Schlick, Moritz

views updated Jun 08 2018

Schlick, Moritz

Moral philosophy

Philosophy of science and epistemology



Friedrich Albert Moritz Schlick (1882-1936), philosopher and epistemologist, was born in Berlin. He studied physics at Heidelberg and Lausanne and took his doctorate at Berlin under Max Planck with a dissertation on the physics of light. He then qualified himself for an academic post in philosophy and taught first at Rostock, then Kiel, and finally at Vienna from 1922 to 1936, where he occupied the chair in the philosophy of the inductive sciences, held earlier by Ernst Mach and Ludwig Boltzmann. Schlick became the leading figure of the so-called Vienna circle—a group of thinkers concerned with developing a scientific philosophy in opposition to the prevailing metaphysical orientation of German philosophical thought.

After a brief but highly productive period this school was disrupted and scattered, first by Schlick’s death on June 22, 1936 (he was murdered by a mentally disturbed former student), and then by the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938. However, its influence continued and was strongly felt for another two decades, especially in English-speaking countries (where it became known as logical positivism), as a consequence of the emigration of some of its leading members and sympathizers, among them Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach, and the somewhat less closely connected Karl Popper.

Although trained as a physicist and strongly motivated by the desire to bring philosophical clarity to the knowledge of nature and to render philosophy more scientific in method and results, Schlick was sensitive to the whole range of problems of knowledge, human existence, and values. He had a simple, clear style free of all technical jargon, rising on occasion to something like the level of poetry.

His first book, Lebensweisheit (1908; “Wisdom of Life"), as the name indicates, was devoted to nonscientific issues, as was his last, Problems of Ethics (1930a), which, while largely an attempt to give an account of ethics from the causal–explanatory point of view, contains many profound observations on life and values. Aside from these two books and a small separately published essay on the meaning of life, Vom Sinn des Lebens (1927), Schlick’s contributions to philosophy fall in the fields of the philosophy of science and epistemology.

He did not, however, concern himself with the philosophy of the social sciences; at least he published nothing dealing directly with its special problems (however, see Natur und Kultur). The most important of his ideas pertaining to this area are those that are contained in his ethical writings mentioned above. A few words will be said about them before we turn to his principal contributions dealing with knowledge as such.

Moral philosophy

Schlick distinguished sharply between cognition and experience. Reality is given to us in experience, but that experience is not itself knowledge. This distinction, between Erlebnis and Erkenntnis ("experience” and “cognition"), which plays so fundamental a role in his theory of knowledge, is no less important in his ethics and Lebensphilosophie. Thus, the moral philosopher seeks only to understand moral phenomena, moral conduct—not to guide or create them. The moralist, wise man, or prophet, on the other hand, is interested in the quality of life itself, seeks to enlighten men with respect to the good life, and thus has a practical, not theoretical, goal.

As a moralist, Schlick taught that the good life is the life full, to the highest degree, of activity valued for its own sake. Activities valued in and for themselves are properly called play, and Schlick agreed with Schiller that man is truly man only when he plays. And, as youth is characteristically the time of play, the concept of “youth” is the clue to the meaning of life. Whenever man acts out of the joy in acting, apart from considerations of ends to be achieved, then he is, regardless of his age, youthful in the philosophical sense, and then his life is meaningful. “If we need a rule for life let it be: ’Preserve the spirit of youth!’, for it is the meaning of life” (1927, p. 354).

As a moral philosopher, Schlick viewed his task as that of explaining moral conduct, i.e., how it comes about that man does what is required of him by society, which is the moral lawgiver making demands upon him to act, even when such conformance might seem contrary to his own desires. Normative ethics—defining “the good," “what ought to be"—he considered as at most a preliminary to ethics. It is not the task or privilege of the moral philosopher to decide what society ought to mean by these terms but only to ascertain what it does mean. But this does not imply that the philosopher docilely accepts as good whatever society holds to be such; his task is to understand and explain norms, not to accept or reject them. Schlick’s view was that society deems and calls good that which it supposes is beneficial to it—i.e., makes for its happiness—and it demands that its members act accordingly. The ultimate ethical norms, if such there be, are facts in human experience and, precisely because they are ultimate, they neither need nor admit of justification—a senseless requirement but one all too frequently made in the history of ethical thought. Schlick wrote that “even if ethics were a normative science it would not cease because of this to be a science of facts . . .” ([1930a] 1939, p. 21).

