The scientific debates of the Vienna circle

Much discussed, little understood

Exact Thinking in Demented Times: The Vienna Circle and the Epic Quest for the Foundation of Science. By Karl Sigmund. Basic Books; 449 pages; $32 and £25.

ON OCTOBER 21st 1916 Friedrich Adler, a theoretical physicist turned socialist politician, went to a famous restaurant in Vienna and ate a three-course lunch. Having lingered over coffee, he went up to Karl von Stürgkh, the imperial prime minister, who was sitting at a nearby table, and shot him several times with a pistol, killing him. Adler, the son of the legendary founder of Austro-Hungarian social democracy, calmly waited to be arrested. Something had to be done to change the general way of thinking, he claimed, and he had done it. At first condemned to death, he was pardoned two years later.

When the Nazis came to power in Austria, Adler, by then the secretary of the Socialist Workers’ International, held urgent meetings with…Continue reading

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