Moritz Schlick

Moritz Schlick
Moritz Schlick

Moritz Schlick around 1930
Full name Moritz Schlick
Born April 14, 1882
Berlin, Germany
Died June 22, 1936(1936-06-22) (aged 54)
Vienna, Austria
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy, Logical Positivism, Vienna Circle
Main interests Logic, Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Mathematics, Ethics

Friedrich Albert Moritz Schlick About this sound listen (April 14, 1882 – June 22, 1936) was a German philosopher, physicist and the founding father of logical positivism and the Vienna Circle.


Early life and works

Schlick was born in Berlin to a wealthy family, his father was Ernst Albert Schlick and his mother was Agnes Arndt. He studied physics at Heidelberg, Lausanne, and, ultimately, the University of Berlin under Max Planck. In 1904, he completed his dissertation essay, "Über die Reflexion des Lichts in einer inhomogenen Schicht" ("On the Reflection of Light in a Non-Homogeneous Medium"). In 1908, he published Lebensweisheit ("The Wisdom of Life"), a slim volume about eudaemonism, the theory that happiness is the highest ethical pursuit. His habilitation essay, "Das Wesen der Wahrheit nach der modernen Logik" ("The Nature of Truth According to Modern Logic"), was published in 1910 . Several essays about aesthetics followed, whereupon Schlick turned his attention to problems of epistemology, the philosophy of science, and more general questions about science. In this last category, Schlick distinguished himself by publishing a paper in 1915 about Einstein's special theory of relativity, a topic only ten years old. He also published Raum und Zeit in der gegenwärtigen Physik ("Space and Time in Modern Physics"), a more systematic treatment of post-Newtonian physics.

The Vienna Circle and Wittgenstein

In 1922, Schlick became a professor in the philosophy of inductive sciences at the University of Vienna after two unsatisfying appointments in Rostock and Kiel. Schlick displayed an unusual success in organizing talented individuals in the philosophical and scientific spheres. In that same year of 1922 two events occurred that shaped the remainder of Schlick's life. First, a group of philosophers and scientists (including but not limited to Rudolf Carnap, Herbert Feigl, Kurt Gödel, Hans Hahn, Otto Neurath, and Friedrich Waismann) suggested to Schlick that they conduct regular meetings to discuss science and philosophy. They initially called themselves the Ernst Mach Association, but forever after they have been known as the Vienna Circle. The second great event of 1922 was the publication of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a work of terse, lapidary brilliance that advanced, among other things, a logical theory of symbolism and a "picture" or "model" theory of language. Schlick and his group were overwhelmed by the work: they made it a topic for discussion at nearly every meeting. Schlick himself contacted Wittgenstein in 1924 and extolled the virtues of Wittgenstein's book vis-a-vis his immediate circle. Eventually Wittgenstein agreed to meet with Schlick and Waismann to discuss the Tractatus and other ideas. Through Schlick's influence, Wittgenstein was encouraged to consider a return to philosophy after some ten years away from the field. It is partly to Schlick's credit that Wittgenstein began to pen the reflections that make up large parts of Philosophical Investigations. However, Wittgenstein came to feel that the circle chose to ignore transcendental assertions on his part, which he believed were essential to acknowledge, and that they would only consider that which confirmed their logical positivist agenda. This eventually became the prime reason that he refused to attend further meetings. Despite this, Schlick and Waismann's discussions with Wittgenstein continued until the latter felt that germinal ideas had been used without permission in an essay by Carnap. Wittgenstein continued discussions in letters to Schlick, but his formal association with the Vienna Circle ended in 1932.

General Theory of Knowledge and later works

Schlick had worked on his Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre (General Theory of Knowledge) between 1918 and 1925, and, though later developments in his philosophy were to make various contentions of his epistemology untenable, the General Theory is perhaps his greatest work in its acute reasoning against synthetic a priori knowledge. This critique of synthetic a priori knowledge argues that the only truths which are self-evident to reason are statements which are true as a matter of definition, such as the statements of formal logic and mathematics. The truth of all other statements must be evaluated with reference to empirical evidence. If a statement is proposed which is not a matter of definition, and not capable of being confirmed or falsified by evidence, that statement is "metaphysical", which is synonymous with "meaningless", or "nonsense". This is the principle upon which members of the Vienna Circle were most clearly in agreement - with each other, as well as with Wittgenstein.

