In This Article Vienna Circle

  • Introduction
  • Early Introductions
  • Recent Overviews
  • Bibliographies

Philosophy Vienna Circle
by
Thomas J. Oberdan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0311

Introduction

“The Vienna Circle” was the name adopted by a group of scientists and philosophers who met in Vienna in the 1920s and 1930s to develop a scientific philosophy rooted in the latest developments in the mathematical sciences. Although the group began to meet at the University of Vienna under the leadership of the physicist-turned-philosopher Moritz Schlick beginning in 1924, it was not known as “the Vienna Circle” until the publications of its manifesto in 1929. Although the group is often treated as if they shared a unified, monolithic perspective on the scope and nature of science, the members were independent thinkers who frequently disagreed on specific topics central to their philosophical focus. What united them was the belief that a genuinely scientific philosophy could not be founded on the basis of an independently established philosophical perspective, but must proceed “from the inside out” by incorporating the concepts and methods of the sciences in the development of a philosophical understanding of the scientific enterprise. As the years passed, the group absorbed more and more outside influences, primarily elements of American pragmatism. Eventually their views became known as “Logical Empiricism”, and it was under this name that their philosophical views came to dominate the philosophical study of science. Like the Circle members, the Logical Empiricists were unified more by the focus of its members than the similarity of their views. This article will emphasize the primary literature through 1936, including works produced prior to the manifesto when the group called itself the “Schlick Zirkel.” As far as possible, this will include publications of the writings of many of the Circle members, both in English translation and in the form of critical editions in their original languages. In addition, numerous conferences, workshops, and conventions have been organized in recent years, and the proceedings of these gatherings have become the principal repositories of the latest scholarship on the Vienna Circle. These two types of publications—reproductions of original works and recent scholarship—are the focus of this article.

Early Introductions

“The Scientific Conception of the World: The Vienna Circle” (Neurath 1973, cited under Otto Neurath (1882–1945): Primary Sources, pp. 299–318) was specifically written to express the gratitude of its authors for remaining in Vienna (by declining an offer of a position in Bonn) and to introduce the Vienna Circle to the world. It was presented to Schlick at a meeting held with the German Physical Society and German Association of Mathematicians in Prague. Kraft 1953 presents a broad view of the Circle, presented from the perspective of a long-time member. Nagel 1936 is an early piece written after visiting the Circle, by a particularly acute observer.

  • Hanfling, Oswald. Logical Positivism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

    E-mail Citation »

    An account of the Vienna Circle in which the author maintains that the Circle’s verificationism was its principal interest and most distinguishing characteristic, disregarding other central issues, like conventionalism.

  • Kraft, Viktor. The Vienna Circle. Translated by Arthur Pap. New York: Philosophical Library, 1953.

    E-mail Citation »

    Kraft (b. 1880–d. 1975) was a member of the Vienna Circle who remained in Vienna after the Anschluss of 1938, assuming Schick’s position at the University. His account of the Circle is broad, considering developments from the original Ur-Zirkel of Hahn, Neurath, and Frank to developments in the thought of its members that occurred long after their departure.

  • Nagel, Ernest. “Impressions and Appraisals of Analytic Philosophy in Europe, I–II.” Journal of Philosophy 33.1–2 (1936): 5–24, 29–53.

    DOI: 10.2307/2016895E-mail Citation »

    This is Ernest Nagel’s (b. 1901–d. 1985) account of the activities of analytic philosophers in Europe. Of the two parts of this article, the first is a report on philosophical activity in Cambridge and the second reports the activities of the Vienna Circle, broadly construed to include the ideas of Carnap, who was in Prague at the time, and Neurath, exiled to The Hague. To this day, Nagel’s piece is an interesting glimpse of the Circle from an American’s point of view.

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