He studied at the University of Vienna and was a member of the Vienna Circle. He earned his Doctor of Philosophy in mathematics at the University of Vienna in 1928.
In the United States, he was a professor of philosophy and psychology at the University of Iowa. In 1930-1931, he worked with Albert Einstein in Berlin. Unable as a Jew to find academic employment, Bergmann obtained a law degree from the University of Vienna in 1935, and practiced corporation law until he and his family fled to the United States in 1938.
Settling at the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 1939, Bergmann eventually became professor of both philosophy and psychology.
He died in Iowa City.
Bergmann was an ideal-language ontologist. He tried to construct a formalism which could support an analytic—synthetic distinction and into which natural-language statements could be translated. Bergmann was not a mere formalist: the formalism had to be interpreted, its signs anchored in extra-linguistic entities, and the anchoring had to accord with a principle of acquaintance. The ideal-language method, originating with Russell and Frege, was brilliantly used and celebrated by the early Wittgenstein. By the late 1930s it was under attack however, largely because Wittgenstein himself had come to spurn it. By the late 1940s. Bergmann was the leading proponent of the method, defending it. for example, against the attacks by ordinary-language philosophers, those who thought that the later Wittgenstein had made it safe again to do ontology on the basis of the grammar of ordinary language. Although trained in mathematics, a member of the Vienna Circle and a prominent apologist for behaviourist psychology, Bergmann never took science as a guide to ontology. He had, indeed, no patience for materialism: direct or immediate experience testified to the existence of the mental. The problem was to locate talk of the mental in the formalism such that the intentionality or aboutness of thoughts is reflected, consistent with an analytic—synthetic distinction. Bergmann also had no patience for nominalism. He attacked it frequently. In the early years of his career, his objections rested mainly on formal considerations. In later years, he became preoccupied with issues having to do with acquaintance. As a result, he began to worry about how words like universal and particular relate to extralinguistic entities. Suddenly he was rethinking the nature and limits of ontology. Bergmann’s last work, the posthumous New Foundations, shows him struggling to the end to design ‘the’ ideal language. The work is adventuresome. the formalism novel, but neither the mental nor universal are forsaken.