Vienna Circle

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The Vienna Circle of Logical Empiricism was a group of intellectuals from the fields of philosophy , natural sciences , social sciences , mathematics and logic who met regularly in Vienna from 1924 to 1936 under the direction of Moritz Schlick .

Entrance door of the Mathematical Seminar of the University of Vienna , Boltzmanngasse. Meeting point of the Vienna Circle.


In addition to Schlick, the group included Hans Hahn , Philipp Frank , Otto Neurath , Rudolf Carnap , Herbert Feigl , Richard von Mises , Karl Menger , Kurt Gödel , Friedrich Waismann , Felix Kaufmann , Victor Kraft and Edgar Zilsel . Occasional visitors to the Vienna Circle included Alfred Tarski , Hans Reichenbach , Carl Gustav Hempel , Willard Van Orman Quine , Ernest Nagel , Alfred Jules Ayer , Frank P. Ramsey . Even Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper were in close contact with the Vienna Circle, never took itself but in the meetings of the Schlick circle part.

The philosophical position of the Vienna Circle was called Logical Empiricism , Logical Positivism, or Neopositivism . It was influenced by Ernst Mach , David Hilbert , French conventionalism ( Henri Poincaré and Pierre Duhem ), Gottlob Frege , Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein . There was a pluralism of philosophical positions within the Vienna Circle . The participants, however, combined the attempt to make philosophy more scientific with the means of modern logic and a commitment to the values ​​of the Enlightenment . The predominant topics were the fundamental debates in the natural and social sciences, mathematics and logic, the actualization of empiricism through modern logic, the search for an "empirical criterion of meaning ", the criticism of metaphysics and the connection of the sciences in the context of an encyclopedia of " Unified Science ".

The Vienna Circle made its public appearance through the publication of several series of works (the book-rich writings on the scientific world view , unified science , the journal Knowledge ) and the organization of international conferences (including in Prague , Königsberg , Paris , Copenhagen , Cambridge , UK and Cambridge , Mass. ). As part of the Ernst Mach Association , members of the Vienna Circle were also active in popular education.

In the course of Austrofascism and the later seizure of power by the National Socialists , many members of the Vienna Circle were forced to emigrate . The murder of Schlick in 1936 by a former doctoral student marked the de facto end of the Vienna Circle.

The works that arose in the area of ​​the Vienna Circle had a great influence on the development of the philosophy of science and analytical philosophy up to the present.


The history and development of the Vienna Circle can be divided into several phases:

The "first Vienna Circle" (1907–1912)

Even before the First World War , there was an informal discussion round which the later Vienna Circle members Hans Hahn , Philipp Frank and Otto Neurath met. Among other things, fundamental problems of modern mathematics and natural sciences, the (in) scientific nature of philosophy and the renewal of empiricism in connection with French conventionalism and the means of modern logic were discussed . Authors such as Mach , Duhem , Poincaré , Brentano , Meinong , Husserl , Freud , Russell , Whitehead , Lenin and Frege were treated . The First World War ended this first phase at the latest.

The constitutional phase (1918–1924)

The constitution of the Vienna Circle began in 1921 when Hans Hahn returned to Vienna. Together with the mathematician Kurt Reidemeister, Hahn organized seminars on Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus logico-philosophicus and on the Principia Mathematica by Whitehead and Russell. In 1922, with Hahn's support, Moritz Schlick was appointed to the Chair of Natural Philosophy in Vienna, which Ernst Mach had held before him and which Ludwig Boltzmann had also taught at times .

Immediately after his arrival, Schlick organized joint discussion groups with the mathematicians working with Hahn. From the winter semester 1924/1925 onwards, a Thursday evening "evening group" was set up at the suggestion of Schlick's students, Friedrich Waismann and Herbert Feigl , to which Schlick personally invited people to the Mathematical Institute at Boltzmanngasse 5 in Vienna . These meetings can be seen as the “hour of birth” of the later “Vienna Circle”.

The closed phase of the Vienna Circle - The Schlick Circle (1924–1928)

The weekly interdisciplinary discussion rounds, which have existed since 1924, were made up of different participants: established researchers, younger lecturers as well as students and doctoral candidates took part. There were also invited guests from abroad.

In 1926 Rudolf Carnap was brought to Vienna as a private lecturer at Schlick's instigation. Carnap's logical structure of the world was discussed intensively in the circle.

In addition, Wittgenstein's Tractatus logico-philosophicus was read aloud and debated. In addition, there had been personal contacts with Wittgenstein since 1927 and meetings with Schlick, Waismann, Carnap and Feigl took place.

Public phase - Schlick Circle and Ernst Mach Association (1928–1934)

With the establishment of the Ernst Mach Association in 1928 and the publication of the program publication Scientific World Conception. The Vienna Circle In 1929 the Vienna Circle went public. The aim of the Ernst Mach Association , whose chairman Schlick was elected, was to popularize the “scientific worldview” through lecturing, in which members of the Vienna Circle actively participated.

