Vienna Circle

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Entrance to the Mathematical Seminar at the University of Vienna, Boltzmanngasse 5. Meeting place of the Vienna Circle.

The Vienna Circle (German: Wiener Kreis) was an association of philosophers gathered around the University of Vienna in 1922, chaired by Moritz Schlick, also known as the Ernst Mach Society (Verein Ernst Mach) in honour of Ernst Mach.


  • The question of the relationship between words and physical, sensory reality was taken up by the Vienna circle of logical positivists, whose leading members included Moritz Schlick, a successor of Mach at the University of Vienna and teacher of Hayek; Otto Neurath, the group’s practical organizer; and Rudolf Carnap, another leading Viennese philosopher. Hayek was not a member of the Vienna circle, though he was aware of discussions there as a result of his friendship with Felix Kaufmann, a member of the circle, Hayek’s Geistkreis (spirit circle), and Mises’s “private seminar.”

    While it is always difficult to summarize the philosophy of a school that included diverse members over decades, prominent logical positivist themes included the essentiality of verification to knowledge; the exclusive meaningfulness of mathematics, logic, and science in knowledge; and the rejection, as knowledge, of ethics, metaphysics, and religion. Logical positivists were concerned with the philosophy of science and foundations of knowledge. They strove to answer the question: What makes something true? They drew heavily on the work of earlier British empiricists, such as Hume, and more recent philosophers of mathematics, logic, and semantics such as Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell. They were also inspired by Einstein.

    The key ideas of this group of philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians included verificationism and empiricism—that is, knowledge must be capable of being proven to the senses in order to be scientific, in order to be knowledge.

    • Alan O. Ebenstein, Hayek's Journey: The Mind of Friedrich Hayek (2003), Ch. 10. Epistemology, Psychology, and Methodology
  • The Vienna Circle was a discussion group of philosophically interested specialists who came together in 1923 and from 1925 to 1936 met regularly once a week in an institute of Vienna University. These gatherings were conducted by Moritz Schlick, the physicist and philosopher who was appointed professor of the philosophy of inductive sciences in 1922. Over the years, members included Hans Hahn, Otto Neurath, Philipp Frank, Viktor Kraft, Herbert Feigl, Friedrich Waismann, Rudolf Carnap, Kurt Godel, Karl Menger, Bela Juhos and others. There was no conscious aim of radically revising traditional views on the task and place of philosophy, but the members were on the whole well aware that current findings of research into the foundations of logic, mathematics and the natural sciences had important philosophic consequences. Among subjects for discussion were Wittgenstein's Tractatus, the possibility of reducing all concepts of science to what is directly given in experience, the setting up of a criterion of meaningfulness for non-logical utterances, the character of the basic propositions of empirical science, and the devising of a meta-language for the syntactic analysis of scientific language systems.
    • Marie Neurath and Robert S. Cohen (eds.) in: Otto Neurath Empiricism and Sociology, edited by Marie Neurath and Robert S. Cohen. Dordrecht-Holland/Boston-USA: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1973.
  • After 1910 there began in Vienna a movement which regarded Mach's positivist philosophy of science as having great importance for general intellectual life [...] An attempt was made by a group of young men to retain the most essential points of Mach's positivism, especially his stand against the misuse of metaphysics in science. [...] To this group belonged the mathematician H. Hahn, the political economist Otto Neurath, and the author of this book [i.e. Frank], at the time an instructor in theoretical physics in Vienna. [...] We tried to supplement Mach's ideas by those of the French philosophy of science of Henri Poincaré and Pierre Duhem, and also to connect them with the investigations in logic of such authors as Couturat, Schröder, Hilbert, etc.
    • Thomas Uebel, "On the Austrian Roots of Logical Empiricism" in Logical Empiricism — Historical and contemporary Perspectives, ed. Paolo Parrini, Wesley C. Salmon, Merrilee H. Salmon, Pittsburgh : University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003, p.70.

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