Analytic Philosophy

The Vienna Circle

Who was Otto Neurath?

Otto Neurath (1882–1945) was a polymath who had begun by studying mathematics in Vienna, earning a doctorate in the subject in Berlin. During World War I he was assigned to the planning ministry by the Austrian government because he had earlier written about barter economies. The Marxist governments of Bavaria and Saxony hired him to implement their post-war socialist economies; he was charged with treason when the German government took over, although he was soon released. In graphic design, he contributed to the Viennese Social and Economic Museum with his invention of “Isotype,” a system of symbols for iconographically presenting quantitative information to the public.

As a logical positivist, Neurath was the main architect of the manifesto of the Vienna Circle. Along with Rudolf Carnap (1891–1970), Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), John Dewey (1859–1952), and others, he advocated the Unity of Science project, which was to result in the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science that would unify language and method and interdisciplinary dialogue across the sciences. It was never published.

Neurath’s ambition was to render the social sciences as predictive as the physical sciences. His main works include Through War Economy to Economy in Kind (1919), Personal Life and Class Struggle (1928), Empirical Sociology (1931), and Neurath–Carnap Correspondence (1943–1945), as well as numerous articles in edited collections, as well as work on The International Encyclopedia of Unified Science.

Neurath was married three times and his last wife, Marie, carried on his Isotype work after his death.


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