Science, Imagination and Values in the German Energy Turn: an Example of Neurath's Methodology for Social Technology


Neurath’s scientific utopianism is the proposal that the social sciences should engage in the elaboration, development, and comparison of counterfactual scenarios, the ‘utopias’. Such scenarios can be understood as centerpieces of scientific thought experiments, that is, in exercises of imagination that not only promote conceptual revision, but also stimulate creativity to deal with experienced problems, as utopias are efforts to imagine what the future could look like. Moreover, utopian thought experiments can offer scientific knowledge to inform political debates and decisions, contributing to the shaping of society. This essay reconstructs a historical event as an example of Neurath’s utopianist methodology. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a scientific and political commission appointed by the Western German Parliament devised and compared four scenarios for future energetic-economic policies. Conclusions of the commission informed political decisions that put Western (later reunified) Germany in a route towards becoming a green industrial power. A fundamental part of the commission’s work involved an appeal to imagination, allowing for the characterization under Neurath’s methodology.

Author Profiles

Ivan Ferreira da Cunha
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina
Alexander Linsbichler
Johannes Kepler University of Linz


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