Philosophy from the scientists

I believe that philosophy can be helped to its 

feet again only if it devotes itself seriously and 

fervently to investigations of cognitive 

processes and the methods of science. There 

it has a real and legitimate task.

Philosophy has obviously come to a standstill 

because it ... still has taken no new life from 

the vigorous development of the natural 


___ Hermann von Helmholtz to Adolf Fick, ca. 1875

 (as quoted in Koenigsberger 1902–1903, 243)

_ _ _ _ _

The fundamental problem which that age placed at the 

beginning of all science was that of epistemology:

What is truth in our intuition and thought? In what sense do 

our representations correspond to reality?” Philosophy and 

natural science encounter this problem from two opposed 

sides; it is the common task of both. The former, which 

considers the mental side of the problem, seeks to separate 

out from our knowledge and representation what originates 

in the influences of the corporeal world, in order to set forth 

unalloyed what appertains to the mind’s own activity. By 

contrast, natural science seeks to separate off whatever is 

definition, symbolism, representational form, or hypothesis, in 

order to retain unalloyed what appertains to the world of 

reality, whose laws it seeks. Both seek to accomplish the same 

separation, even if each is interested in a different part of 

what is separated. In the theory of sense perceptions, and in 

investigations into the fundamental principles of geometry, 

mechanics, and physics, the natural scientist, too, cannot 

evade these questions. 

(Helmholtz 1878, 218)

_ _ _ _ _

We form for ourselves internal models 

[Scheinbilder = (literally) phantasms] or 

symbols of external objects, and the form that 

we give them is such that the necessary 

consequents in thought of the models [Bilder] 

are always the models of the necessary 

consequents in nature of the objects thus 


(Hertz 1894,1)

_ _ _ _ _

On this view our thoughts stand to things in 

the same relation as models to the objects 

they represent. The essence of the process is 

the attachment of one concept having a 

definite content to each thing, but without 

implying complete similarity between thing 

and thought.

... What resemblance there is lies principally 

in the nature of the connexion, the correlation 

being analogous to that which obtains

between thought and language, language and 

writing, the notes on the stave and musical 

sounds, &c. (Boltzmann 1902).

_ _ _ _ _

When the great masters of the exact sciences 

introduced their ideas into science: when 

Nicolaus Corpernicus removed the earth from 

the center of the world, when Johannes Kepler 

formulated the laws named after him, when 

Isaac Newton discovered universal 

gravitation,when your great compatriot 

Christian Hugens established his wave theory 

of light, when Michael Faraday created the 

foundations of electrodynamics—the list could 

be continued still further -economical points 

of view were then certainly the last to steel 

these men in their battle against traditional 

attitudes and overriding authorities. No: It 

was their rock-solid faith, whether based on 

aesthetic or religious foundations, in the 

reality of their world picture. In the face of 

this indisputable fact, we cannot brush aside 

the suspicion that, if the Machian principle of 

economy were ever to become central to the 

theory of knowledge, the thought processes of 

such leading minds would be disturbed, the

flights of their imagination would be 

paralyzed, and the progress of science might, 

thereby, be seriously impeded.

(Planck 1909,74).

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