Edgar Zilsel

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Edgar Zilsel (born August 11, 1891 in Vienna , † March 11, 1944 in Oakland , California ) was an Austrian philosopher and sociologist .

As a representative of Marxist views, Edgar Zilsel had to forego a university career for political reasons. He was actively involved in popular education and from 1934 taught mathematics and physics in Vienna as a secondary school teacher.

As a philosopher, he combined Marxist views with the positivist direction of the Vienna Circle , to which he was close. He dealt with the social conditions of the development of modern science and with the connection between social and natural sciences.


Edgar Zilsel was the third and youngest child of the Jewish lawyer Dr. Jacob Zilsel. From 1902 to 1910 he was a student at the Franz-Joseph-Gymnasium in Vienna. From autumn 1910 to June 1915 he studied philosophy, mathematics and physics at the University of Vienna. On June 28, 1915 he received his doctorate in philosophy. The thesis topic was: "A philosophical attempt on the law of large numbers and its relatives". Zilsel then worked for a year as an actuary for a life insurance company, then he attended university again and on November 18, 1918, passed the teaching qualification test for the subjects of mathematics, physics and the natural sciences. After Austria was " annexed " to the German Reich in 1938, he was removed from school as a Jew and retired. In the same year he emigrated with his wife Ella Breuer (marriage: February 19, 1919) and his son Paul (born May 6, 1923) via England to the USA. There he researched and worked in great external hardship as a private scholar until his suicide in 1944.


In his theory, known as Zilsel's thesis , he tried to explain the emergence of modern science. Zilsel dedicated several essays to this topic, which were published in 1976 by Wolfgang Krohn in the anthology The social origins of modern science .

Publications (selection)

  • The genius religion. A critical attempt at the modern personality ideal with a historical justification , edited and introduced by Johann Dvořak, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1990
  • The social origins of modern science , edited by Wolfgang Krohn, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1976
  • The application problem . Leipzig: Barth, 1916
  • The origin of the concept of genius. A contribution to the history of ideas in antiquity and early capitalism . Tübingen: Mohr, 1926
  • with George D. Santillana : The Development of Rationalism and Empiricism (= International Encyclopedia of Unified Science , Volume 2, No. 8). University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1941; 6th edition, 1967.
  • Physics and the problem of historico-sociological laws (1941). Philosophy of Science, 8, pp. 567-579
  • Science and worldview. Articles 1929–1933 Edited by Karl Acham, Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 1998

Secondary literature

  • Johann Dvořak (1981): Edgar Zilsel and the unity of knowledge. Vienna (Löcker Verlag)

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johann Dvořak: On the life and work of Edgar Zilsel and on the sociology of the genius cult. In: The genius religion. A critical attempt at the modern personality ideal with a historical justification. Edited and introduced by Johann Dvořak, Frankfurt am Main, 1990, p. 7.