In 1929 the Vienna Circle came under this name for the first time - the name comes from Otto Neurath - with the program publication Scientific World Conception. The Vienna Circle . This manifesto was presented on the occasion of the "Conference for the Epistemology of Exact Sciences" held in Prague in autumn 1929. This conference, which was jointly organized by the Ernst Mach Association and the Berlin Society for Empirical Philosophy , was the first international appearance of the logical empiricists and the first of a series of international conferences organized by members of the Vienna Circle. Further conferences followed, which continued into the years of emigration: 1930 in Königsberg, 1934 in Prague, 1935 in Paris, 1936 in Copenhagen, 1938 in Cambridge (England), 1939 in Cambridge (USA) and 1941 in Chicago.

In 1930 the Vienna Circle and the Berlin Group also took over the journal Annalen der Philosophie and continued it as the central publication platform for logical empiricism under the title Knowledge , edited by Carnap and Reichenbach. The publication activities of the Vienna Circle were supplemented by the book series Schriften zur Scientific Weltaufführung (published by Schlick and Frank, 1928–1937), Unified Science (published by Neurath, 1933–1939), and later - already in emigration - the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science (with Neurath as editor-in-chief, Carnap and Charles W. Morris as editor-in-chief, from 1938 to 1970 in total).

Disintegration, emigration, internationalization (1934–1938)

For political, ideological and racist reasons, the first signs of disintegration began to appear in the early 1930s : Herbert Feigl left Austria in 1930, Carnap was appointed to Prague in 1931 and went to Chicago in 1935.

The year 1934 marked a turning point: Hahn died of the consequences of an operation, Neurath had to emigrate to Holland in connection with Austrofascism and the Ernst Mach association in Vienna was dissolved by the Schuschnigg regime.

The actual end of the Vienna Circle came with the murder of Schlick by his former doctoral student Hans Nelböck out of personal and ideological opposition.

After that, sporadic meetings were held with Kraft, Waismann, Zilsel, Menger and Gomperz . The "annexation" of Austria to Nazi Germany meant the final disappearance of the Vienna Circle from Austria.

The internationalization of logical empiricism went hand in hand with emigration . Many former members emigrated to the Anglo-American region and influenced the further development of the philosophy of science there . The Unity of Science movement, which was mainly supported by Neurath, Carnap and Morris and aimed at establishing an International Encyclopedia of Unified Science , which played a key role in the organization of the above-mentioned congresses and published the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, is also indicative of internationalization .

The members of the Vienna Circle at a glance

Apart from the central protagonists of the Schlick Circle, the attribution to the Vienna Circle is open in many cases. The division into "members" and "authors close to the Vienna Circle" in the program publication from 1929 is a "snapshot". Depending on the criteria used (frequency of the visit, content-related proximity), different allocations to the core or environment of the district can result. In the following list (in alphabetical order) the “core” was determined according to the criterion of the frequency of participation in the Schlick circle. In the "periphery" there are occasional visitors, foreign guests and intellectual reference figures of the district:

Kern: Gustav Bergmann , Rudolf Carnap , Herbert Feigl , Philipp Frank , Kurt Gödel , Hans Hahn , Olga Hahn-Neurath , Béla Juhos , Felix Kaufmann , Victor Kraft , Karl Menger , Richard von Mises , Otto Neurath , Rose Rand , Josef Schächter , Moritz Schlick , Friedrich Waismann , Edgar Zilsel .

Periphery: Alfred Jules Ayer , Egon Brunswik , Karl Bühler , Josef Frank , Else Frenkel-Brunswik , Heinrich Gomperz , Carl Gustav Hempel , Eino Kaila , Hans Kelsen , Charles W. Morris , Arne Naess , Karl Raimund Popper , Willard Van Orman Quine , Frank P. Ramsey , Hans Reichenbach , Kurt Reidemeister , Alfred Tarski , Olga Taussky-Todd , Oskar Morgenstern , Ludwig Wittgenstein .

Issues and debates

The Vienna Circle cannot be tied to a philosophical position. On the one hand there were many different positions within the circle, on the other hand the positions of individual members changed fundamentally again and again. Nevertheless, some central issues and debates can be identified.

Verificationism and empirical criterion of meaning

The Minutes Debate

Physicalism and unified science

Metaphysical criticism

Institute Vienna Circle / Vienna Circle Society

The Vienna Circle Institute has existed in Vienna since 1991 , dedicated to the documentation, research and further development of the philosophy of the Vienna Circle. In 2011 it was established as a university institute within the Faculty of Philosophy and Education at the University of Vienna . The association, which continues to exist, has been operating as the Vienna Circle Society since 2016 in close cooperation with the University Institute Vienna Circle. In 2015, the institute organized the first international exhibition on the Vienna Circle as part of the 650th anniversary of the University of Vienna.


