He was born in Durant OK. His father, Dabney W. Sneed, was a civil servant with the Postal Service and later an architect for the Federal Housing Administration. His mother, Sallabelle Atkison Sneed, was a homemaker and elementary school teacher 
He attended public schools in Durant OK and Tulsa OK. He received a BS in physics from Rice University in 1960, an MS in physics from the University of Illinois in 1962 and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford University in 1964. His mentor at Stanford was Patrick Suppes. His view of the nature of philosophy was shaped at Stanford by Donald Davidson. At Stanford he was also a student of Richard C. Jeffrey. 
With his book The Logical Structure of Mathematical Physics, published in 1971, and other contributions to the philosophy of science Sneed founded the structural theory of the empirical sciences. He was influenced by and influenced Wolfgang Stegmuller and Thomas Kuhn.
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