Mario Bunge

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Mario Bunge (2007)

Mario Augusto Bunge (born September 21, 1919 in Buenos Aires , † February 24, 2020 in Montreal , Québec , Canada ) was an Argentine philosopher and physicist .


Mario Bunge studied physics and received his doctorate in 1952 from the Universidad Nacional de La Plata . In 1956 he became a professor for theoretical physics, first in La Plata , then from 1957 to 1966 in Buenos Aires . Since 1966 he has taught as professor of logic and metaphysics at McGill University in Montreal in the Canadian province of Québec . In 2009 he retired from teaching.

Bunge was a member of numerous scientific societies and received 19 honorary doctorates .


Originally based on physics, Bunge dealt with almost all philosophical questions in his numerous publications (more than 50 books, over 500 essays) and developed a comprehensive philosophical worldview. His main work is the eight-volume Treatise on Basic Philosophy. (1974-1989). So far, it has not been the volumes of the main work that have been translated into German, but six other books dealing with epistemological and ontological topics. The book About the Nature of Things (2004) (co- authored with M. Mahner ) contains a summary of his thinking .

Mario Bunge belongs to the circle of critical rationalism . In critical connection with Karl Popper , he defends a realism and rationalism in the philosophy of science , but in contrast to Popper's pluralistic ontology, he advocates a materialism . His thinking is carried by an enlightening impulse that repeatedly leads him to sharp criticisms and polemics of other philosophical conceptions. Politically, he has described himself as “left-wing liberal”, in the tradition of the Argentine positivist movement of José Ingenieros and John Stuart Mill .

Philosophy conception

Sketch of the Bungean philosophical system

Bunge's conception of philosophy is in the tradition of the Vienna Circle and its efforts towards a scientific worldview. Like Popper, he values logical empiricism as an important contribution to the scientification of philosophy and joins its struggle against metaphysical speculation and philosophical wishful thinking. But at the same time, like Popper, he criticizes the Vienna Circle's bias in the empirical tradition, which he blames for its misunderstanding of scientific knowledge . In that classical empiricism and positivism understand knowledge as a mere “synthesis” of sensory data, they fail to recognize the constructive-creative aspect of scientific theories according to Bunge and, in contradiction to the self-understanding of the sciences, forego epistemological realism.

Bunge also criticizes the linguistic turn in philosophy, which logical empiricism took following Ludwig Wittgenstein , in a similarly sharp way as Popper as a mistake, as it is associated with a turning away from scientific questions and a turn to comparatively unimportant problems of language use . As a result of the focus of philosophy on the analysis of language, Bunge sees an increasing alienation of philosophy from modern sciences. He criticizes the debates about “ possible worlds ” and “ counterfactual statements ” in analytical philosophy as being remote from science and reality . On the other hand, Bunge shares the effort to a logical analysis of concepts, especially of scientific concepts, with Rudolf Carnap and Willard van Orman Quine , indeed he makes extensive use of modern logical-mathematical instruments in order to specify and assign problems through logical formalization clarify - a tendency that does not always benefit the legibility and understandability of his writings.

According to Bunge, philosophy has its place wherever the fundamental questions and requirements of the sciences are at stake. As semantics and philosophy of science (epistemology) it deals with questions of the recognizability of reality and as ontology it addresses the principles of reality itself. The task of ontology is first, in the Aristotelian spirit, to ask about the most general characteristics of a real object, then to analyze it the requirements of individual sciences such as physics, biology and psychology in order to clarify what matter, life and spirit are. Finally, a fundamental philosophical topic is the norms of human action. The basic philosophical disciplines dealt with in Bunges Treatise therefore include ethics in addition to semantics, philosophy of science and ontology .

