Philosophy in Vienna 1900 - Details


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Viennese philosophy at the turn of the century led the charge on the continent against the idealism and metaphysical penchant of German philosophy. Already the thought of the influential Austrian philosopher Franz Brentano, who developed the notion of Gestalt as logical form, directed Viennese thinkers toward positivistic and strictly logical forms of philosophizing. The scientist and philosopher Ernst Mach helped push Viennese philosophy further in the direction of empiricist and positivist studies. Mach was a radical sensationalist who sought to undermine the Kantian duality between "essence" (thing-in-itself) and "appearance" by collapsing all knowledge into the domain of perception. For Mach, the world broke down into elements of sensation, and all unities, such as permanent bodies, egos, etc. were fictions, inventions of the mind that served convenience but had no actual phenomenal existence. Thinkers such as Rudolf Carnap and Ludwig Wittgenstein took this positivist perspective to the extreme. Carnap sought out and attempted to expose metaphysical thought wherever it appeared in philosophical discourse. Wittgenstein, in the Tractatus logico-philosophicus, attempted to draw a strict line between the realm of what can be known, applying the laws of logic, and what would always escape the grasp of reason, what he called the realm of the "mystical." He included in this realm of the unknowable not only all of aesthetics, but the moral world of ethics, as well.