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The son of a weaver, Feigl was born in Reichenberg (Liberec), Bohemia, and matriculated at the University of Vienna in 1922. He studied physics and philosophy under Moritz Schlick, the founder of the Vienna Circle, and received his doctorate in 1927 for the essay "Chance and Law: An Epistemological Analysis of the Roles of Probability and Induction in the Natural Sciences." He published his first book, Theory and Experience in Physics, in 1929. He became an active member in the Vienna Circle during this time: he was one of the few Circle members (along with Schlick and Friedrich Waismann) to have extensive conversations with Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper.
In 1930, on an International Rockefeller Scholarship at Harvard University, Feigl met the physicist Percy Williams Bridgman, the philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine, and the psychologist Stanley Smith Stevens, all of whom he saw as kindred spirits. In a 1931 paper with Albert Blumberg, "Logical Positivism: A New European Movement," he argued for logical positivism to be re-named "logical empiricism" based upon certain realist differences between contemporary philosophy of science and the older positivist movement.
In 1931, Feigl married Maria Kaspar and emigrated with her to the United States, settling in Iowa to take up a position in the philosophy department at the University of Iowa. His son, Eric Otto, was born in 1933. In 1940, he accepted a position as professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota, where he remained for 31 years. His close professional and personal relationship with Wilfrid Sellars produced many different collaborative projects, including the textbook Readings in Philosophical Analysis and the journal Philosophical Studies, which he and Sellars founded in 1949. In 1953, with a grant from the Hill Foundation, he established the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science. He was appointed Regents Professor of the University of Minnesota in 1967.
He believed that empiricism is the only adequate philosophy for experimental science. Though he became a philosopher instead of a chemist, he never lost the perspective, and the scientific commonsense, of a practical scientist. He was, in the paradigmatic sense, a philosopher of science. Feigl retired in 1971 and died of cancer on June 1, 1988 in Minneapolis.
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