Problems of Ethics

Between 1926 and 1930, Schlick labored to finish Fragen der Ethik (Problems of Ethics), in which he surprised some of his fellow Circlists by including ethics as a viable branch of philosophy. In his 1932-33 contribution to ErkenntnisIII, "Positivism and Realism", Schlick offered one of the most illuminating definitions of positivism as every view "which denies the possibility of metaphysics" (Schlick [1932-1933], p. 260). Accordingly he defined metaphysics as the doctrine of “true being”, “thing in itself” or “transcendental being”, a doctrine which obviously "presupposes that a non-true, lesser or apparent being stands opposed to it"(Ibid). Therefore in this work he bases the positivism on a kind of epistemology which holds that the only true beings are givens or constituents of experience. Also during this time, the Vienna Circle published The Scientific View of the World: The Vienna Circle as a homage to Schlick. Its strong anti-metaphysical stance crystallized the viewpoint of the group.

Comment on Wittgenstein's Tractatus

Carnap, in his book Logical Syntax of Language, included a comment by Schlick on Wittgenstein 's Tractatus.

Schlick ( [Wende] p.8 ) interprets Wittgenstein's position as follows: philosophy "is that activity by which the meaning of propositions is established or discovered" ; it is a question of "what the propositions actually mean. The content, soul, and spirit of science naturally consist in what is ultimately meant by its sentences; the philosophical activity of rendering significant is thus the alpha and omega of all scientific knowledge".

Carnap, p.284 , Logical Syntax of language

Rise of National Socialism and assassination

With the rise of the Nazis in Germany and Austria, many of the Vienna Circle's members left for America and the United Kingdom. Schlick, however, stayed on at the University of Vienna. When visited by Herbert Feigl in 1935, he expressed dismay at events in Germany. On June 22, 1936, Schlick was ascending the steps of the University for a class when he was confronted by a former student, Johann Nelböck, who killed Schlick with a pistol. Nelbock claimed that Schlick's philosophy had "interfered with his moral restraint" - by which he probably meant that under the encouragement of Schlick's philosophy he had indulged himself homosexually, and in a paranoid displacement blamed Schlick for his "defilement". In another version of the events, Nelböck was motivated by jealousy over his failed attachment to a female student, leading to a paranoid delusion about Schlick as his rival and persecutor. Nelböck was tried and sentenced, but the event became a distorted cause célèbre around which crystallized the growing anti-Jewish and nationalist sentiments in the city. (The fact that Schlick was not actually Jewish tended to be overlooked by propagandists capitalizing on the crime.) Nelböck was paroled after serving 2 years of a 10 year sentence & shortly afterward became a member of the Austrian Nazi Party after the Anschluss.


Schlick's enduring contribution to the world of philosophy is as the fount of logical positivism. His humanity, good will, gentleness, and especially his encouragement have been documented by many of his peers. Herbert Feigl and Albert Blumberg, in their excellent introduction to "General Theory of Knowledge," have written,

No other thinker was so well prepared to give new impetus to the philosophical questings of the younger generation. Though many of his students and successors have attained a higher degree of exactitude and adequacy in their logical analyses of problems in the theory of knowledge, Schlick had an unsurpassed sense for what is essential in philosophical issues.

Feigl and Blumberg, Introduction, General Theory of Knowledge, p. xxi


  • Edmonds, David and John Eidinow. Wittgenstein's Poker. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
  • Fynn Ole Engler, Mathias Iven. Moritz Schlick. Leben, Werk und Wirkung. Berlin: Parerga 2008. (German)
  • Schlick, Moritz. Positivism and Realism. Originally appeared in Erkenntnis 111 (1932/33); translated by Peter Heath and reprinted in Moritz Schlick: Philosophical Papers, Volume II (1925–1936) from Vienna Circle Collection, edited by Henk L. Mulder (Kluwer, 1979), pp. 259–284.

External links

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  • Moritz Schlick — Friedrich Albert Moritz Schlick (* 14. April 1882 in Berlin; † 22. Juni 1936 in Wien) war ein deutscher Physiker und Philosoph. Schlick war der Begründer und einer der führenden Köpfe des Wiener Kreises im Log …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Moritz Schlick — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Schlick. Moritz Schlick prononciation est un philosophe allemand né à Berlin le 14 avril 1882. Physicien de formation (il étudie la physique sous la direction de Max Planck), il est l un des fondateurs… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Friedrich Albert Moritz Schlick — Moritz Schlick. Friedrich Albert Moritz Schlick (* 14. April 1882 in Berlin; † 22. Juni 1936 in Wien) war ein deutscher Physiker und Philosoph. Schlick war der Begründer und einer der führenden Köpfe des Wiener Kreises im Logischen Empir …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Schlick — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Schlick peut renvoyer à : Arnold Schlick, un compositeur allemand de la Renaissance. Barbara Schlick, une soprano allemande de la fin du… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • SCHLICK (M.) — SCHLICK MORITZ (1882 1936) Né à Berlin, où il étudie la physique avec Max Planck (il passa son doctorat en 1904 avec une thèse sur la réflexion de la lumière), Schlick est l’un des fondateurs de la philosophie analytique. La pratique qu’il a de… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

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