Otto Neurath’s Epistemology and Its Paradoxes

  • Jan SebestikEmail author
Part of the Logic, Epistemology, and the Unity of Science book series (LEUS, volume 18)


Neurath’s holism, so characteristic for his thinking, contrasts with the general analytical trend of the Vienna Circle. All phenomena ought always to be considered in broader context, eventually in the context of a universal history of the cosmos. His theory of truth, discussed during the controversy over protocol sentences with Schlick and Neurath, is also holist in a specific sense: a statement is true if it can be integrated into a theory. In disagreement with the phenomenalist orientation of Carnap’s Logical Structure of the World (and with Poppers’s “pseudorationalism”) Neurath initiated the physicalist turn of the Vienna Circle. The physicalist language should be the universal language (“jargon”) of all sciences. Paradoxically, when physicists began to doubt about whether a unified language of macrophysics and microphysics was possible, Neurath linked the fate of physicalism with the latest developments of in physics. In spite of his ardent attacks against metaphysics, his position is rather ambivalent and the elimination of metaphysics seems more and more difficult. Another paradox: metaphysics consists of “isolated” sentences, but it has always assumed the function of developing a general synthesis of human knowledge. Finally, Neurath’s efforts aim at the elaboration of a unified science whose concrete realization is a series of scientific treatises, the Encyclopedia. Written in the universal physicalist language, it is fundamentally pluralistic.


Social Engineering Scientific Language Protocol Statement Verbal Cluster Logical Empiricism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Köhler, E. (1985). Die Metaphysik beim Wiener Kreis. In Dahms, H.-J. (herausgegeben von), Philosophie, Wissenschaft, Auklärung. Beiträge zur Geschichte und Wirkung des Wiener Kreises. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  2. Maxwell, J. C. (1991). Matter and Motion. New York, NY: Dover.Google Scholar
  3. Neurath, O. (1981). In Haller, R., Rutte, H. (herausgegeben von), Gesammelte philosophische und methodologische Schriften, vol I and II. Wien: Hölder-Pichler-Tempski.Google Scholar
  4. Neurath, O. (1983). Philosophical Papers 19131946, edited and translated by Robert S. Cohen and Marie Neurath. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
  5. Sebestik, J. (1999). Vorwort. Der Wiener Kreis und die Geschichte – Erkenntnistheorie und Wissenschaftsgeschichte im Werk Otto Neuraths. In Nemeth, E., Heinrich, R. (herausgegeben von), Otto Neurath: Rationalität, Planung, Vielfalt. Wien/Oldenburg/Berlin: Akademie Verlag.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des SciencesParisFrance

Personalised recommendations