What Was The Vienna Circle? History Of This Philosophical Group

A group of philosophers who gave way to the beginnings of the philosophy of science.

Vienna Circle

Scientific research has allowed throughout history the development of a large number of technologies and the understanding of a great diversity of phenomena that make our day to day something easier. Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology, Medicine, Psychology… all of them have been developing with the passage of time. But all of them have a common origin, an origin that goes back to antiquity and that starts from the human being’s search for an explanation for the mysteries of life: Philosophy.

And like the previous ones, philosophy has also evolved with the times, affecting in turn scientific development. These advances and changes have generated a great diversity of paradigms, some of which have been forged and discussed in different circles of thinkers. Perhaps one of the best known of modern times was the Vienna Circle, which we will talk about throughout this article.

The Vienna Circle: what was it and who formed it?

An important scientific and philosophical movement that was founded in 1921 by Moritz Schlick in the Austrian city that gives its name to this group is called the Vienna Circle . This movement arose with the purpose of forming a discussion group on scientific topics in an informal way, although it would end up being the main ideological nucleus of logical neopositivism and the philosophy of science.

This movement had great figures of science from very diverse disciplines, among them (in addition to Schlik himself) Herbert Feigl, Freidrich Waisman, Rudolf Carnap, Víctor Kraft, Otto Neurath, Philipp Frank, Klaus Mahn, Carl Gustav Hempel, Felix Kaufmann or Alfred Ayer. Many of them were physicists, mathematicians or professionals who studied different branches of science but would end up delving into philosophical aspects.

Although he would be born on the 21st, it would not be until 1929 when he would make his first official manifesto, entitled “The scientific vision of the world”, in which they would propose philosophy as the main instrument to generate a common language to the different scientific disciplines, relegating it only to this function.

The movement was centered in a total empiricism that tried to be based on the advances of logic and physics and that centered its methodology in the inductive method. Another of the main aspects by which it is characterized is its deep rejection of metaphysics, derived from its inductivism and empiricism, considering it alien to the reality of phenomena. Their meetings, held on Thursday nights, would eventually germinate in the so-called logical neopositivism.

Main philosophical contributions

The vision of reality and science proper to the members of the Vienna Circle is what would end up being called logical neopositivism. This philosophical-scientific stance proposed empiricism and induction as the main elements for scientific study and supposed the search for a unity of scientific language under the premise that the different disciplines are all part of the same system with the possibility of being unified.

The movement proposed a readaptation of the sciences to search for common fundamental laws from which later to deduce those of each of its branches. For this, the use of a single method was essential, the logical analysis of language, with which, from the use of symbolic logic and the scientific method, to seek to avoid false statements and to be able to generate a unified knowledge of the world.

For them, the unsolved problems were only because what they are trying to solve are pseudo-problems that must first be transformed into empirical problems. As we have previously commented, this analysis would correspond to the mother of all sciences, philosophy, which should not seek but to clarify scientific problems and statements.

With respect to the statements, they considered that there is no valid knowledge unconditionally derived from reason or a priori, only those statements based on empirical evidence and on logic and mathematics being true. In this sense, they enunciated the principle of demarcation, in which a statement will be scientific if it can be contrasted and verified by objective experience.

Interestingly, no method was considered invalid (even intuition was valid), as long as what resulted from it could be empirically tested.

The Vienna Circle touched on a large number of disciplines, going through physics (this being possibly the most enhanced and considered), mathematics, geometry, biology, psychology or the social sciences. In addition to this, it was characterized by its opposition to metaphysics (as well as to theology), considering that it was based on non-empirical or verifiable data.

The dissolution of the Circle

The Vienna circle offered interesting contributions and advances both in the field of philosophy and in that of the various branches of science, as we have seen previously. However, a few years after being formed, it would end up dissolving due to the historical events that happened during the time. We are talking about the coming to power of Hitler and Nazism.

The beginning of the end of the circle occurred when in June 1936 and on the way to teach at the University, the one who was pioneer and founder of the Moritz Schlick Circle was assassinated on the stairs of the same by an ex-student of his, Johann Nelböck , of an ideology close to the Nazi (although apparently the murder occurred due to delusions of a celotypical type regarding another of Schlick’s students, who had rejected the murderer).

The student would be arrested and imprisoned, but two years later he would be released by the Nazis by justifying their actions as an act to prevent doctrines and paradigms harmful and threatening to the nation, due to the fact that a large part of the Vienna Circle was made up of scientists. of Jewish origin.

This assassination, in addition to the subsequent rise of Nazism, the annexation of Austria to the German regime and the persecution of the Jews that followed, would cause almost all the Vienna Circle members to decide to flee to different countries, the majority to the United States. In ’38 the Circle’s publications were banned in Germany. A year later, the last work of the Circle, the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, would be published, this being the end of the Vienna Circle as such (although they would continue working on their own).

Only one of the members of the Circle would remain in Vienna, Víctor Kraft, around which the one who would receive the name of the Kraft Circle would be formed and who would continue to discuss various topics of scientific philosophy.

Bibliographic references:

  • Klimovsky, G. (2005). The misadventures of scientific knowledge 6th. Edition. AZ editor. Buenos Aires.
  • Lorenzano, P. (2002). The scientific conception of the world: the Vienna Circle. Networks 18. Journal of Science and Technology Studies, 9 (18). Institute of Studies on Science and Technology. National University of Quilmes. Buenos Aires.
  • Urdanoz, T. (1984). History of Philosophy, T. VII. BAC: Madrid.

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