Philosophy of science

According to Bunge, the classical epistemology of empiricism did not correctly grasp the essence of scientific method . Francis Bacon's view of induction as a scientific method, according to which science begins with observations and then advances to generalizations (by means of inductive rules), misinterprets the actual scientific procedure, according to Bunge, as it has been practiced since Galileo with the formulation of hypotheses and their subsequent experimental verification . It goes without saying for Bunge that scientific hypotheses and theories are checked through observations and experiments, but under the influence of the objections of Thomas S. Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend he emphasizes that the empirical data are by no means as simple and unambiguous as Carnap and Popper assumed to have.

Bunge also opposes earlier attempts to make a sharp distinction between philosophy and science. With Popper, for example, he rejects the thesis advocated by Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle of the futility of metaphysics, but at the same time he rejects Popper's demarcation between science and metaphysics based on the criterion of falsifiability . Bunge is more likely to follow Quine here when he understands philosophy and science as two complementary but mutually dependent efforts of rational knowledge. In his opinion, progress in knowledge can only be achieved through cooperation between science and philosophy.

Against Popper's demarcation between science and metaphysics, Bunge emphasizes that science cannot simply be equated with verifiability. Obviously false theories such as astrology can indeed be checked, but as refuted theories they cannot claim the status of scientificity . Rather, hypotheses and theories can only be considered scientific if they are not only verifiable, but also compatible with our knowledge of the world as a whole. Verifiability is not simply identical with empirical control through observations and experiments. In addition to direct empirical control, there is also indirect empirical control by checking the compatibility of a theory with well-confirmed other scientific theories.

The recognition of science as a central philosophical idea is also the basis of Bunge's criticism of failed scientific and philosophical conceptions. Psychoanalysis is one of the pseudosciences that he attacks in a similarly sharp manner as Popper, which in his view does not provide any verifiable prognoses of human behavior, but is compatible with every possible behavior. Bunge also sharply criticizes the new relativism , such as can be found in postmodernism, but also in Feyerabend.

His defense of realism plays a central role in Bunge's philosophy of science . Realism is ontologically and epistemologically an indispensable prerequisite for the real sciences. As an ontological position, realism asserts that reality has a structure that is independent of our thinking; as an epistemological position, it says that this real structure is at least partially recognizable (through perception and science). Bunge also defends this “scientific realism” against the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics , which goes back to Niels Bohr , according to which subatomic events depend on the intervention of the observer. Bunge, on the other hand, tries to show that in the equations of quantum mechanics there is no reference to measuring apparatus or observers, but that this reference is a misguided philosophical interpretation of quantum physics.


Substance ontology

Bunge sees the fundamental category for grasping reality in the concept of a material object (or concrete thing). Material objects include ordinary perceptible objects such as trees and houses, but also objects that are not directly perceptible, but whose effects on other things can be perceived or determined. According to Bunge, material objects cannot simply be identified with the atoms or material particles of classical physics. Rather, Bunge tries to do justice to the development of modern physics , which among other things knows massless photons and electrons that cannot be clearly localized, by no longer counting mass and localizability among the essential properties of material objects. The indispensable characteristics of material objects, on the other hand, include changeability and effectiveness. These properties distinguish “things” from abstract concepts and constructs which, according to Bunge, do not have their own way of being independent of the thinking subject, but are “fictions” in the sense of Hans Vaihinger .

For Bunge, the category of a material object is a precise, basically materialistic version of the traditional concept of substance . This becomes clear when he emphasizes “thing” and “property” as correlative concepts and emphasizes that both can only be separated in abstracto. This means that there are neither propertyless things (substrates or “carriers”) nor free-floating properties (without material substrates). From this assumption that things and properties always appear together, there are important metaphysical consequences. First of all, it follows that metaphysical positions are untenable. B. the process metaphysics of Alfred Whitehead , "process" or "event" as basic metaphysical categories. “Process” and “event”, on the other hand, are not basic categories, according to Bunge, because they each presuppose the concept of a material object. Processes and events can therefore only be thought of ontologically appropriately as changes in the states of material objects. But Bunge also rejects the idea that has appeared again and again in modern physics and natural philosophy since Wilhelm Ostwald that “energy” is (or the) ontological basic category, because energy is a universal property of material objects, but a property and no (independent) substance. With the setting of a concrete material object as a metaphysical basic category, Bunge expressly represents a substance metaphysics. Although he leaves the question of what the ultimate material objects of reality to the sciences, he still adheres to the old materialistic principle that matter does not arise from nothing and does not go to nothing. He rejects an absolute origin of things, as it is assumed in certain versions of the cosmological big bang theory .

