Dutch reflections on science and society 1926-1970


The methodological and philosophical reflections caused by the dramatic changes in the practice of science in the 20th-century have lost none of their urgency. When today we feel a need for clarity and rationality of language, it is good to be aware of the fountain of concept-critical thinking created over the past century. From the beginning of the 20th-century, concerns about ambiguities in science and in communication in general have inspired a community of intellectuals in The Netherlands to reflect thoroughly on language and understanding.

Parallel communities elsewhere in Europe, notably the Vienna Circle in Austria, and analytic philosophy originating in the Cambridge of G.E. Moore and B.A.W. Russell, developed into the dominant tradition in philosophy of our days. Within the Dutch concept-critical community a major stream of thought was developed by the Signific Circle. The project From Criticism to Methodology sets out to study the Dutch history of analytic philosophy, to do so in the manner of the history of ideas, and thus to include a discussion of the content of these ideas and show their relevance for present concerns.

What these circles had in common was a great interest in careful analysis of language usage in order to prevent misunderstandings and social problems to arise. In the 1930s, the circles grew into veritable movements and exerted a great influence on the scientific research they accompanied. From criticism in the margin, they acquired the position of prescribing methodology. Teachings in methodology, logic, philosophy of science and language analysis, developed in the post World War II era and continue to the present day. Dutch participants played a major role in bringing several strands of these movements together, e.g., by creating publications channels like the journal Synthese (1936) and the series Studies in Logic and the Foundations of Mathematics (1948). In contrast to the continuing interest in the history of analytic philosophy in other countries, notably the Wiener Kreis and British analytic philosophy, the Dutch concept-critical tradition has been understudied.

We want to bridge this gap in the Dutch and European history of ideas, with an emphasis on the period from 1930 till 1970. From Criticism to Methodology will achieve this by studying the works of the leading persons involved: Gerrit Mannoury (Significs or theory of means of communication, and didactics), David van Dantzig (Significs, foundations of probability theory, methodology, information theory, Unesco), Evert Willem Beth (logic, foundations of the exact sciences, philosophy of science and methodology), and Arend Jan Heyting (intuitionistic mathematics and logic). Beyond the published works, archives in Amsterdam and Haarlem hold a wealth of unpublished manuscripts, typescripts, and letters waiting to be studied and disclosed. The results will offer a long due contribution to the international discourse on the history of analytic philosophy, logic, methodology and philosophy of science, which have been attracting intense and wide attention over the past decades.

Kenmerken NWO-project


Prof.dr. F.A. Muller

Prof.dr. F.A. Muller (EUR)
Drs. M.P.A. Kirkels (EUR)
Dr. P. van Ulsen (UvA)
Dr. G. Alberts (UvA)

01/03/2012 tot 14/07/2016