Karl Sigmund, Exact Thinking in Demented Times: The Vienna Circle and the Epic Quest for the Foundations of Science
(New York, NY: Basic Books, 2017, 480 pages, (hardcover))
The real theme of the book is the contrast between the precise analytical philosophy of the Vienna Circle, and its turbulent political and social surroundings. It is also the story of how these philosophers seemed to retreat from the world, sometimes quite literally. The picture of Kurt Gödel at the end of the book, which shows the philosopher at just 65 pounds in the garden of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, suggests that he has indeed all but retreated from the world. It is also this tension that the book ultimately leaves underdeveloped, as if the only natural response to the‘demented times’ is to retreat into pure science and philosophy. That this need not be so, is clear from the actions of Otto Neurath, the most political member of the Circle. He is involved with the Bavarian socialist revolution just after WWI, is the driving force behind public education programs in Vienna, the one who opens a museum for visual statistics, and the driving force behind the pamphlet which launches the Vienna Circle as a social movement in favour of the scientific world-view. But it is precisely Neurath who is throughout the book treated with little sympathy if not outright disdain by Sigmund.