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Julia Franke-Reddig
September 27-28, 2023 O Kant, wer rettet dich vor den Kantianern? – Zu Hans Reichenbachs Kommentar über Schlick, Kant und Ilse (Rostenthal-)Schneider, at the Moritz Schlick Research Center, University of Rostock
October 2-6, 2023 How to Save Kant from Einstein – On the Works of Ilse (Rosenthal-)Schneider, at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo, Brazil
October 11, 2023 Axiomatic Thinking – A Philosophy of Science at the Beginning of the 20th Century, at the Universidade Estudual de Campinas
Rudolf Meer
June 6-7, 2023 On Ilse Schneider’s Space-Time Problem and the Influence of Alois Riehl at the Workshop “Frauen in der Relativitätstheorie und Quantenphysik", Department Mathematik, Universität Siegen, Emmy Noether Campus University of Siegen
Andrea Reichenberger
November 17, 2021 Kant und die moderne Physik: zur Aktualität von Ilse Schneider und Grete Hermann at the Centre for History of Science, University of Graz
Dezember 19, 2017 Zwei Perspektiven auf Einsteins Relativitätstheorie: Luise Lange und Ilse Rosenthal-Schneider, at the Center for the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists, University of Paderborn



Women in 20th century history of physics:

A different perspective on relativity and quanta


On June 6-7 2023, our research group hosted an international workshop on the topic of women at the intersection of philosophy and the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics in. The goal of the event was to draw attention to the need for a thorough reevaluation, based on historical documents, of women contributions to research in physics. This evaluation goes beyond a mere reconstruction of biographies; not only does it investigate the societal and political obstacles for women in the history of physics, but also the various interactions of scientific research practice and theorizing, and the general social and political conditions.

The workshop began with two talks on Ilse Rosenthal-Schneider (1881-1990) by Rudolf Meer (Graz) and Daniela Helbig (Sydney). Ilse Rosenthal-Schneider completed her PhD in philosophy in 1920 at the University of Berlin under the direction of the physicists Max von Laue and the philosopher Alois Riehl. Albert Einstein supported her work in conversations and discussions. The dissertation was published the following year under the title The Space-Time-Problem in Kant and Einstein with Springer as the publisher. In 1938, Ilse Rosenthal-Schneider emigrated with her husband and daughter from national socialist Germany via London to Australia and taught at the University of Sidney until 1961. Despite letters of reference by Albert Einstein, Max von Laue, and Max Planck, she never obtained an appointment at Sidney beyond that of an instructor.

While the first talk focused on Rosenthal-Schneider’s philosophical interpretation of Einsteinian theory of relativity from 1920/21 and its context in the debate at the time, Daniela Helbig presented Rosenthal-Schneider’s work in the philosophy of science in post-war Australia. Helbig used the metaphor of the door in her presentation, a variegated symbolism that exemplifies problems of emigration, integration, and in- and exclusion of female academics in post-war Australia.

Alex Seuthe (Dortmund) spoke about the theory of symbols in Susanne Langer (1895-1985), who received her PhD under Alfred North Whitehead in the 1920s at Harvard University. Seuthe compared Langer’s theory of symbols with that of Ernst Cassirer, including his interpretation of quantum mechanics. Philipp Berghofer’s talk placed Paulette Destouches-Févriers’ (1914-2013) contributions to a logical-structuralist foundation of quantum mechanics in the wider context of historical and contemporary debates about phenomenological approaches to quantum mechanics. Destouches-Février is one of many underrecognized French female philosophers of science, logicians, and physicists in the 20th century, who made influential contributions to intuitionist logic, quantum logic, and structuralism in the philosophy of physics.

The workshop ended with Jens Salomon’s talk about Freda Friedman Salzmann (1927-1981) and the Chew-Low Salzman method. Freda Salzmann, who had studied particle physics under Geoffrey Chew, the founder of “bootstrap-theory”, was a feminist and a member of Science for the People, an organization that had emerged from anti-war culture in the late 1960s in the United States. She was also an opponent of sociobiology and Freudian psychoanalysis. Bootstrap-theory is a remarkable example from the history of science for the close connection of political and social ideas and attitudes, and the development of theories as a heuristic analogy. The theory was used to explain hadron-resonances and the strong mutual effect (Wechselwirkung), when the suspicion arose that hadrons may not be fundamental after all. The solution Geoffrey Chew suggested consisted in the S-Matrix-theory and the concept of “nuclear democracy” (“all hadrons are equally fundamental”). Jens Salomon’s talk placed Frede Friedman Salzman work in physics for the first time in the context of this debate, and of her contributions to a feminist philosophy of science.

The workshop ended with a round table discussion about the treatment of the rich material on women scientists’ contributions to research in physics and its philosophical interpretation, which can be found in archives around the world. In this context, Andrea Reichenberger presented documents from the correspondence between Ilse Rosenthal-Schneider and Albert Einstein and Julia Franke Redding illustrated the connections of Ilse Schneider to Moritz Schlick, Hans Reichenbach, and Ernst Cassirer. Finally, the challenges and perspectives for a digital history of these documents, both in terms of methodology and content, were discussed.


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