Philosophical Biography of L. Boltzmann

  • E. Broda
Conference paper
Part of the Acta Physica Austriaca book series (FEWBODY, volume 10/1973)


During the second half of his working life, Boltzmann’s centre of interest shifted to philosophy. In his philosophy, he generalized his experience as a physicist and a protagonist of atomistics. He dealt with the essence of physical theories and the mechanism of their evolution. Much attention was paid to the main problem of epistemology, the relationship of existence and consciousness. Boltzmann followed Mach in teaching natural philosophy in Vienna University. But in contrast to him Boltzmann insisted on the necessity of accepting the reality of the external world, unless one wanted to embrace solipsism. Boltzmann called his philosophy realism, and, later, materialism. The evolution of theories and ideas was considered from the point of view of Darwinism, whose fiery supporter Boltzmann was. The laws of thinking are, though largely inborn, by no means infallible. They developed by proving their worth in practice, and need readjustment when they do not fit experience any longer. Our ideas about Euclidian space were given as an example. The Darwinist approach was also applied by Boltzmann to the evolution of ethical and aesthetical feelings and concepts. Boltzmann’s philosophical views, put forward with great temperament, led to his increasing intellectual isolation. An attempt is now made by the author to assess Boltzmann’s position within contemporary Austrian society. In the author’s view, the feeling of isolation greatly contributed to Boltzmann’s suicide.


External World Sensual Perception Objective Existence Inaugural Lecture Philosophy Realism 
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    L. Boltzmann, Populäre Schriften, Leipzig 1905. Whenever in the present paper Boltzmann is quoted by paper title and year only, the source is found in that volume and in [2]. Many of the passages from Boltzmann’s papers have been selected and quoted before by me [3].Google Scholar
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    L. Boltzmann, Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen, ed. F. Hasenöhrl, Vols. 1–3, Leipzig 1909Google Scholar
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    E. Broda, L. Boltzmann, Mensch-Physiker-Philosoph, Vienna 1955 and Berlin 1957.Google Scholar
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    Concerning the social setting, the following point may be made. Already in his life time, Boltzmann was greatly respected as a physicist, nationally and internationally. He was, for instance, a member of many Academies. Also the Austrian civil servants, among whom were enlightened men, appreciated Boltzmann as a physicist. He was even given the title Hofrat (Court Councillor). Twice the Austrian patriot was recalled to his beloved country from Germany - the second time only on his word of honour never to leave Austria again. But characteristically, in spite of his magnificent title, he never appears to have been consulted by Government or Emperor even in professional matters, although he held that great men ought to take part in public life (see Obituary to Loschmidt).Google Scholar
  5. Kaiser Wilhelm the Second was certainly an unpleasant and dangerous person - but he did want to know the scientific and technical views of Fritz Haber, Richard Willstätter and Otto Hahn. For Franz Joseph and his entourage, science was not interesting.-The same was true of the heir presumptive, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, later assassinated in Saraievo, however much he otherwise was opposed to his uncle [8].Google Scholar
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    L. Boltzmann, Vorlesungen über Gastheorie, Preface to Vol.II, Leipzig 1898.Google Scholar
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    M. Planck, Vorträge und Erinnerungen, Stuttgart 1949.Google Scholar
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    No. 123, in [2].Google Scholar
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    These problems have been treated in a separate essay: E. Broda, Warum ist es in Österreich um die Naturwissenschaft so schlecht bestellt?, in H. Fischer, ed., Versäumnisse und Chancen, Vienna 1967. I am referring to this essay because of the discussion of the past. The passages about the present are largely obsolete now.Google Scholar
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    A. Lampa, quoted in [3].Google Scholar
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    H. Marek, née Broda, quoted in [3].Google Scholar
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    W. Kienzl, quoted in [3].Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Broda
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Physical ChemistryUniversity of ViennaAustria

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