Richard Avenarius: biography, research in philosophy

Richard Avenarius: biography, research in philosophy
Richard Avenarius: biography, research in philosophy

Richard Avenarius was a German-Swiss positivist philosopher who taught in Zurich. He created an epistemological theory of knowledge, known as empiriocriticism, according to which the main task of philosophy is to develop a natural concept of the world based on pure experience. Traditionally, metaphysicians have divided the latter into two categories - external and internal. In their opinion, external experience is applicable to sensory perception, which supplies the brain with primary data, and internal experience is applicable to processes occurring in consciousness, such as comprehension and abstraction. In his Critique of Pure Experience, Avenarius argued that there were no differences between them.

Short biography

Richard Avenarius was born in Paris on November 19, 1843. He was the second son of the German publisher Edouard Avenarius and Cecile Guyer, daughter of actor and artist Ludwig Geier and half-sister of Richard Wagner. The latter was the godfather of Richard. His brother Ferdinand Avenarius founded the Dürerbund, an association of German writers and artists, which stood at the origins of the German cultural reformation movement. According to the wishes of the father,Richard devoted himself to the bookselling, but then went to study at the University of Leipzig. In 1876 he became Privatdozent of Philosophy, defending a work on Baruch Spinoza and his pantheism. The following year he was appointed professor of philosophy in Zurich, where he taught until his death.

In 1877, with the help of Göring, Heinze and Wundt, he founded the Quarterly Journal of Scientific Philosophy, which he published all his life.

His most influential work was the two-volume Critique of Pure Experience (1888–1890), which brought him followers such as Joseph Petzold and opponents such as Vladimir Lenin.

Avenarius died in Zurich on August 18, 1896 after a long illness of the heart and lungs.

Philosopher Richard Avenarius

Philosophy (briefly)

Richard Avenarius is the founder of empirio-criticism, an epistemological theory according to which the task of philosophy is to develop a "natural concept of the world" based on "pure experience". In his opinion, in order for such a consistent view of the world to become possible, a positivist restriction of what is directly given by pure perception is required, as well as the elimination of all metaphysical components that a person, through introjection, imports into experience through the act of knowing.

There is a close relationship between the positivism of Richard Avenarius and Ernst Mach, especially as they are presented in the Analysis of Sensations. Philosophers never knew each other personally and developed their views independently of each other. Gradually they became convinced of the deep agreement between theirbasic concepts. Philosophers held a common fundamental opinion about the relationship between physical and mental phenomena, as well as about the meaning of the principle of "economy of thought". Both were convinced that pure experience should be recognized as the only acceptable and fully adequate source of knowledge. Thus, the elimination of introjection is only a special form of the complete destruction of metaphysics, which Mach aspired to.

In addition to Petzold and Lenin, Wilhelm Schuppe and Wilhelm Wundt understood in detail the philosophy of Richard Avenarius. The first, the philosopher of immanence, agreed with the founder of empirio-criticism on important points, while the second criticized the scholastic nature of his expositions and sought to point out the internal contradictions in his doctrines.

Brother of Richard Avenarius Ferdinand

Axioms of Avenarius' philosophy

Two premises of empirio-criticism are postulates about the content and forms of knowledge. According to the first axiom, the cognitive content of all philosophical views of the world is only a modification of the original assumption that each person initially assumes that he is in a relationship with the environment and other people who speak about it and depend on it. According to the second axiom, scientific knowledge does not have any forms and means that are essentially different from those that pre-scientific knowledge had, and that all forms and means of knowledge in the special sciences are continuations of pre-scientific knowledge.

Biological approach

Characteristic of Avenarius' theory of knowledge washis biological approach. From this point of view, every cognitive process must be interpreted as a vital function, and only in this way can it be understood. The interest of the German-Swiss philosopher was directed mainly to the pervasive relationship of dependence between people and their environment, and he described these relationships in original terminology, using numerous symbolism.

Avenarius' godfather Richard Wagner

Principal coordination

The starting point for his research was the "natural" assumption of "principal coordination" between the individual and the environment, whereby one encounters both it and other people who speak out about it. There is a well-known aphorism by Richard Avenarius that “there is no object without a subject.”

The original principal coordination thus consists in the existence of a "central concept" (the individual) and "opposite concepts" about which he makes claims. The individual is represented and centralized in system C (central nervous system, brain), the main biological processes of which are nutrition and work.

Adjustment processes

System C is subject to change in two ways. It depends on two "partial-systemic factors": changes in the environment (R) or stimuli from the outside world (what the nerve can excite) and fluctuations in metabolism (S) or food intake. System C is constantly striving for the life maximum of maintaining its strength (V), a state of rest in which mutuallyopposite processes ƒ(R) and ƒ(S) cancel each other, maintaining the equilibrium ƒ(R) + ƒ(S)=0 or Σ ƒ(R) + Σ ƒ(S)=0.