Emergent materialism

According to Bunge, the world consists of material objects, but the world nonetheless exhibits a qualitative diversity that can be adequately understood with reference to systems theory . Systems are assemblies of elements to form new units with their own structure, whereby this structure results from the interplay of the elements. It is therefore the self-organization of things that ensures the emergence of new, higher qualities in the world and not a directing, higher power. Systems in this ontological sense range from atoms, molecules and cells to the planetary systems and the cosmos as a whole.

According to Bunge, systems are integrated wholes . As such, some of them have properties which already have their elements and which, as it were, inherit from it; In addition to these “resulting” properties, they also have new properties that their elements do not yet have and that only emerge from the interaction of the elements (“ emerge ”). For example, water has new properties that a water molecule does not yet possess, and living beings are also physical things, but besides physical they also have “supraphysical properties”. According to Bunge, the diversity and the gradual or layered character of reality are based on these emergent properties of systems.

As the main levels (or levels of integration) of reality, Bunge distinguishes four (sometimes more) levels, namely physical systems, chemical systems, biosystems and sociosystems. According to Bunge, the emergence of new, higher system levels in the evolution of the cosmos and life is a fact, no matter how far it can be explained and predicted. Ontologically it is crucial that the lower system levels , as materialists have always maintained against spiritualism and dualism , form the foundations of being of the higher level, but the higher levels, as critics of reductive and physicalist materialism have repeatedly emphasized, also have new, emergent ones Properties and Laws. This concept of “emergent materialism” bears a certain resemblance to Nicolai Hartmann's theory of layers , which Bunge saw and recognized. Emergent materialism also includes Bunge's position on the philosophy of mind . On the one hand, the traditional mind-body dualism is untenable because it fails to recognize the systemic character of the higher layers and falsely substantiates the emergent property of consciousness. In addition, the dualism is incompatible with modern science because the assumption of an immaterial mind acting on the body does not fit into the concept of the evolution of the material world and, moreover, is incompatible with the physical principle of the conservation of energy. According to Bunge, the fact that mind is an emergent property of the brain does not mean that mental properties can be reduced to physical properties. Physical and mental processes are not only experienced as different, but also represent ontologically different properties - although as mental properties they are and remain properties of the material organ of the brain. According to Bunge, this fact is to be interpreted in such a way that mental processes are the inner aspects of physiological processes. Consciousness processes are therefore “ identical ” to certain brain processes . Bunge's emergent materialism thus combines a “psychoneural” substance monism with a pluralism of properties.

Causality, determination, freedom

A concern that Bunge pursued in his early years as a physicist and philosopher of the natural sciences was the rehabilitation of causality as an ontological category. With this he turns against epistemological and methodological shortenings of the concept of causation, as can be found in Hume and Kant , but also in logical empiricism . According to Bunge, “causation” is neither a category restricted to “appearances”, nor can the content of this term be reduced to mere predictability. Rather, the concept of cause contains the ontological assertion that an event is caused when it is brought about by another event in a lawful manner.

