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BOOK REVIEWS 121 David F. Lindenfeld. The Transfo~vnation of Positivism:Alexius Meinong and European Thought, z88o-192o. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 198o. Pp. xiv + 3ox. Except in the eyes of a few admirers such as J. N. Findlay and Gilbert Ryle, Meinong has been largely a footnote to discussions of Russell's "On Denoting," one that indicated the source of the erroneous views that Russell refuted there. Findlay's Meinong 's Theoryof Objectsand Valueswas the first and for a long time the only effort to set the record straight, that is, to argue that Meinong was a philosopher worth taking seriously in his own right. Now, in The Transformationof Positivism:AlexiusMeinong and European Thought, I88o-19~o, David Lindenfeld has made a further attempt to set the record straight with an informed study of the historical context--the debates in philosophy and psychology--in which the Graz philosopher advanced his theory of nonexistent objects. The result is an important book that musters all the resources of intellectual history in aid of understanding Meinong's place in the complex development of positivism in central Europe at the turn of the century. However, it is a study reflecting the typical problems that arise when an intellectual historian turns his hand to the history of philosophy. The chief strength of Lindenfeld's book is its scope. He discusses a wide variety of thorny issues deftly and with sophistication. These include the relation of positivism to empiricism, the development of positivism from Comte to Russell and Wittgenstein , the distinctive characteristics of the Austrian--as opposed to German--philosophical tradition (his discussion of Brentano's role in forming it is notable), and the relationship of philosophy to the nascent science of psychology (Meinong founded the first psychology laboratory in the Habsburg realm). Not everyone will want to take Lindenfeld as the last word when he asserts that the defining features of empiricism are some kind of commitment to atomism, analysis, and introspection, but the idea certainly is provocative and useful. Lindenfeld skillfully locates Meinong in his epoch by detailed comparisons of his views with those of a wealth of figures including Brentano, Mach, Husserl, Boltzmann, Frege, Wittgenstein, Dilthey, Weber, Rickert, and even T. S. Eliot, as well as by relating him to the movements of Wuerzburg and Gestalt psychology (the curious omission is Max Scheler, who, Lindenfetd informs us twice, is the sole phenomenologist to acknowledge a debt to Meinong). The Transformation of Positivism will thus be of interest to anyone concerned with these topics, and it provides a welcome companion volume to Findlay's 1933 study of Meinong and to Kolakowski's Alienation of Reason. For all that, there is a number of omissions whose inclusion would have strengthened the book's argument. For example it is hardly possible to grasp the nature and scope of the controversy over scientism (i.e., reductionism and evolutionism) without reference to Ernst Haeckel's antireligious program for social renewal through the agency of a scientific elite. This colored all discussion of science and culture at the 'turn of the century; yet it is only mentioned in passing by Lindenfeid. Moreover, he writes as though empiricism was totally foreign to nineteenth-century German thought, thereby ignoring Gruppe and the empiricist critics of Hegel. Curiously, 122 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY there is little discussion of sense-data in the book at all, let alone the relationship of the concepts of Erfahrung and Emfindung, which might have cast some light upon the vagaries of Meinong's efforts to develop a nonreductive empirical metaphysics. It is typical of the intellectual historian that he tends to take the words of the figures he discusses at face value. Thus, Lindenfeld does not question Mach's claim that his psychology was metaphysically neutral. Similarly, he assumes that since most of the figures he discusses claim to be anti-Kantian they actually are--a highly dubious claim. Lindenfeld might have fared better on this account had he paid more attention to the most "Kantian" of the positivists of the period, Richard Avenarius. These are all relatively minor points that would have provided a richer backdrop against which Meinong's thought could...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 121-122
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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