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::: center home >> Adolf Grünbaum

The Center for Philosophy of Science was founded by Dr. Grünbaum in 1960. (See our 'Brief History' page for details.) He died on November 15, 2018. This page is our tribute to Dr. Grünbaum and a repository of the Center's work with him through the years.

Lecture presented by Prof. Bas van Fraassen at the Adolf Grünbaum Memorial, May 11, 2019.

Obituary by Dr. Sandra D. Mitchell, Pitt HPS Department Distinguished Professor

Inquiring Into Space-Time, the Human Mind, and Religion: The Life and Work of Adolf Grünbaum, 1923-2018. By Martin Carrier (Bielefeld University) and Gereon Wolters (University of Konstanz)

• Read The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's obituary here.

University Times "Remembering Adolf Grünbaum"

• In 2003, the Center hosted an 'Adolf Fest' conference celebrating Grünbaum's 80th birthday.

• Essays by former Center Director John D. Norton on talks given by Adolf in 2006 and 2007.

• May 11, 2019: A tribute talk will be given by Bas van Fraassen. Details forthcoming.

Remembering Adolf Grünbaum photo album (via Facebook)

If you would like to contribute a memory or photo of Dr. Grünbaum, please email to pittcntr@pitt.edu



I started at Pitt with the class of 1965, the first really large incoming class in Philosophy. (I remember that 7 of us got Wilson fellowships, and were promptly given Mellons, which may have been the first year that they were offered.)

My roommate, Bruce Gaines was a blindingly bright (and intense) student from Swarthmore. Patty Smith (Churchland) was also a member, and was then strongly interested in ordinary language philosophy, and showed no scientific inclinations whatsoever. Brian Skyrms had left the year before, but Bas van Fraasen was still there, as was Jay Rosenberg.

Bruce and I attended Adolf's class on Space and Time in the Cathedral at 9AM, along with Nancy Cartright, who was then a senior. It was of course formidable. Adolf was a ferocious critic of those whom he disagreed with professionally, and seemed fearsome to most students. Bruce and I walked in from our apartment across the Boulevard if the Allies, and seemed incapable, day after day, of arriving before the class had already started. As an academic offspring that was not unfamiliar to me, but I agreed when Bruce suggested that we needed to apologize to Adolf. We came up after class somewhat timorously, and after he heard our excuses, he smiled magnanimously and said "Don't feel bad—you just have a slowly rising body temperature curve." We were both astounded, but soon discovered that Adolf's personal mode of interaction (if you had a cold) was more like that of a friendly nurturing mother full of folk remedies than a professional lion.

Adolf later, on my suggestion, invited evolutionary biologist Dick Lewontin to be a Philosophy of Science speaker, and approved having him (with Pitt developmental biologist Stanley Shostak) as an outside reader on my dissertation. That led to a post-doc for me with Lewontin at Chicago, and my subsequent career there. Thank you Adolf, for your tolerance, your warmth, and your professional open-mindedness.

— Bill Wimsatt


When I was a graduate student, I wrote a very short paper about the status of the relative simultaneity relation in special relativity and pointed out what I took to be a difficulty with Adolf's widely studied claim that the relation is conventional, rather than factual, in character. (I'll pass over the substance of the matter. It is not essential for present purposes.) I did not convince Adolf with my argument. I know that from our subsequent discussions. But he did respond with great generosity. He invited me to Pittsburgh to present my paper in a public lecture and invited me to stay at his house while I was there. I will never forget how warm and welcoming Adolf and Thelma were -- despite the circumstances of my visit. Looking back on that time -- over forty years ago -- I can only hope that I have been half so generous when dealing with colleagues who have criticized my work. -- David Malament

I have learned with great sadness about the death of Adolf Grünbaum, the eminent philosopher and a brilliant person. I was a fellow of the Center in fall 1995 and had a lot of talks with him. I read his books and articles, and participated in his seminar.  (His books are published  in Russia.) The leading  Russian philosophical journal "Voprosi filosofii" ("Problems of Philosophy") has published  his articles, which have influenced many Russian philosophers. Russian specialists in the Philosophy of Science consider Adolf Grümbaum as their teacher. I am proud to have had friendly relations with him, and I will always remember this wonderful person.  -- Vladislav Lektorsky,  Professor, Member of the Russian Academy of sciences, Fellow of the Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

While a graduate student in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, I served as Adolf's research assistant for several years (2003-2005), and Adolf delivered his Leibniz Lectures at the University of Hannover during this time. The topic of his lectures (cosmology, physics, the existence of god) were far outside my areas of expertise, and Adolf surely knew this, but he still invited me to provide him with feedback on the material. I made some very minor comments about prose/structure and thought that was the end of it, but then he was invited to publish the lectures in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science under the title "The Poverty of Theistic Cosmology" (2004). The next time I met up with him, he said that he wanted to thank me for the input that I gave him in the acknowledgements for the article. Therein followed a 45 minute conversation about whether I went through his material with a "fine-tooth comb", a "fine-toothed comb" or a "finely toothed comb". "Fine-tooth comb" was the common term, but Adolf found it grammatically problematic. "Finely toothed comb" was most appropriate, but a bit of a mouthful. So we settled on "fine-toothed comb". When I heard of Adolf's passing, I immediately thought back to that 45 minute conversation about combs. It perfectly encapsulated him for me. He looked out for junior scholars and sought to treat them as equals. And he poured over every detail, no matter how trivial it may seem to someone else. I admired that. And I admired him. -- James Tabery