In addition to causality, according to Bunge there are also other forms of determination . For example, there are laws such as Einstein's equation E = mc², which does not describe a sequence of events, but expresses a regular link between several quantities. Then there are also acausal processes such as atomic decay, which is described by probabilistic or probability laws. Bunge attaches importance to the observation that quantum physics violates the causal principle, but not the determinism principle . In his view, the concept of determination includes both causal laws and probability laws, since the latter are by no means completely arbitrary and lawless. Bunge thus defines the term determination in a broader sense, so that it includes probabilistic determination in addition to strict causal determination. According to Bunge, however, the determinism principle in this wider version is sufficient to exclude magic and miracles as unscientific.

In his position on the problem of free will , Bunge agrees with Hume's conception of freedom of action as a sufficient basis for morality. According to this, human action is free if it takes place intentionally and without (external) compulsion, i.e. if a person can do what he wants. However, such an action is not acausal, but follows from the character of the person and the motives of the given situation and is in principle even predictable. The concept of free will, on the other hand, contains, according to Bunge, the misguided idea that in making decisions a person could, as it were, rise above his character. For him, the concept of free will therefore amounts to the inconsistent idea of ​​a will that is independent of personality. In contrast, the concept of freedom of action is not only ontologically meaningful, but also morally sufficient, because action that can be influenced through education and instruction also leaves room for moral standardization and assessment. Popper's attempt to guarantee free will on the basis of the indeterminism of quantum physics is firmly rejected by Bunge.


Bunge's writings have a rather marginal importance in the discussions of analytical philosophy today. On the other hand, his influence is more clearly recognizable among philosophizing scientists and scientifically oriented philosophers. In Germany it is Gerhard Vollmer and Bernulf Kanitscheider , for example , who have received important suggestions from Bunge.

A special feature: one of Bunge's first American doctoral students was the later author Chaim Potok ; In Potok's first novella - The Chosen - a university professor named Abraham Flesser appears briefly in chapter 13, whose ideas are very similar to those of Professor Bunge.


  • Causality: The Place of the Causal Principle in Modern Science. Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass. 1959. (German: causality, history and problems. Tübingen 1987)
  • Metascientific Queries. Charles Thomas, Springfield, Illinois 1959.
  • Intuition and Science. Prentice Hall, Englewodd Cliffs, NJ 1962.
  • The Myth of Simplicity. Prentice Hall, Englewodd Cliffs, NJ 1963.
  • Scientific Research I: The Search for System. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 1967. (reissued and revised as Philosophy of Science. Vol. 1: From Problem to Theory. Transactions Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ 1998)
  • Scientific Research II: The Search for Truth. Springer-Verlag Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 1967. (reissued and revised 1998 as Philosophy of Science. Vol. 2: From Explanation to Justification. Transactions Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ 1967)
  • Foundation of Physics. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 1967.
  • Method, Model and Matter. Reidel, Dordrecht 1973.
  • Philosophy of Physics. Reidel, Dordrecht 1973.
  • Treatise on Basic Philosophy. Vol. 1: Semantics I: Sense and Reference. Reidel, Dordrecht 1974.
  • Treatise on Basic Philosophy. Vol. 2: Semantics II: Interpretation and Truth. Reidel, Dordrecht 1974.
  • Treatise on Basic Philosophy. Vol. 3: Ontology I: The Furniture of the World. Reidel, Dordrecht 1977.
  • Treatise on Basic Philosophy. Vol. 4: Ontology II: A World of Systems. Reidel, Dordrecht 1979.
  • Epistemoliga. Editorial Ariel SA, Barcelona 1980. (German: Epistemologie. Current questions in the theory of science. Mannheim 1983)
  • The mind-body problem. Pergamon Press, Oxford 1980. (German: The body-soul problem. Tübingen 1984)
  • Scientific Materialism. Reidel, Dordrecht 1981.
  • Treatise on Basic Philosophy. Vol. 5: Epistemology and Methodology I: Exploring the World. Reidel, Dordrecht 1983.
  • Treatise on Basic Philosophy. Vol. 6: Epistemology and Methodology II: Understanding the World. Reidel, Dordrecht 1983.
  • Treatise on Basic Philosophy. Vol. 7, Part I: Philosophy of Science and Technology: Formal and Physical Sciences. Reidel, Dordrecht 1985.
  • Treatise on Basic Philosophy. Vol. 7, Part II: Philosophy of Science and Technology: Life Science, Social Science and Technology. Reidel, Dordrecht 1985.
  • with Ruben Ardila: Philosophy of Psychology . Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 1987. (German: Philosophy of Psychology. Tübingen 1990)
  • Treatise on Basic Philosophy, Vol. 8: Ethics: The Good and the Right. Reidel, Dordrecht 1989.
  • Finding Philosophy in Social Science . Yale University Press, 1996.
  • with Martin Mahner: The Foundations of Biophilosophy. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 1997. (German: Philosophical foundations of biology. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg 2000)
  • Social Science under Debate. University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1998.
  • Dictionary of Philosophy. Prometheus Books, 1998.
  • Philosophy in Crisis. Prometheus Books, 2001.
  • Philosophical Dictionary. Prometheus Books, New York 2003.
  • Emergence and Convergence: Qualitative Novelty and the Unity of Knowledge. University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2003.
  • with Martin Mahner: About the nature of things. Hirzel, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-7776-1321-5 .
  • Chasing Reality: Strife over Realism. University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2006.
  • Political Philosophy. Fact, Fiction, and Vision. Transaction, New Brunswick, NJ / London 2009.
  • Matter and Mind. Springer, Dordrecht / Heidelberg / London / New York 2010.
  • Evaluating philosophies. Springer, Dordrecht / Heidelberg / London / New York 2012.
  • Medical Philosophy: Conceptual Issues in Medicine. World Science Publishing, Singapore 2013.
  • Memorias: entre dos mundos. Editorial Gedisa, Barcelona 2014.
  • Between two Worlds - Memoirs of a Philosopher-Scientist. Springer, Cham 2016, ISBN 978-3-319-29250-2 .
  • Doing Science in the Light of Philosophy. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2017.
  • From a Scientific Point of View. Cambridge Scholars Publications, Newcastle, UK., 2018.


