March 2, 1886|
|Main interests||Philosophy of science, Logic|
Life and work
Shortly after his arrival in 1905 at University of Göttingen, Grelling began a collaboration with philosopher Leonard Nelson, with whom he tried to solve Russell's paradox, which had shaken the foundations of mathematics when it was announced in 1903. Their 1908 paper included new paradoxes, including a semantic paradox that was named the Grelling–Nelson paradox.
He received his doctorate in mathematics from the same university in 1910 with a dissertation on the development of arithmetics in axiomatic set theory, advised by David Hilbert. In a recorded interview with Herbert Enderton, Alfred Tarski mentions a meeting he had with Grelling in 1938, and says that Grelling was the author of the earliest textbook in set theory, probably but wrongly referring to this dissertation, since William Henry Young and Grace Chisholm Young's Set Theory was published in 1906.
As a skilled linguist, Grelling translated philosophical works from French, Italian and English to German, including four of Bertrand Russell's works. He became a strong proponent of Russell's writings thereafter.
From 1911 to 1922 Grelling published exclusively journalistic articles in publications connected with the Social Democratic Party of Germany, but from 1924 onwards his publications were exclusively in the field of positivist philosophy.
Unable to find a university position in Göttingen or Berlin, Grelling had to teach mathematics, philosophy and physics in secondary schools. Nevertheless, he worked with Hans Reichenbach in planning the meetings of the Berlin Circle, which was closely associated with the Vienna Circle. In 1933, Reichenbach emigrated to Turkey and the Nazis forced Grelling to retire. But he struggled to keep the Berlin Circle active by organizing small seminars and colloquia.
Grelling collaborated with Kurt Gödel and in 1936 he published an article in which he defended Gödel's incompleteness theorem against an erroneous interpretation, according to which Gödel's theorem is a paradox as Russell's paradox (see References).
Although many of his relatives and friends had fled Germany, he did not think seriously about leaving until 1937, in which year he went to Brussels to work with Paul Oppenheim, this time writing several papers on the analysis of scientific explanation and on Gestalt psychology.
On May 10, 1940, the first day of the German invasion in Belgium, Grelling was arrested. He was deported to southern France, where he was interned for over two years under the Vichy regime. Oppenheim and Hempel tried to help Grelling by securing an appointment for him at the New School for Social Research in New York City. News of the position and a visa to the USA reached the camp where Grelling had been joined by his wife Greta, who had refused to divorce him for safety reasons. But U.S. immigration officials were perplexed by Grelling's alleged propensity towards Communism, so there was a delay that was fatal to Grelling. He and his wife are supposed to have been shipped to Auschwitz, arriving there on September 18, 1942 and perishing in the gas chambers that day or soon thereafter, although it has been also reported that Grelling was killed in 1941 at the border between France and Spain.
- Gibt es eine Gödelsche Antinomie?. In: Theoria, 3, 1936.
- C. G. Hempel, Autobiografia intellettuale in Oltre il positivismo logico. Armando: Rome, 1988. (Text of an interview Hempel gave to Richard Noland in 1982, published for the first time in Italian translation in 1988).
- Kurt Grelling: Steadfast scholar in a time of madness
- Query at the Electronic Research Archive for Mathematics
- Kurt Grelling at the Mathematics Genealogy Project