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Björn Henning

Björn completed his studies in philosophy and history in 2007 at the University of Rostock. Afterwards he worked at the Moritz Schlick Research Center and at the Center for Logic, Philosophy and History of Science at the University of Rostock. Since October 2010, he is enrolled in the DK Program The Sciences in Historical, Philosophical and Cultural Contexts of the University of Vienna (supervisors: Friedrich Stadler and Karl Sigmund). As a visiting scholar Björn spent two semesters abroad at the Departments for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh (2012) and at the University of Cambridge (2013).

Ph.D. Project Poster

Research Project: The early Scientific Philosophy of Moritz Schlick. Theory Choice, Simplicity & ‘German Mandarins’

From Vienna Circle originated, amongst others, the influential philosophical movement that came to be known as “Logical Empiricism”. Moritz Schlick, co-founder of the Vienna Circle, is a significant member of this movement from which, amongst others, analytic philosophy arose. While there are many elaborate studies on members of the Vienna Circle and their theories comparably less research has been done on the early—pre-Logical Empiricism—philosophy of Schlick.

His early works in the field that, characterized by the opposing philosophical forces pushing toward Neokantianism on one side, and Positivism on the other, are in the tradition of scientific philosophy that originated in the middle of the 19th century, particularly through the works of Hermann von Helmholtz, Ernst Mach, and Richard Avenarius. Scientific philosophy was forwarded as explicitly opposing what were taken to be the exuberant metaphysical and theological speculations of German idealism. Other than the approaches of e.g. Hegel and Schelling, scientific philosophy focuses on the basic principles, methods and results of the sciences. The second half of the 19th century as well as the first decades of the 20th century witnessed many significant achievements in physics, psychology and mathematics. These achievements and their interpretation by scientists and philosophers had a great impact on Schlick’s own philosophy.

For my thesis I will investigate this impact on Schlick's thinking that specifically influenced and altered his own philosophy. In order to do so, I will reconstruct his early scientific philosophy (1910-1925). Two essential questions guide my research, one systematic and the other biographical in nature: (1) Which specific features characterize Schlick’s early scientific philosophy, and how did his philosophy develop in the period being studied? (2) What socio-cultural conditions influenced Schlick’s philosophical thinking, what was his socio-cultural and academic background?

(1) I centrally focus on Schlick’s theory of knowledge. Within this domain, I deal with the debate on theory choice against the background of the criterion of simplicity. I want to explore the following questions: What solution to the problem of theory choice did Schlick suggest? What exactly did he mean when he talked about ‘simplicity’? Who were Schlick’s adversaries, who his supporters? And, finally, did his philosophical conceptions influence other scholars and scientists?

(2) I also examine Schlick’s socio-cultural and academic background, and ask whether and how it might have influenced his early scientific philosophy. For this purpose, I apply the concept of ‘German Mandarins’ developed by historian Fritz Ringer as a conceptual tool to get a better understanding of Schlick’s philosophical thinking.


Henning, B. (2013b). Mach and Schlick on Simplicity in Science. In: Proceedings of Fechner Day. Vol. 29 (in print).

Henning, B. (2013a). Moritz Schlicks Weg zur Zweisprachentheorie. Psychologie zwischen Philosophie und Naturwissenschaften. In: Stadler, Fr. & Nemeth E. (Ed.) Die europäische Wissenschaftsphilosophie und das Wiener Erbe. Wien/New York: Springer 2013, pp. 153–185.

Henning, B. (2010a). Transformationen der wissenschaftlichen Philosophie und ihre integrative Kraft. Wolfgang Köhler, Otto Neurath und Moritz Schlick. (with F.O. Engler and K. Böger) In: Preprint 396 of Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science 2010, pp. 5–16.

Henning, B. (2010b). Richard Avenarius’ Konzeption der wissenschaftlichen Philosophie und die Herausbildung der wissenschaftlichen Philosophie in der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts. In: Engler, F. O., Iven, M. & Wendel, H. J. (Ed.) Moritz Schlick. Ursprünge und Entwicklungen seines Denkens (pp. 149-170). Berlin: Parerga.

Henning, B. (2009). Der Pädagoge Schlick. In: Stadler, Fr. & Wendel H.J. (Ed.) Stationen. Dem Philosophen und Physiker Moritz Schlick zum 125. Geburtstag Stationen. Schlick Studien, Band 1, Wien/New York: Springer 2009, pp. 167–185.

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