  • Joseph Agassi , Robert S. Cohen (eds.): Scientific philosophy today. Essays in honor of Mario Bunge. Reidel, Dordrecht 1982
  • Heinz W. Droste: Turn of the Tide - Tide Change: Introduction to Mario Bunge's exact philosophy. Alibri Verlag, Aschaffenburg 2015
  • Heiner Hastedt : The mind-body problem. Between natural science of the mind and cultural one-dimensionality. Frankfurt 1988, pp. 175-195
  • Michael R. Matthews (Ed.): Mario Bunge: A Centenary Festschrift , Springer Nature Switzerland, Cham, Switzerland 2019
  • Thomas Metzinger : Newer contributions to the discussion of the mind-body problem. Frankfurt am Main 1985, pp. 75-96
  • Martin Morgenstern : Metaphysics in the Modern Age. From Schopenhauer to the present. Stuttgart 2008, pp. 269-280
  • Andreas Pickel: Systems and Mechanisms: A Symposium on Mario Bunge's Philosophy of Social Science. In: Philosophy of the Social Sciences. 34/2, 2004, pp. 169-181
  • Andreas Pickel: Mario Bunge's Philosophy of Social Science. In: Society. 38/4, 2001, pp. 71-74
  • Richard Schlegel: Mario Bunge on causality . In: Philosophy of Science . tape 28 , 1961, pp. 260-281 .
  • Gerhard Vollmer : Mario Bunge, physicist and philosopher - a phenomenon. In: Enlightenment and Criticism . 3/2016, pp. 199-206
  • Paul Weingartner , Georg Dorn: Studies on Mario Bunge's Treatise. Rodopi, Amsterdam 1990
  • Poe Yu-ze Wan: Reframing the Social: Emergentist Systemism and Social Theory. Ashgate, Aldershot 2011