Adolf was not only a genius but also a good friend and counselor to me. He had a great impact on my intellectual development at a crucial turning point in the late 70s. Later, we took different paths in critiquing psychoanalysis, but always with mutual respect and affection. -- Frederick Crews

A towering figure. -- Jeremy Butterfield

Adolf was a longlife good friend of mine and I appreciated his brilliant mind and expertise in the philosophy of science very much. I remember with pleasure his visits in Vienna at the Institute Vienna Circle with excellent lectures and publications. -- Friedrich Stadler

In the spring of 1971, I took an undergraduate class in Philosophy of Science at Brooklyn College with Arnold Koslow. Given my interest in physics and mathematics, Arnold thought Zeno’s paradoxes would be a term paper topic that would interest me, and with that in mind he directed me to Adolf’s “Modern Science and Zeno’s Paradoxes” (1967). It was through Adolf’s book that I was introduced to some of the historical, philosophical and mathematical issues regarding the infinite and the continuous I have spent the bulk of my career writing and thinking about. During a visit to the University of Pittsburgh I had the opportunity to thank Adolf for the very real influence he has had on my intellectual development. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to reiterate that influence more publicly. -- Philip Ehrlich

Reading the loving obituary of Adolf Grünbaum penned by our chief, Sandy Mitchell, and then the blog about PSA 1968, I was much struck by the extent to which senior members of the philosophy of science community have so generously extended the hand of welcome to younger members of our group. Adolf and Nick Resher were, of course, famed for this – as were others, like Carl “Peter” Hempel. Jeff Bub writes of Herbert Feigl getting him to the conference, even if he had to drive overnight to get to Pittsburgh with Feigl sleeping at the back – at 78 my sympathies are entirely with Feigl – after all, what are grad students and post-docs for? In return, we teach them how to bbq chicken wings so that, when all fails, they will have some usable job skills. I likewise wrote of the warmth and help of Peter Achinstein.
As one who moved also into the history of science, I am much aware of the spontaneous generosity of our senior philosophers of science. In the history of science, I really had to fight my way in, in the face of suspicion and worries that someone else was moving into a field that was already bagged. Indeed, to this day, I get comments like – “Well, of course, Mike, you are a philosopher not a historian” – I should say that I take this with pride, for all that I have written several books that are unambiguously more historical than philosophical. I put much of this down to the fact that philosophers of science are firmly embedded in philosophy – think Aristotle, think Descartes, think Leibniz – whereas historians of science are not so embedded in history. Indeed, the main reason why they are hired is to teach those maxi-classes of humanities for science majors.
Whatever the reason, those philosophy of science leaders of 1968 showed the way, a way I believed is followed still today, as the juniors of yesterday now help the juniors of today. This is a good reason for rightful pride.
-- Michael Ruse

Many years ago when I was a student of Dr. Grünbaum's, it was a life-changing experience. I am, like so many others, deeply saddened that Dr. Grünbaum is no longer with us. The world is empty without him. We have a greater responsibility to carry on his legacy now. -- Suzan Divack Murphy

I met Adolf in the 70's at a conference on philosophy and psychoanalysis.in New York. He came up to me on our way to the subway at the end of the conference to discuss my paper in this open, direct way that I came to associate with Adolf. We exchanged contact information. I then received an invitation from Adolf to give a talk at the Center. After that presentation, I was invited to spend a year (I could only do six months} at the Center. It was a wonderful experience and cemented my friendship with Adolf. Following that, Adolf and I were in frequent contact, particularly during the period in which he was writing his Logical Foundations of Psychoanalysis book. Adolf and I remained in touch over these many years. I spoke to Adolf a few weeks before his death. Adolf enriched my life in many ways. He was a warm and loving friend. I will miss him. -- Morris Eagle

I knew Adolf Grünbaum at least from 1981, when after two years at Harvard as research visitor I came to the Center for Philosophy of Science and met him and the other colleagues, and also for two years 1998-2000, and we
became colleagues and friends. In the last years I have written a work on:
"On The Concepts of Space and Time: Looking for A New Picture of Physical Reality", which I intended to send to Adolf, but unfortunately I missed him.
In memoriam of Adolf Grünbaum, leading philosopher of physics, colleague and friend. -- Dan Nesher





The family requests that memorial donations in
Dr. Grünbuam's name be made to the following organizations:

::: Center for Inquiry
::: American Humanists Association
::: United States Holocaust Museum

Revised 12/19/19 - Copyright 2006-2011