Mach, Ernst

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Mach, Ernst

Ernst Mach (ĕrnst mäkh), 1838–1916, Austrian physicist and philosopher, b. Moravia. He taught (1864–67) mathematics at Graz and later, until his retirement in 1901, was professor of physics at Prague and Vienna. Mach, one of the leaders of modern positivism, did his major work in the philosophy of science. Following strictly empirical principles, he strove to rid science of all metaphysical and religious assumptions. He felt science should confine itself to the description of phenomena that could be perceived by the senses. This view challenged science's traditional claim of yielding absolute knowledge and was greatly influential in the development of logical positivism. Mach also did research in the field of ballistics; the Mach number is named for him. His works include Die Mechanik in ihrer Entwicklung (1883; tr. The Science of Mechanics, 1893); Die Analyse der Empfindungen (1886); Erkenntnis und Irrtum [perception and error] (1905).

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