Ernst Topitsch

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Ernst Topitsch (born March 20, 1919 in Vienna ; † January 26, 2003 in Graz ) was an Austrian philosopher and sociologist.


From 1937 Ernst Topitsch studied classical philology , philosophy , history and sociology at the University of Vienna , among others with the Catholic philosopher Alois Dempf , the classical philosopher Heinrich Gomperz (1873-1942) and with the philosopher and scientific theorist Victor Kraft , the last member of the teaching staff in Vienna of the Vienna Circle . After the Second World War, in which Topitsch had participated as a soldier from 1939 to 1945 before he was taken prisoner of war, he received his doctorate in 1946 under Alois Dempf on "Man and History with Thucydides ". He inspired Ingeborg Bachmann to write her first dissertation topic "The Saint with Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, Nietzsche and Jacob Burkhardt". In 1951 he completed his habilitation and took up teaching at the University of Vienna. From 1953 to 1954 he was a research fellow at Harvard University. After returning from the USA, he was appointed associate professor in Vienna in 1956. During this time he maintained close contacts with the Polish scientist Stanislaw Ossowski (1897–1963), sociologist and professor in Lodz and Warsaw, and with the philosopher and historian Leszek Kolakowski (1927–2009). From 1962 to 1969 he taught as Professor of Sociology at the University of Heidelberg at the Chair of Sociology, then until his death as Professor of Philosophy at the Philosophical Institute of the University of Graz . He made significant scientific contributions to world view analysis, ideology criticism and social philosophy.

Ernst Topitsch died on January 26, 2003 in Graz.


The main concern of his scientific work can be found in his early writings: the ideology-critical worldview analysis on the basis of a scientific worldview (Vienna Circle). Topitsch ties in with the criticism of religion and ideology by Heinrich Gomperz and Hans Kelsen . In particular, Kelsen's method of proving logical contradictions, empty formulas and projections (example: criticism of natural law ) became a scientific model for him.

Basic scientific positions

Like Karl Popper and Hans Albert , Topitsch is wrongly assigned to neopositivism . He also uses his disillusionment and ideology criticism in an open feud against the so-called positivism critics of the Frankfurt School , against the “new” left and against representatives of phenomenology like Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer . Topitsch has always recognized and felt deeply connected to what the “Vienna Circle” owes. In 1960 he published the Festschrift for Victor Kraft and in 1975 he wrote the obituary for him in Ö1 . Topitsch was best known through detailed epistemological analyzes of a large number of religious, political and philosophical teachings of the past and present. His ontology and epistemology are particularly characterized by research into the phylogenetic foundations of human conceptions of the world and their emotional bases . He specifies their central empty formulas, shows how these were or will be filled in by time-related projections, and divides the various projection models into anthropomorphic, biomorphic, sociomorphic and technomorphic . According to Topitsch, the method of dialectics ( Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel , Marxism ) does not tie in directly with the classical method of central empty formulas. Instead of simply empty (meaningless) statements, you raise two non- empty but contradicting statements ( thesis and antithesis ) as the starting point and make their synthesis the basic methodological principle. With the “synthesis”, however, the logical contradiction itself becomes a method. Logically contradicting things are devoid of content and the dialectic can therefore also be classified in the category of empty formulas.

According to Topitsch, knowledge and arguments supposedly gained through empty formulas and intentional projections are not guided by the will to truth, but by wishes ( intentional , final ). If “ the true character and thus the factual untenability of intentional forms of thought are made aware, then they become psychologically ineffective and thus politically and pragmatically useless. "

Criticism of ideology

Topitsch's work critical of ideology is not limited to the logical and epistemological analysis in the sense of Viennese postpositivism . Historical overviews, which in his work Vom Ursprung und Ende der Metaphysik (1958) range from antiquity to modern times (Hegel, Marxism, Nazism , Socialism , Stalinism ), deal with the practical-political and social consequences of different ideologies, worldviews or Religions in the past and present ( impact analysis , critical cultural sociology ). The metaphysics criticism implicit in logical empiricism is carried out in concrete terms (cf. especially his criticism of Immanuel Kant , Hegel, Karl Marx , Carl Schmitt , Jürgen Habermas and the Frankfurt School).