According to Schlick, in a situation of choice a man selects that goal the idea of which at the time of choice is relatively more pleasure-tinged or less tinged with unpleasant feeling than the alternatives. Thus men can, and often do, knowingly choose goals that are in their realization unpleasant. In the long run, however, the motive pleasure is in turn affected by the realization pleasure in such a way that goals regularly found to be unpleasant upon achievement, whether because of their own nature or because of social sanctions, cease to be attractive. The combined effect of man’s natural sympathy and of social sanctions is to make man identify his own happiness with that of his fellow men. Thus arises that close connection between virtue (moral conduct, i.e., altruism) and happiness, which explains why men act morally.

Of possible interest to students of society is Schlick’s analysis of the concept of “responsibility,” which he thought should replace the traditional concept of so-called freedom of the will, a concept that in his view is irrelevant to ethics and based on a series of confusions, namely, between causality (determinism) and compulsion, indeterminism (chance) and freedom. That a man’s actions are determined means only that they are predictable, not that they are coerced. “’Compulsion’ occurs where a man is prevented from realizing his natural desires. How could the rule according to which these natural desires arise itself be considered as ’compulsion’?” (ibid., p. 148). Morality and society are both concerned only with who is responsible for the acts they wish to discourage or encourage, and this influence would be impossible if acts were free in the sense of undetermined, i.e., uncaused.

Philosophy of science and epistemology

Schlick’s work in the theory of knowledge and the philosophy of science dominated his scholarly career. It falls into two periods: one culminating in the publication of his chief work, Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre (1918), and another beginning with his move to Vienna in 1922 and ending with his death in 1936.

Experience and knowledge

The most important single idea of Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre is that the experience of something (Erlebnis) is not the same as the knowledge of it (Erkenntnis). To know something is basically to recognize it, i.e., to find in it something already familiar. Schlick frequently made use of the pair of German terms hennen and erkennen to make this distinction; the former refers to being acquainted with something, the latter to recognizing it as an instance of something else. This recognition ranges from the simplest cases, such as finding a shade to be a certain color, to recognizing in the phenomena of light something governed (described) by the same laws as those governing electrical phenomena. The whole goal of knowledge as theory is to achieve conceptual unification, to discover identity amid diversity. This is a joy in itself, but in addition it gives man the power to master endlessly diverse phenomena with a minimum of basic concepts.

Knowledge is correct description, a true statement or judgment. Contrary to the teaching of Kant, our knowledge is not confined to the realm of phenomena, what is sensibly given, but reaches over into the realm of “things-in-themselves,” if by this term we refer to what is not phenomenon, not given in experience. For we can make true judgments about what we do not and cannot experience, as well as about what we can. Knowledge is symbolic, not intuitive.

Such things-in-themselves are defined not in terms of experienced “content” but implicitly, in terms of their relational properties. To know something about such things is not to intuit their qualities but to be acquainted with the laws that describe their behavior. To be real is not to be simply an object of sensible intuition but rather to occupy a position in time. The moment it is shown that for any object the rules of some particular scientific discipline force us to grant it a definite time and place, its real existence is assured. Thus, the existence and nature of atoms, of fields of force, or of the experiences of other persons are vouched for by the laws that describe them correctly, enabling us to predict and control, not by their entering qualitatively into our experience. Physical space and time are not identical with their sensible (subjective) correlates (visual space is not Euclidean) but are known through the laws that describe them.

Considerations of a similar nature were used by Schlick in his polemic against the phenomenalism and “positivism” of such thinkers as Hume, Avenarius, and Mach, whose doctrines he called the “immanence idea” and subjected to sustained and effective criticism.

Analysis and verification

Under the influence of Wittgenstein, with whom he was in close personal contact during his Vienna period, certain aspects of Schlick’s thought underwent a gradual but appreciable shift of emphasis. Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophy as the activity of clarifying meaning furnished Schlick with a clearer line of demarcation between philosophy and science, or positive knowledge: the former clarifies concepts and analyzes the meaning of statements, determining their experiential truth conditions; the latter seeks to verify them, determine their truth values. Philosophical activity constitutes the necessary precondition of science but does not itself put forth doctrines, does not take the form of a body of knowledge. It consists rather in those sometimes verbal acts by means of which meanings are “shown.” The ultimate meanings of words and statements must be found in what is given in experience, in content.

