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Cohen and Helmholtz on the foundations of measurement

Francesca Biagioli

pp. 77-100

It is well known that Hermann Cohen was one of the first philosophers who engaged in the debate about non-Euclidean geometries and the concept of space. His relation to Hermann von Helmholtz, who played a major role in the same debate, is an illuminating example of how some of the leading ideas of Marburg neo-Kantianism, although motivated independently of scientific debates, naturally led to the examination of scientific works and scientists' epistemological views. This paper deals with Cohen's view of magnitudes and measurement and with his – less known – review of Helmholtz's paper "Zählen und Messen, erkenntnistheoretisch betrachtet" (1887), which contains one of the first attempts to formulate a theory of measurement in the modern sense. The first part provides a brief introduction to this debate in its connection with the earlier discussion on geometrical axioms and the concept of space. The main sections deal with Helmholtz's and Cohen's approaches to the foundations of measurement. Cohen's criticism of some of Helmholtz's assumptions notwithstanding, my emphasis is on some unexpected affinities between these two approaches. In the concluding section, I rely on the constructive side of Cohen's criticisms to reconsider the philosophical aspects of Helmholtz's theory and draw a few comparisons with contemporary measurement theory.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-58023-4_4

Full citation:

Biagioli, F. (2018)., Cohen and Helmholtz on the foundations of measurement, in C. Damböck (ed.), Philosophie und Wissenschaft bei Hermann Cohen/Philosophy and Science in Hermann Cohen, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 77-100.

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