Schlick and the Vienna Circle

As promised when I finished Misak’s wonderful biography of Frank Ramsey, I’m now reading David Edmonds “The Murder of Professor Schlick – The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle“.

Most interesting chapter so far concerns the different factions of Jews and anti-semites in Vienna as we approach the 1930’s – and the consequences for the academic lives of the circle and their associates. Sobering (*).

That said, almost everything reinforces my prejudiced position concerning the circle themselves. Idiots to a man. Neurath being the archetype and Schlick the facilitator. Despite their modernist free-thinking aspirations, a totalitarian attitude to denigrating anything remotely fuzzy and replacing it with the presumed certainty of logic. And an explicitly left-wing utopian political agenda to the core. What were they thinking?

Left or right, this stuff stinks. Pretty much my 21st C agenda. Political correctness, driven by orthodox scientism, is destroying sane – humane – public discourse and everything else with it. Sadly now, the whole process is turbocharged by wall-to-wall electronic media. The rise of the right being simply a reaction to the insanity of the left. A pox on both their houses.

[Brexit, Trump, anti-Covid, Q-Anon, LGBTI+ Gender Wars, you name it.]

Can’t help thinking what might have been, had they noticed Gödel at their 7th October 1930 conference in Königsberg, and had Wittgenstein attended and met him, or had Ramsey lived to participate, or … ? Mach would have been turning in his grave – The Vienna Circle being the informal name of what had actually been the Ernst Mach Society.

[For an alternative Germanic view of the same story see Karl Sigmund’s work, with an intro by Doug Hofstadter. Also noticeable that Edmonds makes no qualification for Gödel’s thesis being limited to number theory only, quite explicitly the logic of mathematics generally. Which is good of course, Hofstadter is a Gödel specialist.]


[Post Note: A tweet referring to this post:

I guess my position is every “school” can be seen through a wide or narrow lens. No one is wholly wrong or bad, everyone has to have a pragmatic fit with their real world. The naming of any school is about its “distinguishing” feature(s) – a necessarily narrow view, even if the content of the school is necessarily broader. So, obvi0usly, these people took account of social roles in ethical considerations, but they still appeared to be aspiring to reductionist objective / scientific explanations of such?

Again this really is the Good Fences agenda. Most recent placeholder for this posted here.]

[Post Note: (*) I don’t intend to elaborate on the Jewish aspect, my position is a given. It’s also a given based on all the feedback and discussion I’ve seen that David Baddiel’s latest “Jews Don’t Count” (which I’ve not read – yet) is a go-to source for the 21st C. And, clearly, it also shares my identity politics agenda – maybe my Good Fences take can contribute to future improvement?]

6 thoughts on “Schlick and the Vienna Circle”

  1. Agreement is rather boring, so I’ll have to read Edmond’s book and reacquaint myself with the Vienna Circle before I give compete assent. But, overall, I’m with you. As to, “a totalitarian attitude to denigrating anything remotely fuzzy and replacing it with the presumed certainty of logic”, I’m currently reading Galen Strawson’s essay ‘The Silliest Thing’. This is his examination of the woeful way the methodological tenets on behaviourism were transmogrified by philosophers into eliminative materialism and the denial of consciousness. This is a parallel process to the one you describe, but no less ridiculous. And maybe more: it is the ‘silliest thing’ to which he refers.

  2. Yes, I had to admit to “prejudice” but I’m finding it hard to find nice things to say.
    What I hadn’t previously realised was how explicit a political agenda it had been from the start. Explains a lot.

    Still, it’s advertised as the “rise and fall” – so hoping the second half is better 😉

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