The great error of metaphysics has been the effort to express the inexpressible, the content of experience. Here again appears the main theme that knowledge is not mere awareness of the given but concerns its form or structure, which alone is capable of being expressed and communicated. Knowledge describes the relations which hold between the elements of content, their structure, and specifically, the laws connecting them.

The meaning of a proposition is given by describing the experiential conditions under which it will be true and those under which it will be false, i.e., the conditions in the given that verify and falsify it. This meaning principle, the verifiability principle, plays the dominant role in the philosophical writings of Schlick’s final period. Since all meaningful statements must be verifiable and falsifiable in the given, there are no limits to knowledge, for what transcends possible ascertainment does so by transcending significance itself.

It does not follow from the verifiability that only the given exists. This doctrine is itself senseless, as is the opposite view that the given is unreal, mere appearance. “To be real always means to stand in a definite relationship to the given” ([1932] 1959, p. 99). It is in the given that we verify or falsify (strictly, confirm or disconfirm) statements about existence and reality by inferring, from the hypothesis that something exists, that certain experiences will be forthcoming consequent on certain tests or operations and then testing for the truth of these predictions. The laws on the basis of which we make these predictions are the true objects of science. “The subject matter of physics is not sensations but laws. The formulation, used by some positivists, that bodies are only ‘complexes of sensations’ is therefore to be rejected. What is correct is only that propositions concerning bodies are transformable into equivalent propositions concerning the occurrence of sensations in accordance with laws” (ibid., p. 107).

Schlick, in keeping with his nontechnical manner of writing, did not always give very precise formulation to the verifiability principle. In general he distinguished between analytic (logical, necessary) and synthetic (empirical, contingent) statements. Only the latter, and not all of them, are propositions in the fullest sense of being verifiable and falsifiable. Analytic statements are limiting cases, necessary truths, not expressing possible states of the world but definitional, “grammatical” decisions or rules. The logical is the purely formal, the a priori; that there are no synthetic a priori truths is a central theme of his polemic against Kant and a view common to the school as a whole.

Statements of laws—general hypotheses—not being strictly verifiable, are not genuine, full-fledged propositions but are treated as rules for making predictions, thus as heuristic principles. Since they are not even theoretically verifiable, the question constituting the problem of induction cannot arise, for laws are not propositions (true or false) whose truth values might be inferred from others. Induction is but a methodical kind of guessing about useful rules.

The question of whether determinism is true, whether all events are related to others by regularities expressible in laws, is to be distinguished from the question of the nature of causality. The statement that determinism is true is not verifiable or falsifiable and hence is not a genuine proposition. As a guiding principle, however, determinism might be expressed by the precept “Seek causal laws!” A causal law is a formula enabling us to make successful predictions, given certain data. That it holds necessarily (universally), i.e., that determinism is true within a given domain, cannot be finally established or refuted, but we can find good empirical grounds for accepting or rejecting the view in particular cases.

Despite his stress on verifiability and falsifiability, Schlick in fact considered all propositions formulated in daily life and science to be hypotheses, at best confirmable or disconfirmable but not strictly verifiable—at least from the point of view of ascertainment, if not of logical theory. The only contingent statements whose truth can be, in the strict sense, established are those that, on the moment of their utterance, report or announce the given (a here-now-thus) in experience. These confirmations (Konstatierungen, as he called them) constitute the ultimate connections between language and the world, “the unshakeable point of contact between knowledge and reality” ([1934] 1959, p. 226). All testing of other propositions is in terms of the data constituting the referents of these basic propositions, which immediately cease to have meaning when they lose contact with these referents. The propositions actually made use of in science and daily life are “a means of finding one’s way among the facts; of arriving at the joy of confirmation . . .” (ibid., p. 226). The pragmatic nature of Schlick’s concepts of knowledge and propositions is thus evident.

Limits of knowledge

Since knowledge is of laws describing events and since content is incommunicable and cannot be expressed in propositions, we can know the nature of things only in terms of the laws that apply to them, laws that enable us to make successful predictions in the manner described above. The age-old problem of the relation of mind and body finds its solution here. Mind or, better, the mental is what obeys the qualitative laws of psychology; body, matter, or the physical is what obeys the quantitative laws of physics, which, in contrast to the (nonbehavioristic) laws of psychology, are intersensual and inter-subjective. The problem of the connection of mind and body is thus the problem of the connection of the languages of psychology and physics.

