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Date: November 12, 1997
Philosopher of Science Carl G. Hempel Dies
PRINCETON, N.J. Carl G. Hempel, a philosopher of science who refined and defended the approach known as logical positivism or logical empiricism, died Sunday, November 9, of pneumonia at the Windrows at Forrestal care facility. He was 92 and a resident of Princeton Township. He was the last survivor of the logical positivists who emigrated from Germany and Austria to this country around the time of World War II.
Born January 8, 1905, in Oranienburg, Germany, Hempel (known as "Peter" since his school days), studied mathematics, physics and philosophy at the universities of G ttingen, Heidelberg, Vienna, and Berlin. He earned the Ph.D. in 1934 for work on probability under Hans Reichenbach, one of the founders of logical empiricism. Like Reichenbach, Hempel then fled Nazi Germany.
After three years of private research and writing in Brussels, Dr. Hempel took a position as a research associate in philosophy at the University of Chicago in 1937. He subsequently taught philosophy at the City College of New York, Queens College in Flushing, NY, and Yale University before joining the faculty at Princeton in 1955. He held the Stuart Professorship of Philosophy at Princeton until he transferred to emeritus status in 1973. He became University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh in 1977 and finally retired to Princeton in 1985.
Professor Hempel was a beloved teacher at Princeton. Generations of undergraduates and doctoral students were treated to a lively introduction to the rigors of logic and the philosophy of science. His contributions to the latter subject, the most widely known of which lay in the areas of scientific explanation and of the confirmation of hypotheses, shaped the discussion in the latter half of the 20th century.
Together with Paul Oppenheim, Hempel developed a logically precise theory known as the Deductive-Nomological (or Covering-Law) Model of explanation (1948), which saw scientific laws and theories as systematizing otherwise unwieldy bodies of particular empirical claims. To deal with probabilistic explanation, Hempel later articulated an Inductive-Statistical Model (1962). He also developed models of historical and functional explanation (in the biological and social sciences), as well as of historical explanation. These models shaped all subsequent work on scientific explanation.
2 Carl G. Hempel
In the 1940s, Professor Hempel also sought to describe the conditions under which particular reports of observation may be said to confirm general hypothesis. His famous Ravens
Paradox exemplifies the logical challenge: Since the hypothesis (1) "All ravens are black" can be reformulated equivalently as (2) "All non-black things are non-ravens," the report of non-black non-ravens (e.g., white shoes) would seem to confirm (1) just as would the report of black ravens. Professor Hempel then proposed a quantitative method for determining the degree of confirmation of any given hypothesis by particular statements of evidence (1945).
Professor Hempel also sought to contribute to the debate among logical empiricists concerning how to demarcate the empirically testable statements of science from the statements of traditional metaphysics and religion, which did not seem subject to such test. His inquiry into what made a particular statement testable led him to conclude, contrary to accepted doctrine, that no precise line of demarcation exists between the verifiable and the unverifiable. This conclusion had the further consequence that there could be no precise distinction between observational and theoretical language in science.
While Professor Hempel remained a logical empiricist throughout his career, he was substantially influenced by a colleague at Princeton, the historian of science Thomas Kuhn, who urged that the formalist perspective of logical empiricism be replaced by a pragmatic view of the history, sociology and psychology of science.
Some of Professor Hempel's most influential scholarly writings are accessible in his book, Aspects of Scientific Explanation and Other Essays in the Philosophy of Science (1965). His textbook, Philosophy of Natural Science (1966), was translated and republished in 10 languages.
Professor Hempel held Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships and served as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and as an honorary research fellow in philosophy at the University College, London. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Acad mie Internationale de Philosophie des Sciences, a member of the American Philosophical Society, and a corresponding fellow of the British Academy. He was presented with honorary degrees by Washington University (1975), Northwestern University (1975), Princeton (1979), Carleton College (1981), the University of Berlin (1984), the University of St. Andrews (1986), Goethe University (1987), the University of Pittsburgh (1989), the University of Bologna (1989), and the University of Konstanz (1991).
Professor Hempels first wife, Eva Ahrends Hempel, died in 1944. He is survived by his second wife, Diane Perlow Hempel, who served for several years as associate editor of the magazine University: A Princeton Quarterly ; a son, Peter Andrew Hempel; a daughter, Toby Anne Hempel, administrator of the Universitys Center for Jewish Life; and two granddaughters, Hadley and Holly Hempel, all of Princeton.
Cremation services will be private. A University memorial service will be scheduled at a later date. Memorial contributions may be made to a charity of ones choice.