If ƒ(R) + ƒ(S) > 0, then in a state of rest or balance there is a disturbance, a relationship of tension, "vitality". The system seeks to reduce (cancel) and even out this perturbation by spontaneously moving to secondary reactions in order to restore its original state (conservation maximum or V). These secondary reactions to deviations from V or physiological fluctuations in the C system are the so-called independent life series (vital functions, physiological processes in the brain), which take place in 3 stages:

  • initial (the appearance of a vital difference);
  • medium;
  • end (return to previous state).
Ernst Mach

Of course, elimination of differences is possible only in a way that system C is willing to do. Among the changes that precede the attainment of readiness are hereditary dispositions, developmental factors, pathological variations, practice, and the like. "Dependent life series" (experience or E-values) are functionally conditioned by independent life series. Dependent life series, which also proceed in 3 stages (pressure, work, release), are conscious processes and cognition (“statements about content”). For example, a knowledge instance is present if the initial segment is unknown and the last segment is known.

About problems

Richard Avenarius sought to explain the emergence anddisappearance problems in general as follows. A mismatch can occur between stimulation from the environment and the energy at the individual's disposal (a) because the stimulation is increased as a result of the individual detecting anomalies, exceptions, or contradictions, or (b) because there is an excess of energy present. In the first case, problems arise which can, under favorable circumstances, be solved by knowledge. In the second case, practical-idealistic goals arise - positioning ideals and values ​​(for example, ethical or aesthetic), testing them (i.e., forming new ones) and through them - changing the given.

Leipzig University


Propositions (E-values) that depend on fluctuations in the energy of the system C are divided into 2 classes. The first is the "elements" or the mere content of statements - the content of sensations such as green, hot and sour, which depend on the objects of sensation or stimuli (whereby the "things" of experience are understood as "complexes of elements"). The second class consists of "essences", subjective reactions to sensations or sensory modes of perception. Avenarius distinguishes 3 groups of basic entities (types of awareness): "affective", "adaptive" and "prevailing". Among the affective essences are sensual tone (pleasantness and unpleasantness) and feelings in a figurative sense (anxiety and relief, a sense of movement). Adaptive entities include identical (of the same type, the same), existential (existence, appearance, non-existence), secular (certainty,uncertainty) and notal (known, unknown), as well as many of their modifications. For example, modifications of identical include generality, law, whole, and part, among others.

Pure experience and peace

Richard Avenarius created the concept of pure experience and connected it with his theory of the natural representation of the world based on his views on the biology and psychology of knowledge. His ideal of a natural conception of the world is fulfilled with the complete elimination of metaphysical categories and dualistic interpretations of reality through the exclusion of introjection. The basic prerequisite for this is, first of all, the recognition of the fundamental equivalence of everything that can be understood, whether it is received through external or internal experience. Because of the empirio-critical fundamental coordination between the environment and the individual, they interact in the same way, without distinction. In a quote from Richard Avenarius from The Human Concept of the World, this idea is stated as follows: “As for the given, man and the environment are on the same level. He gets to know her just as he gets to know himself, as a result of a single experience. And in every experience that is realized, the self and the environment are in principle consistent with each other and are equivalent.”

Zurich University

Similarly, the difference between the values ​​of R and E depends on the way of perception. They are equally accessible to description and differ only in that the former are interpreted as components of the environment, while the latter are considered as the statements of other people. Not exactly the samethere is an ontological difference between the mental and the physical. Rather, there is a logical functional relationship between them. The process is mental insofar as it depends on the change of system C, it has more than mechanical significance, that is, insofar as experience means it. Psychology has no other subject of study at its disposal. This is nothing but the study of experience, since the latter depends on the system C. In his statements, Richard Avenarius rejected the usual interpretation and the distinction between mind and body. He did not recognize either mental or physical, but only one type of being.

Economy of knowledge

Of particular importance for the realization of the cognitive ideal of pure experience and for the representation of the natural concept of the world is the principle of the economy of knowledge. Similarly, thinking according to the principle of least effort is the root of the theoretical process of abstraction, so knowledge is usually oriented towards the degree of effort required to gain experience. Therefore, all elements of the mental image which are not contained in the given must be excluded, in order to think of what is encountered in experience with the least possible expenditure of energy, and thus obtain a pure experience. An experience "cleansed of all falsifying additions" contains nothing but constituents, which presuppose only the constituents of the environment. That which is not pure experience and the content of the statement (E-meaning) in relation to the environment itself must be eliminated. What we call "experience" (or "existing things") is incertain relationships with system C and the environment. An experience is pure when it is stripped of all propositions that are independent of the environment.

Materialism and empirio-criticism

The concept of the world

The concept of the world refers to the "sum of the environment" and depends on the final nature of the C-system. It is natural if it avoids the error of introjection and is not counterfeited by animistic "inserts". Introjection transfers the perceiving object into the perceiving person. It divides our natural world into inner and outer, subject and object, mind and matter. This is the source of metaphysical problems (such as immortality and the problem of mind and body) and metaphysical categories (such as substances). Therefore, all of them must be eliminated. Introjection, with its unjustified duplication of reality, must be replaced by empirio-critical principled coordination and natural understanding of the world, which is based on it. Thus, at the end of its development, the concept of the world returns to its original form: a purely descriptive understanding of the world with the least expenditure of energy.

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