Women in Philosophy of Modern Physics

The research project Women in Philosophy of Modern Physics will investigate, and make available to other scholars, women’s contributions to the practice and theory of physics within (i) the theory of relativity and (ii) quantum mechanics. In the standard historiography of these subjects, women's contributions have been largely marginalized and ignored, which process has itself accelerated their disappearance, because past consensus on what counted as key works determines the present availability of digital sources. While gender and women’s studies have analyzed the interplay of sociocultural, individual, political, and institutional reasons that drove this exclusion in detail, much of the literature still concerns with women’s barriers, their non-linear career paths and the many forms and faces of their discrimination (e.g., how race, ethnicity, class, nationality etc. intersect). But so far critical text analyses of the contents and philosophical interpretations of women’s work on the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics are still missing (apart from some exceptions). Further, we know relatively little whether and how, e.g. male-dominated practices in science and styles of thinking influenced philosophical issues concerning, for example, realism, the nature of objects, and the idea of what a scientific theory can look like. Our core case studies include (i) Grete Hermann (1901–1984), Ilse (Rosenthal-)Schneider (1891–1990) and Luise Lange (1891–1978) .

(i) Grete Hermann helped shape modern quantum physics. Recently, Hermann’s critique of John von Neumann’s “no hidden variables” proof has received increased attention (Dieks 2016; Mermin/Schack 2018; Herrmann 2019; Crull/Bacciagaluppi 2016 et al.). My research focus on Grete Hermann will extend and deepen contemporary studies by a fresh look on her Neo-Kantian reading of both the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics against the background of her correspondence with Paul Bernays.

Further reading:

  • 2021 “Grete Hermann zu Raum und Zeit in der Relativitätstheorie und Quantenmechanik.” In: K. Herrmann und B. Schwitzer, Hgg.: Kantisches Denken in der Tradition von Jakob Friedrich Fries und Leonard Nelson im 20. Jahrhundert: Wirkungen und Aktualität. Stuttgart: Springer-Verlag GmbH J.B. Metzler.
  • (review) 2020 Crull, Elise, Bacciagaluppi, Guido (eds.): Grete Hermann - Between Physics and Philosophy; Kay, Hermann (ed.): Grete Henry-Hermann: Philosophie – Mathematik – Quantenmechanik. Mathematical Intelligencer 42, 8082.

(ii) Ilse Schneider (1891–1990): At the beginning of the 1920s great interest in Einstein’s theory of relativity flared up in broad circles. Amidst this “Relativitätsrummel,” as it was called by Arnold Sommerfeld, Ilse (Rosenthal-)Schneider published Das Raum-Zeit-Problem bei Kant und Einstein in 1921. Schneider argued that Einstein’s theory of relativity did not refute Kant, although it was only Einstein who recognized and formulated the dependence of space-time metric with the gravitational field in the language of tensor analysis. The aim of my research is to rediscover and re-evaluate Schneider’s Kantian interpretation of Einstein’s theory.

(iii) In her articles on the clock paradox and the relativity of time Luise Lange (1891–1978) defends the theory of relativity against philosophical refutations, by
showing that the apparent clock paradox is not a paradox, but merely conflicts with common sense and is based on a misunderstanding of the theory. The following
study explores, contextualizes and analyzes Lange’s clear and sophisticated contribution to the debate on the clock paradox for the first time.

Further reading:

  • 2018 “The Clock Paradox: Luise Lange’s Discussion.” In: A. Christian, D. Hommen, N. Retzlaff and G. Schurz, eds.: Philosophy of Science. Between the Natural Science, the Social Sciences, and the Humanities. Cham: Springer, 55–61.

Further works written by German speaking female philosophers on that subject:

  • Ewald, Helene Luise 1923: Die Bewährung des Cohen’schen Ursprungurteils in der modernen Geometrie und Relativitätstheorie. Diss. Univ. Hamburg.
  • Geiringer, Hilda 1918: Die nichteuklidischen Geometrien und das Raumproblem. Die Naturwissenschaften 44, 635 –641, 653–658.
  • Holling, Anna (Schwester Maria Nicetia) 1930. "Die Frage nach der Existenz der Nichteuklidischen Geometrie und ihre Beantwortung in den Schriften der beiden Bolyai." Philos. Jahrbuch der Görresgesellschaft.
  • Köhler, Eva 1913. Absolute und relative Bewegung. Diss. Univ. Göttingen.
  • Paderstein, Elisabeth Henriette 1918. Die Bedeutung der nichteuklidischen Geometrie für die Grundlehren der Mechanik und ihre Entwicklung. Diss. Univ. Halle.
  • Schelte verh. Schwarck, Helene Wilhelmine Julia 1920. Analytische Begründung der nichteuklidischen Geometrie. Diss. Univ. Münster.