The as yet unestablished but not implausible hypothesis of physicalismu (materialism freed of its metaphysical connotations) is that the qualitative aspects of experience (content) are correlated with certain physical, quantitative, measurable properties in such a way that from determination of the latter (brain states, nerve impulses, etc.) universally correct inferences could be made to the former; and in general that a complete description of the world can be made on the basis of physical concepts. If this should be correct, then the mental would be explained by the physical, would in a certain sense be the physical. That this is so we do not know, but the problem is insoluble and senseless if it requires explaining how extended substance, i.e., traditional “body,” can interact with unextended substance—"“mind.” The mental is in any case often extended, for example, a pain can be spread over an area or occupy a place; hence the traditional problem disappears, to be replaced by one concerning the empirically determinable relation between certain kinds of propositions, not kinds of substances. And if solved, it will be solved by scientific experimentation and discovery, not by “philosophical” or metaphysical considerations.

The reworking of his central ideas in the manner just illustrated—on the basis of his conception of knowledge as symbolic, essentially concerned with communication and expression, and of expression as dealing with form, not content—was the task that confronted Schlick when he was cut down so tragically in the prime of life.

David Rynin

[See alsoCausation; Ethics, article onethical systems and social structures; Positivism; science, article onthe philosophy of science.]


1908 Lebensweisheit. Munich: Beck.

(1917) 1920 Space and Time in Contemporary Physics. Oxford: Clarendon. → First published in German.

(1918) 1925 Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre. 2d ed. Berlin: Springer.

1927 Vom Sinn des Lebens. Sonderdrucke des Symposion, Heft 6. Berlin: Weltkreis-Verlag.

(1930a) 1939 Problems of Ethics. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. → First published in German. A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Dover.

(1930b) 1959 The Turning Point in Philosophy. Pages 53-59 in A. J. Ayer (editor), Logical Positivism. Glen-coe, 111.: Free Press.→First published as “Die Wende der Philosophie” in Volume 1 of Erkenntnis.

(1931) 1961-1962 Causality in Contemporary Physics. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 12, no. 47:177-178; no. 48:281-298. → First published in German.

(1932) 1959 Positivism and Realism. Pages 82-107 in A. J. Ayer (editor), Logical Positivism. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. → First published in German in Volume 3 of Erkenntnis.

(1934) 1959 The Foundation of Knowledge. Pages 209-227 in A. J. Ayer (editor), Logical Positivism. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. → First published in German in Volume 4 of Erkenntnis.

Aphorismen. Edited by Blanche Hardy Schlick. Vienna: Privately published, 1962. → Published posthumously.

Gesammelte Aufsätze: 1926-1936. Vienna: Gerold, 1938.→Chapters 6, 7, 8, 14, and 15 were written in English. An abridged edition was published in 1948 as Gesetz, Kausalitdt und Wahrscheinlichkeit.

Natur und Kultur. Edited by Josef Rauscher. Vienna and Stuttgart: Humboldt, 1952.→ Published posthumously.

Philosophy of Nature. New York: Philosophical Library, 1949. → First published posthumously in German in 1938.


Feigl, Herbert 1937/1938 Moritz Schlick. Erkenntnis 7:393-419.

Kraft, Victor (1950) 1953 The Vienna Circle: The Origin of Neo-positivism; a Chapter in the History of Recent Philosophy. New York: Philosophical Library.→ First published in German.

Schlick, (Friedrich Albert) Moritz

views updated May 29 2018


(b. Berlin, Germany, 14 April 1882; d. Vienna, Austria, 22 June 1936)

theory of knowledge, philosophy of science.

Schlick, the son of Albert Schlick and Agnes Arndt, studied at Heidelberg and Lausanne, and took his doctorate under Max Planck at Berlin in 1904 with dissertation on the physics of light. An early and abiding interest in Philosophy (he published his Lebensweisheit at the age of twenty-six) led him to abandon science in favor of a philosophical career; and in due course, following the necessary preparation, he entered academic life as a teacher of philosophy, first at Rostock and then at Kiel. After the publication of his Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre (1918), he was called to the chair of the philosophy of the inductive sciences at the University of Vienna (1922), formerly held by such eminent philosopher-scientists as Ernst Mach and Ludwig Boltxmann. Apart from two visits to the United States, where he held visiting professorships at Standford University and the University of California at Berkeley, he retained this post until he was murdered by a deranged former student.