Primary literature (selection)

  • Rudolf Carnap : Logical Syntax of Language . Vienna: Springer Verlag, 1968 [1934].
  • Rudolf Carnap: My way into philosophy . Stuttgart: Reclam, 1993 [1963].
  • Rudolf Carnap: The logical structure of the world . Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1998 [1928].
  • Rudolf Carnap: Pseudo-Problems in Philosophy and Other Metaphysics-Critical Writings . Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 2004.
  • Otto Neurath : Collected philosophical and methodological writings . (2 volumes) Vienna: Verlag Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky, 1981.
  • Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap and Charles Morris (eds.): Foundations of the Unity of Science. Toward an International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. (2 volumes) Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1971.
  • Karl Popper : Logic of Research . Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005 [1935].
  • Moritz Schlick : Wisdom. Attempt a doctrine of happiness. Questions of ethics. (Moritz Schlick Complete Edition, Section I, Volume 3) Vienna: Springer Verlag, 2006 [1908, 1930].
  • Moritz Schlick: The time in Vienna. Articles, contributions, reviews 1926-1936. (Moritz Schlick Complete Edition, Section I, Volume 6) Vienna: Springer Verlag, 2008.
  • Moritz Schlick: General Knowledge. (Moritz Schlick Complete Edition, Section I, Volume 1) Vienna: Springer Verlag, 2009 [1918/1925].
  • Michael Stöltzner and Thomas Uebel (eds.): Vienna Circle. Texts on the scientific worldview by Rudolf Carnap, Otto Neurath, Moritz Schlick, Philipp Frank, Hans Hahn, Karl Menger, Edgar Zilsel and Gustav Bergmann. Hamburg: Meiner Verlag, 2006. ISBN 3-7873-1811-9
  • Friedrich Stadler and Thomas Uebel (eds.): Scientific world view. The Vienna Circle. Edited by the Ernst Mach Association (1929). Reprint of the first edition. With translations into English, French, Spanish and Italian. Vienna: Springer Verlag, 2012.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein : Tractatus logico-philosophicus . Logical-philosophical treatise. Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1963 [1921].

Secondary literature

  • Arnswald, Ulrich, Stadler, Friedrich and Weibel, Peter (eds.): The Vienna Circle - topicality in science, literature, architecture and art . Vienna: LIT Verlag 2019. ISBN 978-3-643-50937-6
  • AJ Ayer : Language, Truth and Logic. London : Victor Gollancz 1936.
  • Gustav Bergmann : “Memories of the Vienna Circle. Letter to Otto Neurath (1936) ”, in: Michael Stöltzner, Thomas Uebel (eds.), Wiener Kreis. Texts on the scientific worldview. Hamburg: Meiner 2006, 633–654.
  • Nancy Cartwright , Jordi Cat, Lola Fleck, Thomas E. Uebel: Otto Neurath. Philosophy between Science and Politics . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Philipp Frank : Modern Science and its Philosophy . Cambridge 1949.
  • Michael Friedman : Reconsidering Logical Positivism . Cambridge 1999.
  • Peter Galison : “Construction / Bauhaus : Logical Positivism and Architectural Modernism”. Critical Inquiry 16, 709-752, 1990.
  • Manfred Geier : The Vienna Circle . Rowohlt, Reinbek 1998, ISBN 3-499-50508-8 .
  • Ronald Giere , Alan Richardson (Eds.): Origins of Logical Empiricism . Minneapolis 1996.
  • Rudolf Haller: Neopositivism. A historical introduction to the philosophy of the Vienna Circle . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1993, ISBN 3-534-06677-4 .
  • Rudolf Haller, Friedrich Stadler (ed.): Vienna - Berlin - Prague. The rise of scientific philosophy. Vienna 1993.
  • Victor Kraft : The Vienna Circle. The origin of neopositivism . 3. Edition. Springer, Vienna a. a. 1997 [1950], ISBN 3-211-82956-3 ( texts on the scientific world view 1).
  • Paul Kruntorad (Ed.): Jour fixe der Vernunft. The Vienna Circle and its consequences . Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky, Vienna 1991, ISBN 3-209-01221-0 ( publications of the Institute Wiener Kreis 1).
  • Richard von Mises : Small Textbook of Positivism. Introduction to the empirical conception of science . With an introduction new ed. by Friedrich Stadler . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1990, ISBN 3-518-28471-1 ( Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 871 Wiener Kreis-Schriften zum logical empiricism ).
  • Christoph Limbeck / Friedrich Stadler (ed.): The Vienna Circle. Texts and pictures from an exhibition. Münster-Berlin-London: LIT Verlag 2015. ISBN 978-3-643-50672-6
  • Thomas Mormann: Rudolf Carnap . Munich: Verlag CH Beck, 2000.
  • Nicholas Rescher (Ed.): The Heritage of Logical Positivism . University Press of America 1985.
  • Alan Richardson: “The Scientific World Conception. Logical Positivism ”, in: T. Baldwin (Ed.), The Cambridge History of Philosophy , 1870-1945, 2003, 391-400.
  • Alan Richardson, Thomas Uebel (Eds.): The Cambridge Companion to Logical Empiricism , Cambridge 2007.
  • Annemarie Siegetsleitner: Ethics and Morals in the Vienna Circle . Böhlau, Vienna 2014, ISBN 978-3-205-79533-9 .
  • Karl Sigmund : You called yourself Der Wiener Kreis: Precise thinking on the verge of doom. Springer Spectrum, 2015. ISBN 978-3-658-08534-6 (print); ISBN 978-3-658-08535-3 (eBook)
  • Friedrich Stadler : From Positivism to the “Scientific World View”. Using the example of the history of the impact of Ernst Mach in Austria from 1895-1934. Vienna-Munich 1982.
  • Friedrich Stadler: Studies on the Vienna Circle. Origin, Development and Effect of Logical Empiricism in Context . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-518-58207-0 . 2nd edition by Springer, Dordrecht 2015.
  • Friedrich Stadler (Ed.): The Vienna Circle and Logical Empiricism. Re-evaluation and Future Perspectives. Dordrecht - Boston - London, Kluwer 2003.
  • Volker Thurm (Ed.): Vienna and the Vienna Circle. Places of an unfinished modern age. Vienna 2003.
  • Thomas Uebel: Criticism of reason and science: Otto Neurath and the first Vienna circle. Vienna-New York 2000.
  • Thomas Uebel: Empiricism at the Crossroads. The Vienna Circle's Protocol-Sentence Debate . Chicago: Open Court, 2007.

