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Dingler, Hugo (1881–1954)


Hugo Dingler, the German philosopher of science, was the most important representative of Continental operationism, as distinguished from the operationalism of the American physicist P. W. Bridgman. Dingler was also a main contributor to Grundlagenforschung (research on the foundations of the exact sciences). After studying under such teachers as David Hilbert, Edmund Husserl, Felix Klein, Hermann Minkowski, Wilhelm Röntgen, and Woldemar Voigt at the universities of Erlangen, Munich, and Göttingen, Dingler received a Ph.D. in mathematics, physics, and astronomy in 1906 and became Privatdozent in 1912. He was appointed professor at the University of Munich in 1920 and at the Technische Hochschule in Darmstadt in 1932. In 1934 he was dismissed on charges of philosemitism. He later resumed teaching but soon rebelled again against the political situation, and eventually he was put under the continuous watch of a Gestapo agent "who unfortunately"as Dingler told the present writer"was not gifted for philosophy and did not profit from my compulsory daily lessons." Such difficulties in the German political situation during Dingler's life contributed to the lack of awareness of his work, despite his some twenty books and seventy essays in exceptionally clear German. Perhaps a more decisive factor was Dingler's independence of all the main schools and trends in contemporary philosophy of sciencepositivism and empiricism, Neo-Kantianism, phenomenology, intuitionism, and formalism.

From the juvenile Grundlinien einer Kritik und exakten Theorie der Wissenschaften, insbesondere der mathematischen (Essentials of a critique and rigorous theory of the sciences, especially of the mathematical ones; Munich, 1907) to the posthumous Die Ergreifung des Wirklichen (The grasping of reality; Munich, 1955), Dingler's main concern was to give a new answer to the Kantian question "How is exact science possible?" He regarded arithmetic, analysis, geometry, and mechanics as the exact sciences par excellence; he called them "mental" (geistige ), meaning that they cannot be derived from experience and must be synthesized operationally from a few univocal ideas used as "building stones" (Bausteine ). In this way scientific inquiry was to be made continuous with everyday life and viewed in terms of practical activity. The operational reconstruction of the foundations of science was to abolish the field of foundations as an independent territory open to philosophical disagreement or mystification. Dingler came to consider the given itself, as expressed in protocol, or basic, sentences, as a highly complicated kind of result.

To prevent any residues of previous theories from entering into the operational reconstruction, we must start from a "zero situation" in which we suppose only that the world is "simply there" and that we can operate on it. This is a methodological principle, not a metaphysical denial of reality: it is a voluntary suspension of rational processes which can be brought about at any moment. After 1907, under Husserl's influence, Dingler labeled the zero situation "the standpoint of freedom from presuppositions." In 1942 he described it as das Unberührte, the intact or untouched"that which has not yet been operated upon."

The first univocal step out of the zero situation consists in entertaining an idea in which the sheer relation of difference (with equality and similarity as its special cases) is present, and is applied (anwendet ) only once, as in the idea "something distinct without further specification," that is, the idea of an entity as distinguished from all the rest, as standing out from a background. This idea is not the description of anything existing in the world but rather is the first requirement for any such description. All we can say about it is that it is present and limited; we can then specify it as constant or variable, and in either case we can also give special attention to its limits. In this way we reach a purely qualitative fourfold scheme which precedes the concepts of number, space, and time. To this scheme correspond four rules of operation, which afford the starting points of the exact sciences: (1) something distinct without further specification, and constant, for arithmetic; (2) the same, but variable, for analysis (more generally for the doctrine of time and variables); (3) the same, but constant, considered with respect to its limits, for geometry; and (4) the same, but variable, considered with respect to its limits, for kinematics and mechanics.

By means of complications of this basic scheme Dingler was able to operationally derive and prove the axioms of the exact sciences and to construct their whole fabric. This painstaking and original construction is to be found chiefly in Philosophie der Logik und Arithmetik (1931), Die Grundlagen der Geometrie (1933), Die Methode der Physik (1938), and Lehrbuch der exakten Naturwissenschaften (1944).

See also Bridgman, Percy William; Continental Philosophy; Hilbert, David; Husserl, Edmund; Operationalism; Philosophy of Science.


works by dingler

Works on "Grundlagenforschung"

Philosophie der Logik und Arithmetik. Munich, 1931.

Geschichte der Naturphilosophie. Berlin, 1932. A history of the development of the idea of Grundlagenforschung in experimental science.

Die Grundlagen der Geometrie. Stuttgart, 1933.

Die Methode der Physik. Munich, 1938.

Lehrbuch der exacten Naturwissenschaften. Berlin, 1944. Only thirty copies printed. Parts reprinted with Italian translation and a commentary by Enrico Albani in Methodos 7 (1955): 277287, and 8 (1956): 2930, 122137, 191199.

Other Works

Metaphysik als Wissenschaft und der Primat der Philosophie. Munich, 1926.

Das System. Munich, 1933.

Das Handeln im Sinne des höchsten Zieles. Munich, 1935.

Von der Tierseele zur Menschenseele. Leipzig, 1941.

Grundriss der methodischen Philosophie. Füssen, 1949. A crystal-clear summary of Dingler's main views, but of lower technical quality than his main treatises.


"Methodik statt Erkenntnistheorie und Wissenschaftslehre." Kant-Studien 41 (1936): 346379.

"Über die letzte Wurzel der exakten Naturwissenschaften." Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft 8 (1942): 4970.

"Das Unberührte. Die Definition des unmittelbar Gegebenen." Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft 8 (1942): 209224.

"Die philosophische Begründung des Deszendenztheorie." In Die Evolution der Organismen, edited by Gerhard Hebener. Jena, Germany, 1943.

works on dingler

Benini, Giorgio. I concetti fondamentali della filosofia metodica di Hugo Dingler. Unpublished dissertation, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan, 1953.

Ceccato, Silvio. "Contra Dingler, pro Dingler." Methodos 4 (1952): 223265, with English translation 266290 and reply by Dingler, 291296, translated into English 297299.

Kramps, Wilhelm. Die Philosophie Hugo Dinglers. Munich, 1955. The main study.

Kramps, Wilhelm, ed. Hugo Dingler Gedenkbuch zum 75. Geburtstag. Munich: Eidos, 1956. Contains 14 essays by various authors and a bibliography.

Sandborn, Herbert. "Dingler's Methodical Philosophy." Methodos 4 (1952): 191220.

Ferruccio Rossi-Landi (1967)

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