At Vienna, Schlick soon became the center of a group of thinkers with predominantly scientific and mathematical backgrounds, who were devoted to the cultivation and development of a scientific philosophy, as opposed to the then prevailing metaphysical orientation of Continental, and especially German, philosophy. The group came to be known as the Vienna Circle and later, in England and the United States, as the logical positivists. In addition to producing much solid philosophical work, published for the most part in a fair amount of antimetaphysical crusading, earning enthusiastic support from younger philosophical “radicals” and at least as much hatred from the conservative representatives of “academic” philosophy.

Schlick, although the leading figure of the circle, was far from being a typical exponent of some of the views generally held to be representative of the group. While he shared their interest in logic as a tool of philosophical analysis and their repudiation of metaphysics as a viable discipline, as well as their rejection of synthetic a priori propositions, he was much more sympathetic than some members to the great figures of the Western philosophical tradition, despite strong criticism of what he considered to be their errors. Honoring science as man’s highest intellectual achievement, he nevertheless deemed the problems of culture and of life to be of far greater significance. Like Wittgenstein, who greatly influenced him in his Vienna period, Schlick saw philosophical activity as meaning clarification, and as no less important for conduct and enlightening life’s goals than in preparing the way for scientific ascertainment. In his ethical and related writings–Lebensweisheit, Vom Sinn des Lebens (a pamphlet of 1927), and Fragen der Ethik (1930)–his profound understanding of life often finds expression in the elevated language of the poet or the philosopher as man of wisdom. His main reputation will, however, probably rest on his work in theory of knowledge and philosophy of science.

Schlick’s first work in this area was a brief expository, interpretive book (one of the earliest) on Einstein’s theory of relativity, published in German in 1917 and in English translation as Space and Time in Contemporary Physics (1920). In it he stresses the profound philosophical implications of Einstein’s work, to which, in his later writings, he frequently refers as a paradigm of philosophical activity conceived as meaning clarification–Einstein’s of the hitherto vague concept of simultaneity at a distance.

Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre (1918), his major work, examines a very wide range of problems and concepts relating to scientific knowledge. Schlick begins with the all-important concept of knowledge itself, the analysis of which sets the tone and determines the special character of the work as a whole. Despite the half century since its appearance, the work remains treatment of the general theory of knowledge. Schlick’s central idea is that knowledge is discursive, not intuitive: it yields true descriptions of the object to be known as a special case of something already known: it is not simply awareness of something confronting us. In German the point can be made perspicuous by distinguishing between Erkenntnis (recognition, knowledge) and Kenntnis (cognition, in the narrow sense of acquaintance with something; experience of it). The whole of Schlick’s epistemology is permeated and affected by this distinction. In its simplest terms the work may be seen as a polemic against Kant, who denied that we can have knowledge of what lies beyond the phenomenal, and against Hume and his modern followers, who tended to deny meaning to talk of the transcendent and identify reality with the immediately given. The latter view is sometimes expressed by the slogan “Only the given exists” and is closely connected with the view that what cannot be sensed cannot be known.

Since knowledge is not simple acquaintance with or awareness of some datum but, rather, true description of class membership, casual connections, or governing laws of objects to be known, knowledge is in no way restricted to what can be sensed. The relatively few electrical phenomena accessible to the senses do not give us knowledge of electricity but only furnish occasions for inquiring into their causes and consequences and, ultimately, for investigating the laws governing electrical events: for the true concern of knowledge is with laws, not things or appearances. Knowledge in its higher levels seeks ever more general laws from which can be derived those on lower levers. The ideal of knowledge would be maximum descriptive power using a minimum of concepts: then our picture of the universe would be of a single tightly knit system in which each thing (event) stood in some known relationship to all others. The business of science is not simply to report sense data, but to formulate and test hypotheses that have consequences ascertainable in the given.

Schlick brought this conception of knowledge to bear on the errors of traditional metaphysics, which he located in the vain effort to capture and express in language the immediate quality of life and experience–a task for which it is wholly unfit. Only form or structure is expressible, communicable—can enter into knowledge. The immediate is ineffable, to be enjoyed or experienced (erlebt), a matter of feeling, while knowledge is a matter of intellect, of thought; the two are incommensurable.

