Bianca Crewe

Date October1st 2022 until March 31st, 2023

Affiliation: University of British Columbia

Research for a study about:

Unified Science as Pedagogy

Various members of the Vienna Circle acknowledge Ernst Mach as a spiritual ancestor of the unity of science movement. I argue that we can understand more about this influence, and, by extension, about the social and political significance of unified science in logical empiricism, by considering what Mach has to say about pedagogy. I offer an account of Mach’s approach to education as it relates to his understanding of the social function of his philosophy, focusing on his critique of abstractions and auxiliary concepts in both practical and theoretical contexts. I argue that for Mach, as for subsequent Vienna Circle philosophers, unity functions as both a theoretical ideal—with respect to the promotion of transparent and cooperative scientific disciplines and the avoidance of dogmatism, absolutism, and obscurantism—and simultaneously as an ethico-political ideal, geared to the production of a specific kind of society and subject. By examining this aspect of his thought alongside the work of figures Philipp Frank and Otto Neurath, who also emphasized the importance of knowledge communication and education in relation to the goal of unified science, I hope to articulate some of the thematic continuities between Mach’s socially engaged epistemology of science and logical empiricism more generally, especially in connection with the ideal of unified science.


Longing for Synthesis: Philipp Frank on the Cultural Threat of Disunified Science

Philosophy of Science Colloquium

in-person and hybrid-event

Date: 2023, March 16, 

Time: 3-4.30 pm  (CET)

This talk is going to be a hybrid event, in-person at NIG (SR 2i) and can be followed via online Plattform.Online Plattform access:
Passcode: 226427

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Unified science is a well-attested programmatic aim of logical empiricism, appearing in connection with various projects and methods over multiple decades. I am interested in recovering a larger-scale significance of unified science within logical empiricism by attending to the joint philosophical and cultural problem it was invoked to solve. As an occasional spokesman and intellectual historian of the movement, Philipp Frank is particularly explicit about the problem of disunity. In several places, he connects it with the crisis of mechanistic physics around the turn of the century and the attendant rise of organicism as a scientific framework with political implications. He writes that whereas the nineteenth century mechanistic-materialist framework was linked to liberal and socialist political theory, the organicism emerging from its decline was thought to lend scientific support to fascist theories of state and society. I will provide some historical background for this narrative, and argue that unified science in logical empiricism fulfills a “longing for synthesis” otherwise answered through philosophical, scientific, and political channels Frank and his colleagues deemed suspect. I hope thereby to situate unified science and its philosophical precedents (especially Ernst Mach) in their historical and cultural context, and contribute to a recent literature interested in characterizing the political aspirations of logical empiricism.


Handbook Contribution: Upon arriving at the Institute in October, I was invited by Christian Damböck and Georg Schiemer to contribute an article to the Rudolf Carnap Handbook appearing with Metzler Verlag in 2024. My contribution was a short article on Carnap and the unity of science. A draft version was submitted in December 2022, and a final copy incorporating feedback will be
submitted in the coming weeks.

Reading Group: The fellows incoming in October 2022 began a reading group on classic and contemporary philosophy readings on the unity of science (broadly construed). Throughout the six month period we met bi-weekly for discussion and have shared this tradition with the new group of fellows arriving in March 2023 in the hopes that they will continue it. These meetings were also attended by previous IVC fellows who went on to other post-doctoral projects in the philosophy department at the University of Vienna.

Dissertation Chapters: My primary goal in throughout this six-month fellowship has been to work on a doctoral dissertation project on unified science in logical empiricism. I have spent the time researching and writing a chapter on Philipp Frank on the problems motivating unified science in logical empiricism, with special attention to his account of the influence of Ernst Mach.

Not only was the time I was allotted by this fellowship absolutely crucial for the completion of this work, the context was also ideal and inspiring. I have received important feedback from other experienced scholars working in the same area, and enjoyed the opportunity to view the library at the Vienna Circle Society.

I will be in touch with the people I have met throughout my time here in the future.
I am very grateful for this fellowship. It has been a singularly important factor in allowing me to progress on this dissertation, which I hope to defend before 2024.