I can say with certainty that the study of Mach and Hume has been directly and indirectly a great help in my work…’ (obituary, Physikalische Zeitschrift, 1916).

http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/articles/mach/mach.html An essay on Mach's philosophy

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1908/mec/ A translation of Lenin's critique

Subjects: Science and Mathematics — Philosophy.


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