Schlick’s broad conception of science by no means excluded systematic knowledge relating to questions of life and values. He was, in fact, most deeply concerned with the meaning of life and the path to happiness. In his Lebensweisheit he explores the pleasure-happiness value of the senses, the instincts, and of personal and social relations and institutions, and he returned to this topic in the unfinished work Natur und Kultur. The richest source of happiness ultimately proves to be the social instincts and love. This theme plays a central role in Schlick’s Fragen der Ethik, where it culminates in the view that in the long run virtue (moral conduct) and happiness go hand in hand, a fact which explains why man acts morally. Such explanation is the explicit topic of the book as a whole, which however also contains much rich psychological material bearing on human conduct and happiness, as well as passages of profound wisdom and eloquence. In Lebensweisheit Schlick develops Schiller’s theme of man’s finding his highest vocation in “play”–free, joyous activity pursued for its own sake; and in answer to the question “What is the meaning of life?” he answers “Youth!” “Preserve the spirit of youth,” he urges, “for it is the meaning of life!” Youth alone makes sense of life, so that for the youthful spirit the question of the meaning of life does not arise.


I. Original Works. Schlick’s early works are Lebensweisheit (Munich, 1908); “Das Grundproblem de Ästhetik in entwicklungsgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung,” in Archiv für die gesamte Psychologie, 14 (1909), 102–132; “Die Grenze der naturwissenschaftlichen und philosophichen Begriffsbildung,” in Vierteljahrsschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie and Soziologie, 34 (1910), 121–142; “Das Wesen der Wahrheit nach der modernen Logik,” ibid., 386–477; “Gibt es intuitive Erkenntnis?” ibid., 37 (1913), 472–488; “Die philosophische Bedeutung des Relativitätsprinzips,” in Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik, 159 (1915), 129–175; “Idealität des Raumes, Introjektion und psychophysisches Problem,” in Vierteljahrsschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie und Soziologie, 40 (1916), 230–254; Raum und Ziet in der gegenwärtigen Physik (Berlin, 1917; 4th ed., 1922), English trans. by H. L. Brose as Space and Time in Contemporary Physics(Oxford, 1920); and Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre (Berlin, 1918; 2nd; ed., 1925).

Subsequent works include “Naturphilosophische Betrachtungen über das Kausalprinzip,” in Naturwissenschaften, 8 (1920), 461–474; “Naturphilosophie,” in M. Dessoir, ed., Lehrbuch der Philosophie, II (Berlin, 1925), 397–492; “Erleben, Erkennen, Metaphysik,” in Kantstudien, 31 (1926), 146–158; Vom Sinn des Lebens (Berlin, 1927); “Erkenntnistheorie und moderne Physik,” in Scientia, 45 (May 1929), 307–316; Fragen der Ethik (Vienna, 1930), English trans. by D. Rynin as Problems of Ethics (New York, 1939; repr., New York, 1962); “Die Kausalität in der gegenwärtigen Physik,” in Naturwissenschaften, 19 (1931), 145–162, English trans. by D. Rynin as “Causality in Contemporary Physics,” in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 12 (1961–1962), 177–193, 281–298; and “Positivismus und Realismus,” in Erkenntnis, 3 (1932), 1–31, English trans. by D. Rynin as “Positivism and Realism,” in A. J. Ayer, ed., Logical Positivism (Glencoe, III., 1959), and in Synthése, 7 (1948–1949), 478–505.

Later works include “Über das Fundament der Erkenntnis,” in Erkenntnis, 4 (1934), 79–99, English trans. by D. Rynin as “The Foundation of Knowledge,” in A. J. Ayer, ed., Logical Positivism (Glencoe, III., 1959); “Philosophine und Naturwissenschaft,” in Erkenntnis, 4 (1934), 379–396; “Facts and Propositions,” in Analysis, 2 (1935), 65–70; “Sind die Naturgesetze Konventionen?” in Actes du congrés international de philosophie scientifique, Paris 1935, (Paris, 1936), 8–17, English trans. by H. Feigl as “Are Natural Laws Concentions?” in H. Feigl and M. Brodbeck, eds., Readings in the Philosophy of Science (New York, 1953), 181–188; “Meaning and Verification,” in Philosophical Review, 45 (1936), 339–369; “Quantentheorie und Erlennbarkeit der Natur,” in Erkenntnis, 6 (1937), 317–326; “L’école de Vienne et la philosophie traditionnelle,” in Travaux du 9 congrés international de philosophie (Paris, 1937); and “Über die Beziehung zwischen den psychologischen und den physikalischen Begriffen,” in Schlick’s Gesammelte Aufsätze (Vienna, 1938); repr. Hildesheim, 1969), English trans. by W. Sellars as “On the Relation Between Psychological and Physical Concepts,” in H. Feigl and W. Sellars, ed., Readings in Philosophical Analysis (New York, 1949), and in French trans. by J. Haendler as “De la relation entre les notions psychologiques et les notions physiques,” in Revue de synthèse,10 (1935), 5–26-both the English and German versions have dropped lines.