Ernst Topitsch condenses his special kind of Weltanschauung analysis in his book Knowledge and Illusion . It shows that in the course of human intellectual history, world views since primitive cultures have always had the function of giving people an orientation, for example in what is true and what is good, telling them how the world is, what to expect and what is good about it or is bad. Weltanschauung thus creates a context of meaning: it gives life meaning. Topitsch therefore calls world views “plurifunctional management systems”. Their forms and structural characteristics are also of considerable practical importance. Already in the archaic high cultures of the Near and Far East they played an outstanding role in the development of imperial rule ideologies. Failures evoke a need for illusory compensations in people, but there is no social order that does not require a considerable amount of instinctual renunciation. World views take away the fear of the unknown and violent in nature and society and stabilize the soul (or psyche) of the person as well as society and its social-regulative norm systems. According to Topitsch, there are two basic mechanisms for the formation of world views:

1) Projection: People interpret nature according to the pattern of their own inner-psychological and social experiences. They animate nature: one speaks therefore of spiritualism or of the animistic worldview. The dominant feature here is what Topitsch calls “sociomorphic projection”: Nature is interpreted as an association of natural gods that enter into a social hierarchy.
2) Compensation: World views should give an idea of ​​salvation to compensate for earthly suffering, a hope for a happy existence on the other side. This goes hand in hand with ritualistic practices that try to come close to this eternal happiness in the earthly. Shamanistic rituals of dance, intoxication, mass hysteria are based on this striving for a spiritual encounter with God or the otherworldly. In this context Topitsch speaks of the ecstatic - cathartic function of world views.

These two functions are at the same time the socio-philosophical explanation for the emergence and continuation of religions and their enormous effect on societies.

The upheaval in the higher education sector in the second half of the 1960s, perceived by the public as politicization, especially in its subject, prompted Topitsch to emerge as a vehement opponent of Marxism on a political level. Before that he had fought in the so-called positivism dispute on the side of Karl Popper and Hans Albert against the neo-Marxism of the Frankfurt School for a “neutrality” of science and especially of sociology. He saw himself as a " liberal ". Since the 1970s it has not only come into conflict with the New Left and its later metamorphoses; he also deplored a change in the ideological discourse towards the hegemony of political correctness as a creeping corruption of the liberal climate, as a new, gentle form of totalitarianism .

Classification and relation to critical rationalism

Topitsch is an important epistemologist and ideology critic of the 20th century. Politically, he counted himself as part of liberalism , even if he turned increasingly to the conservative right since the 1960s.

Topitsch is counted as part of Critical Rationalism , especially since he has a lot in common with the most famous German Critical Rationalist Hans Albert (with whom he was also personally friends since the 1950s). However, the epistemological and political positions do not coincide. "Consistent fallibilism" in the sense of Karl Popper was not Topitsch's concern. He was scientifically and partly politically very critical of Popper.

Preventive war thesis

In his late work Stalin's War (1985, in later editions also with the subtitle "The Soviet long-term strategy against the West as a rational power politics") Topitsch claimed that Hitler's war was in truth Stalin's war , namely a preventive war against "Moscow's grip on world domination" . Stalin had been working specifically towards the conquest of Western Europe since the 1920s. Its conquests in the wake of the Hitler-Stalin pact served to prepare for a major attack on Germany. This war (World War II) was a clash of two totalitarian systems, with the aggressor Hitler only pre-empting the other (Stalin) with a narrow time difference. He deliberately lured Hitler into the attack on the Soviet Union on July 22, 1941. Hitler's propaganda justification for this attack was "more or less correct". Stalin only allowed the German troops to advance until shortly before Moscow in order to later be in a morally better position as the attacked.

These claims are considered a particularly extensive variant of the preventive war thesis . Topitsch's book was a main reason why this thesis was discussed again in the 1990s and scientifically completely refuted.

Topitsch then complained that historians had given his theses an " anathema " and practiced "refusal to discuss". He confirmed his theses in right-wing magazines such as Junge Freiheit and Die Aula and in 1998 in a commemorative publication for the history revisionist and Holocaust denier David Irving in the right-wing Arndt publishing house Dietmar Muniers . He received criticism and rejection from historians for this.

