Bridgman, Percy William

Bridgman, Percy William


Born Apr. 21, 1882, in Cambridge, Mass.; died Aug. 20, 1961, in Randolph, N. H. American physicist and philosopher. Professor of mathematics and philosophy of science at Harvard University from 1919 to 1954.

Bridgman received the Nobel Prize in 1946 for developing methods of obtaining high pressures, investigating the properties of various elements and their compounds under pressures up to tens and hundreds of thousands of atmospheres, and discovering new modifications that exist only under very high pressures—for instance, a variant of ice called black phosphorus. An important place in Bridgman’s work is occupied by problems of methodology in the natural sciences, particularly by the meaning (significance) of natural science concepts, the existence of objects to which these concepts relate, and the “interrelations” between concepts and experiments. In this connection his most important studies were made on the methodology of measurements. In 1920 he gave a systematic exposition of dimensional analysis (the method of determining the relationship among physical quantities from their dimensionality).

The philosophical attitude that Bridgman used in solving these problems was formulated under the influence of John Dewey’s instrumentalism, of critical investigations in the field of the foundations of mathematics which began with mathematical intuitionism, and especially of the methodological principles of A. Einstein’s theory of relativity. According to Bridgman, the most important methodological result of this theory was the indication of a relation between the meaning of the concept and the set of actions (operations) that lead to the application (or to the formation) of the concept in each individual case. This relation expresses what he has called an operationally determined concept when he advanced the thesis that the determination of any scientific concept must be solely operational. This thesis served as the basis of what is, on the whole, his idealistic program for the operational design of a scientific language.


The Logic of Modern Physics. New York, 1927.
The Intelligent Individual and Society. New York, 1938.
The Nature of Some of our Physical Concepts. New York, 1952.
Reflections of a Physicist, 2nd ed. New York, 1955.
The Way Things Are. Cambridge, 1959.
In Russian translation:
Analiz razmernostei. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934.
Fizika vysokikh davlenii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1935.
Noveishie raboty v oblasti vysokikh davlenii. Moscow, 1948.
Issledovaniia bol’shikh plasticheskikh deformatsii i razryvov.… Moscow, 1955.