Posted by: dmconroy | February 16, 2009

Otto Neurath



  • Otto Neurath was born in Vienna in 1882, earned his doctorate in Berlin and returned to Vienna to begin teaching. His concentrations were sociology, economics and philosophy. 
  • His early published works were focused on war economy. He began developing his socialist theories that were mainly focused on how to effectively run an economy in time of war. He argued that in the time of war an economy would most successfully be run from a centralized authority. He was was one the first to link socialism explicitly with war.
  • Following WWI Neurath envisioned the full socialization of the economy, and believed that various central administrations would best control the economy with the extenive use of statistics.
  • In 1919 Neurath served as president of the central planning office in the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic .
  • Returning to Austria in 1924 he became the Director of the Social and Economic Museum. The Museum was one of the major showplaces in what was known as ‘Red-Vienna’.

Related Work:

  • Neurath was a member of the Vienna Circle. This was an organized association of the regions most influential philosophers.
  • Members of the Vienna Circle had a common attitude towards philosophy, characterized by two main beliefs;
  1. Experience is the only source of knowledge,
  2. logical analysis performed with the help of symbolic logic is the preferred method for solving philosophical problems.
  • Neurath contributed to the beginings of the Vienna Circle. He was involved in early discussions and meetings concerning the philosophy of science and epistemology.
  • Throughout this time, Neurath advocated ‘physicalism’ which argues that the nature of the actual world (i.e. the universe and everything in it) conforms to a certain condition, the condition of being physical.
  • Physicalists don’t deny that the world might contain many items that at first glance don’t seem physical (items of a biological, or psychological, or moral, or social nature) But they insist that at the end of the day these items are physical and therefore quantifiable.
  • Neurath; “According to physicalism, the language of physics is the universal language of science and, consequently, any knowledge can be brought back to the statements on the physical objects.”
  • For Neurath, physicalism was a linguistic doctrine that promised a desirable unification of the languages of the different sciences.
  • Neurath’s Isotype system was featured in the Social and Economic Museum. This was Neurath’s most notable work derived from his beliefs and teachings. Isotype stands for, International System of Typographical Education. This was a system of images meant to represent economic and social conditions.

 Neurath’s Philosophy and Isotype; A Wrap-up of Ideas.

  • The formation of the Isotpye, a physical representation of social reality, was the practical outcome of Neuraths work.
  • Isotype was a practical means to represent the ‘Logical Positivist’ assertion that scientific theories are nothing more than a formal system of signs, rules for their manipulation, and ‘correspondance rules’ that link up the signs to the phenomenal reality.
  • Neurath’s phyicalism was compatible with the idea that statistical information on physical quantities of goods and on ‘life dispositions’ are all that is needed to scientifically manage a complex economy.


  1. […] Presentation- presented with Todd Ufferman […]

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