Web links

Commons : Vienna Circle  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. the attribution to "core" and "periphery" of the Vienna Circle in Stadler 1997.
  2. From 1926 to 1933, Wittgenstein met occasionally with Schlick, Waismann, Carnap and Feigl. Cf. Stadler 1997, chapter on "Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle", 467–488.
  3. On Popper and the Vienna Circle, cf. Stadler 1997, 502-545.
  4. See Stöltzner / Uebel 2006, LII-LXXIX
  5. Stöltzner / Uebel 2006, LXXXIX
  6. This presentation follows mainly Stadler 1997. Bes. 629–630 for an overview of the stages of development.
  7. Frank 1949, Stadler 1997, Uebel 2000, Stöltzner / Uebel 2006. The name goes back to Rudolf Haller, "The First Vienna Circle", in: Questions about Wittgenstein and essays on Austrian philosophy, Amsterdam 1986.
  8. Stadler 1997, 225-251.
  9. Stadler 1997, 230.
  10. Stadler 1997, 229-251.
  11. The recording of these meetings by Waismann can be found in the volume Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle, Conversations recorded by Friedrich Waismann, Frankfurt a. M. 1984.
  12. Stadler 1997, 364-388.
  13. For an overview of the lecturing activities 1929–1932: Stadler 1997, 379–381.
  14. Frank 1949, 38.
  15. Karl Popper's Logic of Research appeared in this series in 1934.
  16. On the documentation of Schlick's murder and the criminal case against Nelböck: Stadler 1997, 920–961.
  17. For a chronology of emigration: Hans-Joachim Dahms, "The Emigration of the Vienna Circle", in: Friedrich Stadler, Peter Weibel (ed.), The Cultural Exodus from Austria , Vienna 1995.
  18. Stöltzner / Uebel 2006, XX. See “Scientific Worldview. The Vienna Circle ", in: Stöltzner / Uebel 2006, 28.
  19. See Stadler 1997, 623. This division follows the description in Stadler 1997, 621ff. There you can also find biobibliographies for all of the people listed here.
  20. ^ Oskar Morgenstern: The Collaboration Between Oskar Morgenstern and John von Neumann on the Theory of Games . In: Journal of Economic Literature , 14 (3), 1976, p. 806.
  21. Stöltzner / Uebel 2006, ix
  22. See Uebel / Stöltzner, LIIff. and Thomas Uebel, "Vienna Circle", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Online .
  23. ^ Institute of the Vienna Circle. University of Vienna, accessed on March 19, 2020 .
  24. ^ Vienna Circle Society. Association of the Vienna Circle Society, accessed on March 19, 2020 .
  25. Exhibition: The Vienna Circle - Exact Thinking on the Edge of Fall. University of Vienna, accessed on March 19, 2020 .