Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Kathleen Okruhlik


Philipp Frank––physicist, philosopher, and early member of the Vienna Circle––is often neglected in retrospective accounts of twentieth century philosophy of science, despite renewed interest in the work of the Vienna Circle. In this thesis, I argue that this neglect is unwarranted. Appealing to a variety of philosophical and historical sources, I trace the development of Frank’s philosophical thought and, in so doing highlight the roles played by history, sociology, values, and pragmatism in his philosophy of science. Turning to contemporary literature, I then argue that Frank’s work should be understood as an early instance of what is now called “socially engaged philosophy of science.” This understanding is explored through a careful consideration of his work on education, where previous work on history, sociology, values, and pragmatism is applied to an important, real-world problem. This socially engaged reading of Frank extends beyond pragmatic issues of theory application, because as I show, Frank used sociology to argue for the meaningfulness of metaphysical claims. However, Frank’s account of meaning may seem to be problematic since it heavily relies on Percy Bridgman’s operationalism. So, I outline the problems associated with Bridgman’s account of operationalism and show that Frank’s view does not fall prey to the same criticisms. After these objections are addressed, Frank’s work is contextualized in the broader debate about value-free science, where I argue that Frank did not endorse the value-free ideal. As a result of these findings, we will not only have a clearer picture of Frank’s philosophical contributions, but also a better understanding of how the philosophy of science can better engage important social issues.