Fonts (selection)

  • Problems of the theory of science , (ed.) Festschrift for Victor Kraft, Springer: Wien 1960
  • Hans Kelsen : Essays on the critique of ideology (with an introduction by Ernst Topitsch), Neuwied 1964
  • The social philosophy of Hegel as the doctrine of salvation and ideology of rule , Neuwied 1967, 2nd exp. Edition Munich 1981
  • The freedom of science and the political mandate of the universities, 1969
  • Social philosophy between ideology and science, 1971
  • From the origin and end of metaphysics , 1st edition 1968; 2nd edition DTV Munich 1972, ISBN 3-423-04105-6
  • Becoming God and Revolution Pullach: Verlag Documentation, 1973. ISBN 3-7940-2619-5
  • The prerequisites of the transcendental philosophy: Kant in Weltanschauung-critical lighting , 2., revised. and exp. Ed. Mohr: Tübingen 1992, ISBN 3-16-145938-5 ISBN 3-16-145939-3
  • Ideology criticism and theory of democracy with Hans Kelsen , Berlin 1982 (ed. With Werner Krawietz and Peter Koller )
  • Stalin's war. Moscow's grab for world domination. , Herford 1985, 3rd edition 1998 (supplement Herford 2001)
  • Knowledge and Illusion 2., revised. u. exp. Edition, Mohr: Tübingen 1988, ISBN 3-16-245364-X , ISBN 3-16-245337-2
  • Salvation and time. A chapter on world view analysis , Mohr: Tübingen 1990, ISBN 3-16-145675-0 , ISBN 3-16-145664-5
  • Collection for Weltanschauung Analysis , 1996,
  • Against a realm of lies. In: Reinhard Uhle-Wettler (ed.): Risk Truth. Commemorative publication for David Irving. Arndt-Verlag , Kiel 1998, pp. 85-95, ISBN 3-88741-199-4
  • In the maze of contemporary history . Selected articles, Duncker & Humblot : Berlin 2003 ISBN 3-428-11017-X
  • Verifiability and arbitrariness, the two last essays by the author , m. scientific appraisal and Obituary, ed. v. Karl Acham , Vienna 2005, ISBN 3-205-77278-4


  • Joachim Kahl : Positivism as Conservatism. A philosophical study on the structure and function of the positivistic way of thinking using the example of Ernst Topitsch . Pahl-Rugenstein-Verlag, Cologne 1976, ISBN 3-7609-0262-6 ( Small Library - Politics, Science, Future 81), (At the same time: Marburg, Univ., Diss., 1975: Presentation, analysis and criticism of the critique of Weltanschauung Ernst Topitschs ).
  • Enlightenment and criticism. Journal for free thinking and humanistic philosophy . Special issue 8, 2004, ISSN  0945-6627 . Focus: Ernst Topitsch. (With contributions by Hans Albert , Werner Becker, Norbert Hoerster , Hans Lenk , Gerard Radnitzky , Kurt Salamun, Ernst Topitsch and others), content .
  • Kurt Salamun : Ernst Topitsch (1919–2003). In: Karl Acham (ed.): Art and humanities from Graz. Works and work of nationally important artists and scholars from the 15th century to the turn of the millennium. Böhlau Verlag, Vienna-Cologne-Weimar 2009 ISBN 978-3-205-77706-9 pp. 665–680.

Web links




Individual evidence

  1. Kurt Salaman, Enlightenment engagement and ideology criticism - Obituary for Ernst Topitsch, Society for Critical Philosophy in:
  2. ^ Max Rieser: The Noetic Models of Mythology and Metaphysics . In: Journal of the History of Ideas . 21, No. 2, 1960, ISSN  0022-5037 , pp. 300-308, p. 301.
  3. Article “On empty formulas” in Problems of the Philosophy of Science Vienna 1960
  4. Fabian Virchow: Against civilism. International relations and the military in the political conceptions of the extreme right. Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2006, ISBN 3-531-90365-9 , pp. 339-344
  5. ^ Lars-Broder Keil , Sven Felix Kellerhoff : German legends. About the 'stab in the back' and other myths of history. Christoph Links, 2002, ISBN 3861532573 , p. 90
  6. ^ Rolf-Dieter Müller, Gerd R. Ueberschär: Hitler's War in the East 1941-1945: a research report. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2000, ISBN 3534147685 , pp. 82–84 and 414
  7. Ernst Topitsch: In the maze of contemporary history: selected essays. 2003, p. 171
  8. Ernst Topitsch: Verifiability and Arbitrariness. Vienna 2004, p. 118
  9. Ernst Topitsch: Against a realm of lies. In: R. Uhle-Wettler (Ed.): Risk Truth. Arndt-Verlag, Kiel 1998, pp. 85-95
  10. Example: Peter Gerlich , Krzysztof Glass (Ed.): Past and Present Central Europe. Austrian Society for Central European Studies, 1998, ISBN 3901449620 , p. 47