“Facts of nature or products of reason? - Edgar Zilsel caught between ontological and epistemic conceptions of natural laws”

In Donata Romizi, Monika Wulz & Elisabeth Nemeth (eds.), Edgar Zilsel: Philosopher, Historian, Sociologist. (Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook, vol. 27). Cham: Springer Nature (2022)
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Abstract

In this paper, I reconstruct the development and the complex character of Zilsel’s conception of scientific laws. This concept functions as a fil rouge for understanding Zilsel’s philosophy throughout different times (here, the focus is on his Viennese writings and how they pave the way to the more renown American ones) and across his many fields of work (from physics to politics). A good decade before Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle was going to mark the outbreak of indeterminism in quantum physics, Edgar Zilsel started to develop a complex logical-philosophical theory in which statistical and causal laws were given an indeterministic foundation (Zilsel 1916). However, in developing his thoughts on the emergence of regularities from disorder, Zilsel arrives at a profound ambiguity with respect to the ontological or the epistemic nature of laws and order in the world: Whether this order is to be conceived of as an empirical finding or as the product of reason – this would have to remain unclear. This tension between rationalism and empiricism, as well as a tension between a realist and an anti-realist conception of lawfulness, can be identified in both Zilsel’s Viennese and American writings: a tension which touches the core of the “application problem” that would keep haunting Zilsel until his premature death.

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Donata Romizi
University of Vienna

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