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. M. Bunge: From Philosophy to Physics, and Back. In: A Companion to Latin American Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, chap. 36.
  2. ^ “Mario Bunge has recently retired from academic life at the venerable age of 90 years old.” From: L. Jodoin: L'héritage intellectuel de Mario Bunge: entre science et philosophie. In: Philosophiques. 37, 2010, p. 1492.
  3. ^ M. Bunge: Reading Measuring Instruments. In: Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science. 4, 2010, p. 85. online article (accessed on January 10, 2012)
  4. MR Matthews: Mario Bunge: Physicist and Philosopher. In: Science & Education. 12, 2003, p. 432.
  5. ^ "Mario Bunge [...] does not see his work a part of the project known as critical rationalism. It nevertheless can count as a version of critical rationalism: it is a non-justificationist effort to improve standards of criticism. ”From: JR Wettersten: Karl Popper and Critical Rationalism. In: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2007, chap. 6. online article (accessed December 29, 2011)
  6. “The unifying thread of his scholarship is the constant and vigorous advancement of the Enlightenment Project, and criticism of cultural and academic movements that deny or devalue the core planks of the project”, from: MR Matthews: Mario Bunge: Physicist and Philosopher. In: Science & Education. 12, 2003, p. 431.
  7. ^ Mario Bunge: Filosofía y sociedad . Siglo XXI, 2008, ISBN 978-968-23-2729-2 , pp. 122– ( [accessed February 1, 2013]).
  8. M. Bunge: Ch. 11: Otto Neurath and the Unity of Science. In: J. Symons et al. (Ed.): Two Unification Strategies: Analysis or Reduction, and Synthesis or Integration. Springer, 2010, pp. 145 ff. (Google books)
  9. M. Bunge: Chasing Reality: Strife Over Realism. University of Toronto Press, 2006, pp. 6, 57ff. (google books)
  10. M. Bunge: Chasing Reality: Strife Over Realism. University of Toronto Press, 2006, p. 58. (google books)
  11. M. Bunge: Chasing Reality: Strife Over Realism. University of Toronto Press, 2006, p. 236. (google books)
  12. M. Bunge: Matter and Mind. Springer, 2010, p. 261. (google books) .
  13. M. Mahner, M. Bunge: Philosophical foundations of biology. Springer, 2000, chap. 1. (google books)
  14. a b M. Mahner, M. Bunge: Philosophical foundations of biology. Springer, 2000, p. 119. (google books)
  15. M. Bunge: Matter and Mind. Springer, 2010, p. 249. (google books)
  16. M. Bunge, M. Mahner: About the nature of things. Hirzel, 2004, chap. 4.2.
  17. M. Bunge, M. Mahner: About the nature of things. Hirzel, 2004, chap. 2.1.
  18. M. Bunge, M. Mahner: About the nature of things. Hirzel, 2004, chap. 2.2.4.
  19. M. Bunge, M. Mahner: About the nature of things. Hirzel, 2004, chap. 2.1.2.
  20. M. Bunge, M. Mahner: About the nature of things. Hirzel, 2004, p. 22.
  21. M. Bunge, M. Mahner: About the nature of things. Hirzel, 2004, chap. 2.4.4.
  22. M. Bunge, M. Mahner: About the nature of things. Hirzel, 2004, p. 31.
  23. M. Bunge: Matter and Mind. Springer, 2010, p. 26. (google books)
  24. M. Bunge, M. Mahner: About the nature of things. Hirzel, 2004, chap. 2.6.6.
  25. M. Bunge, M. Mahner: About the nature of things. Hirzel, 2004, chap. 4.3.
  26. M. Bunge: Causality and Modern Science. Transaction Publ, 4th edition. 2008. (google books)
  27. M. Bunge, M. Mahner: About the nature of things. Hirzel, 2004, chap. 4.3.6.
  28. M. Bunge: Matter and Mind. Springer, 2010, p. 222. (google books)