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Ernest Nagel (November 16, 1901 – September 20, 1985) was an important Czech philosopher of science.

Nagel was born in Nové Mesto nad Váhom (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). His mother, Frida Weiss was from the nearby town of Vrbove (or Verbo). Both of these towns are in present day Slovakia. He emigrated to the United States at the age of 10 with his family. He received a BSc from the City College of New York in 1923, and earned his PhD from Columbia University in 1930. Except for one year (1966-1967) at Rockefeller University, he spent his entire academic career at Columbia, becoming a University Professor in 1967.

His 1961 masterpiece, The Structure of Science, practically inaugurated the field of analytic philosophy of science. He was the first to propose that by positing analytic equivalencies (or "bridge laws") between the terms of different sciences, one could eliminate all ontological commitments except those required by the most basic science. Along with Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach, and Carl Hempel, he is one of the major figures of the logical positivist movement.

Nagel wrote An Introduction to Logic and the Scientific Method with Morris Raphael Cohen, his CCNY teacher in 1934. In 1958, he published with James R. Newman Gödel's proof, a short book explicating Gödel's incompleteness theorems to those not well trained in mathematical logic. He edited the Journal of Philosophy (1939–1956) and the Journal of Symbolic Logic (1940-1946).

He is survived by his sons, Alexander Nagel and Sidney Nagel, and his granddaughters, Katherine and Rebecca Nagel. Alexander is a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Sidney is a professor of physics at the University of Chicago.

Books

  • Principles of the Theory of Probability,
  • The Logic of Measurement,
  • An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method (with M. R. Cohen, 1934),
  • Sovereign Reason (1954),
  • Logic without Metaphysics (1957),
  • Gödel’s Proof (with J. R. Newman, 1958),
  • The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation (1961),
  • Observation and Theory in Science (with others, 1971).
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