Project Description
Project Investigators
Stegmüller's Literary Estate at the Brenner Archive
German Version

History of Science and/or Philosophy of Science? 


The goal of the project is to reconstruct the radical discontinuities and processes of re-orientation in the philosophy of science in the German speaking world between 1965 and 1995. This research is projected under the aspect of the historical and pragmatic turn of philosophy of science, which has rightly been termed the “mega trend of philosophy” (Hoyningen-Huene) in the second half of the 20th century, as well as the philosophical reactions to this trend. The project wants to place this philosophical confrontation in its historical context with particular reference to previously unpublished archival materials (Stegmüller) or to such sources, which have only sporadically and superficially been considered (Feyerabend, Popper). The clash between the classical normative theory-oriented conception of philosophy of science and the emerging descriptive-historical praxis-oriented approach to understanding science is mainly investigated. The philosophers who issued the challenge are (in alphabetical order) Paul Feyerabend, Norwood Russell Hanson, Thomas Kuhn and Stephen Toulmin. Those who reacted against them were the so-called “critical rationalists”, Sir Karl Popper, Imre Lakatos and Hans Albert. The classic program of “rational reconstruction“ and of conceptual explication, as already developed by Carnap in the 20s, is of special interest as a possible way of mediating between these approaches. This program underwent an extensive reformulation when confronted with the challenges of historicism in the work of Imre Lakatos and, especially, in the camp of theory structuralism (Stegmüller), and the representatives of the “semantic view”. The project's point of departure for studying this crucial turning point in the history of 20th century thought is the London Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science (1965), which was attended by several of the principal figures in our investigation. The period studied in this project ends around 1995, when some of the main figures of philosophy of science crucial for this debate died (Popper, Feyerabend, Lorenzen, Stegmüller and Kuhn).

last update: 04.08.2009
Christian Damböck


Project Description

Analytical philosophy and philosophy of science have established themselves firmly in England and the United States and have spread throughout the world, especially to Europe, from those countries.
However they originated in Central Europe, principally in the Vienna and Berlin Circles of logical empiricism as well as in the Prague branch of both groups. After 1933, under Austrofascism and National Socialism the main protagonists of this sort of philosophy had to flee into exile (largely in the Anglo-American world). Emigration meant, in nearly all cases, that they would never return to their homelands.
The impact of logical empiricism from the early days of its internationalisation to its impact in the countries to which the logical empiricists emigrated has been the object of thorough study, both with respect to the substance of the philosophical views and the biographies of the persons involved. The answer to the question of the fate of the individual logical empiricists and the very intellectual tradition they represented in Central Europe after 1945, above all, the issue of how those ideas found their way back to the lands of their origins, has been conjectural. The question of the return-transfer of this body of knowledge has both a theoretical and a personal dimension. With respect to the biographies of the logical empiricists, none of them ever returned to practice philosophy in Austria, Germany, or even Czechoslovakia. The possibilities of those few members of the Vienna Circle who did not emigrate - such as Béla von Juhos and Viktor Kraft - to have an effect upon the development of philosophy in the post-war period were as limited as the exceptions to the rule of non-return were rare (Walter Hollitscher, who practiced philosophy in the German Democratic Republic and Austria after returning from England, where he had a strong impact upon the young Paul Feyerabend, is one such exception to the rule).
Only in recent years the question of the causes of this situation has become a subject for scholarly research on the part of historians of philosophy and science. Studies of the matter indicate that there were a number of factors militating against the return of the logical empiricists. Apart from the financial problems that Central European universities faced in the post-war period and the question of the inadequate background of students, making them scarcely capable of responding to scientific philosophy, there were political problems as well as a general deep scepticism about the possibility of a new scientific and cultural orientation that hindered the return of logical empiricism. This has, for example, clearly come to light recently in the correspondence between Rudolf Carnap and his friends who had remained in Germany.
In Addition, putative re-immigrant representatives of scientific philosophy were simply not welcome in Austria, since that philosophical current “Logical Positivism” was vehemently rejected by state and university officials both on political and philosophical grounds. Even those philosophers who managed to re-discover the tradition of scientific philosophy were prevented from pursuing an academic career as has recently been shown in the case of Wolfgang Stegmüller in Innsbruck and Vienna. Stegmüller was forced to continue his career in Germany, where he could choose between various professorships and finally decided to go to Munich. Whether this fact is merely to be attributed to Stegmüller´s reputation abroad, or if other considerations come into play as well, remains to be seen (it was about the same time that Carl Friedrich von Weizäcker and Paul Lorenzen commenced their activities in the discipline philosophy of science at German universities, in Hamburg and Erlangen, respectively). In Munich, towards the end of the 50s, Stegmüller founded what was to become the most influencial school of philosophy of science in Germany. A second telling case is that of Paul Feyerabend, who had no chance to pursue a career in Vienna but could only establish himself as a philosopher in England (and later in the USA) with the help of philosophers originally from Switzerland and Austria, such as Herbert Feigl, Karl Popper and Arthur Pap.
The intellectual re-importation of analytical philosophy of science can be traced back to he people we have been discussing, especially Rudolf Carnap, who remained in the USA, and Wolfgang Stegmüller, who transplanted himself to Germany. This fact can scarcely be gleaned from their biographical essays; rather, it can be established largely by considering Stegmüller´s publications i.e., in the various editions of his Hauptströmungen der Gegenwartsphilosophie from 1952 up to the publication of his monumental Probleme und Resultate der Wissenschaftstheorie und Analytischen Philosophie at the end of the 60s. It is striking that Stegmüller tends to reduce logical empiricism to the opinions of Carnap, especially to the latter´s later works on semantics and inductive logic. Stegmüller began to develop a comprehensive picture of these developments in his monumental Probleme und Resultate in the mid-60s. It was a consequence of the development of Stegmüller´s own work that a completely revised picture of re-imported philosophy of science gradually emerged. The transfer of logical empiricism to the USA had already robbed it of the numerous links to politics and culture it had had in its homeland and thereby reduced it from a universal program for social reform based on “the scientific conception of the world” to a more or less normative philosophy of science. This transformation in the context in which logical empiricism developed was gradually discovered in the course of recent research on the history of the Vienna Circle. (the relationship of the logical empiricists to the Bauhaus in Dessau is one typical example of such a link.) Thus it has become necessary to elaborate a second phase of the transformation of scientific philosophy, which has become known as its "academization and de-politization" in the post-1945 depiction of logical empiricism in the German-speaking world. In the light of such de-contextualization, it should not be surprising that ideological battles surrounding “positivism” should have arisen in academic circles.
On the basis of archival materials made available only recently, it is possible to get a precise picture of the course of the re-transfer of logical empiricism into some of its homelands in Central Europe as well as the distortions that forced emigration wrought upon its substance.
The first of these are the papers of Rudolf Carnap, long available at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Konstanz, but previously lacking the kind of scholarly ordering that permits us to answer such questions. The Carnap Edition Project, which has been running since 2002 and will make all of Carnap´s writings available for the first time in a critical edition confers special significance on the planned systematic evaluation of the course of the re-transfer of logical empiricism.
Secondly, the presence of the Stegmüller papers in the Brenner Archives Research Institute permits the possibility of researching the re-importation of logical empiricism into Central Europe in original documents from the hand of those men who contributed most to it.
Thirdly, the papers of Herbert Feigl, Carl G. Hempel and Paul Feyerabend, all of whom were in touch with Stegmüller (increasingly so after Carnap´s death in1970) in Pittsburgh and Konstanz allows the investigators to round off their inquiries with a glance at he period up to the so-called Wende in 1989/90.