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Biographical Notes: Otto Neurath
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[5. Biographical Notes.]

Otto Neurath.

The philosopher and sociologist Otto Neurath (Vienna 1882 - Oxford, UK, 1945) played an important role in the development of logical positivism. He took part in the meetings with Frank and Hahn from 1907, arranged to bring Schlick to the University of Vienna in 1922, was a co-author of the manifesto of the Vienna Circle (it is supposed that Neurath was indeed the principal author), planned and directed the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, was an editor of the journal Erkentnnis and of the series Einheitswissenchaft, and founded and directed the International Foundation for Visual Education. Neurath studied economy, sociology, and philosophy at the University of Vienna and at the University of Berlin. In 1919 he was a member of the government of the socialist republic of Bavaria; he was imprisoned and prosecuted, but he managed to escape into Vienna, where he was the director of a museum from 1924 to 1934. In that year Neurath immigrated to Holland and in 1940 he moved to England, where he died in 1945.
Neurath proposed a linguistic theory of science, according to which scientific statements are not judged by means of the empirical evidence, but they are verified with respect to all other statements - truth is thus replaced with coherence. "If a statement is made, it is to be confronted with the totality of existing, statements. If it agrees with them, it is joined to them; if it does not agree, it is called 'untrue' and rejected; or the existing complex of statements of science is modified so that the new statement can be incorporated; the latter decision is mostly taken with hesitation. There can be no other concept of 'truth' for science." ("Physikalismus" in Scientia, 50, 1931; English translations "Physicalism" in Sarkar, Sahotra (ed.), Logical Empiricism at its Peak: Schlick, Carnap, and Neurath, New York: Garland Pub., 1996, p. 75).
According to Neurath, the unity of science is attainable through the unity of language. Neurath regarded the language of physics as the only legitimate and objective language, which completely avoids the problems (e.g., solipsism) generated by a phenomenalistic language (it is evidently a criticism of the methodological solipsism Carnap used in his Der Logische Aufbau der Welte). In the language of science there is no room for ethical terms (ethics is meaningless). But also psychological concepts are forbidden; we must substitute physical concepts for them. Neurath also proposed an international picture language, the Isotype (International Picture Language, The First Rules of Isotype, London, 1936; Basic by Isotype, London, 1937; Modern Man in the Making, London, 1939). This visual language was based on a combination of charts, graphics, diagrams, and maps. The original project of the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science included a never realized Visual Thesaurus in several volumes written in Isotype. Now we can fully appreciate the utility of a visual representation based on graphics, icons, etc., and we can also appreciate Neurath's prophetic intuition of an international visual language.

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