Miscellaneous works are Grundzüge der Naturphilosphie, W. Hollitscher and J. Rauscher, eds. (Vienna, 1948), a version of his lectures at the University of Vienna on the philosophy of culture; Natur und Kultur, J. Rauscher, ed. (Vienna‱Stuttgart, 1952), and unfinished work on the philosophy of nature; and Aphorismen, B. H. Schlick, ed. (Vienna, 1962), a privately printed selection of philosophic reflections and aphorisms taken from Schlick’s writings.

II. Secondary Literature. V. Kraft, Der Wiener Kreis (Vienna, 1950), English trans. by A. Pap as The Vienna Circle (New York, 1953, 1969), has numerous references to, and comments on, Schlick’s views during the last decade of his life. Biographical information together with impressions of Schlick as man, teacher, and philosopher may be found in the obituary articles by H. Reichenbach, in Erkenntnis, 6 (1936), 141–142; and H. Feigl, ibid., 7 (1937), 393–419; and in F. Waisman’s intro. to Schlick’s Gesammelte Aufsätze.

See also Béla Juhos, “Moritz Schlick,” in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, VII (New York, 1967), 319–324; and D. Rynin, “Moritz Schlick,” in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, XIV (New York, 1968), 52–56.

For critical evaluations, see comments in K. R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London–New York, 1959); and the critical discussion by D. Rynin prefixed to his trans . of “Positivism and Realism,” in Synthése, 7 (1948–1949), 466–477.

David Rynin

Friedrich Albert Moritz Schlick

views updated Jun 11 2018

Friedrich Albert Moritz Schlick

The German physicist and philosopher Friedrich Albert Moritz Schlick (1882-1936) revived positivism as a leading force in 20th-century thought and was the founding spirit of the Vienna Circle.

Moritz Schlick was born in Berlin on Feb. 28, 1833, and educated there. His secondary school training was largely focused on mathematics and physics, and he pursued these subjects further in his university studies at Heidelberg, Lausanne, and Berlin. His doctoral thesis at Berlin, written under Max Planck, was Reflection of Light (1904).

By 1910 Schlick's interests had shifted from physics proper to epistemology and the philosophy of science. With his inaugural dissertation, "The Nature of Truth in the Light of Modern Physics," he began his teaching career at Rostock. There he continued to follow developments in physics, partly through his friendship with Planck and Albert Einstein; and he wrote the first interpretation of the latter's relativity theory in 1917. Also during this period, Schlick worked out his fundamental ideas on scientific knowing and published them as The General Theory of Knowledge (1918). This earned him wide attention and a call to a professorship, first at Kiel in 1921 and a year later at Vienna.

At Vienna, Schlick quickly became the center of a group of men interested in scientific philosophy, logic, and mathematics. The group included among others Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap, Herbert Feigl, Friedrich Waismann, and Kurt Gödel and later the English philosophers Alfred Ayer and Susan Stebbing and an American, Charles Morris. There were weekly meetings to discuss fundamental questions in logic and the philosophy of science. Setting very exact (critics would say "narrow") criteria for knowledge, the group rejected metaphysical propositions as meaningless and severely limited the range of significant speech in ethics and esthetics. In 1929, on the occasion of Schlick's return from a guest lectureship at Stanford, Calif., he was presented with a pamphlet describing the history, membership, orientation, and goals of the group. It was called "The Scientific View of the World: The Vienna Circle."

The reading of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus in 1921 fundamentally altered Schlick's conception of the task of philosophy. He now held that philosophy's task was the analysis of the concepts used in science and the language spoken in everyday life. Widely propagated by members of the Vienna Circle, this is the dominant view in English and American philosophy today.

Schlick was shot by a deranged former student while on his way to lecture at the University of Vienna on June 22, 1936. Owing to his death and to the hostility of the Nazi regime after the Anschluss, the members of the Circle were widely dispersed to Scandinavia, England, and the United States.

Further Reading

There is no major work on Schlick. Victor Kraft, The Vienna Circle: The Origin of Neo-positivism (1953), gives an account of the history and central doctrines of the group. □

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Moritz Schlick

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