Otto Neurath: biography of this philosopher

Otto Neurath was an important Marxist philosopher who was very versatile. Born December 10, 1882 in Vienna, he is an important philosopher and sociologist who developed several projects throughout his career.

Otto Neurath not only had knowledge in the field of philosophy and the study of society, but also had studies in economics, mathematics and history.

In this article we will talk about the life and trajectory of this thinker through a biography of Otto Neurath; we will see his studies and fields of application, his life trajectory in Vienna and abroad, his creation of the well-known language ISOTYPE, the thought and finally his contributions, works in the field of knowledge.

    Otto Neurath biography

    Otto Neurath was a very versatile man. Neurath stands out primarily for being the promoter of the Vienna Method of graphic language, also called the ISOTYPE language.

    During his youth he devoted himself to the study of economics and social sciences abroad, graduating at the age of 24 in Berlin, Germany. He was closely related to the field of the philosophy of language, Known as one of the branches of philosophy that studies everything related to language. That is, the study of concepts such as truth, learning, meaning, meaning, creation of language, experience, thought and finally the use of language, communication and interpretation, always from a linguistic point of view.

    Otto Neurath postulated that it was not legitimate to research the relationships between things, beyond purely linguistic questions.

    Trajectory as a thinker

    Since graduating, Otto Neurath he was closely linked to both the University of Berlin and the academic circles of Vienna.

    He founded the Mundaneum Den Haag Institute – Stichting voor Beeldpaedagogie, an institute dedicated to image pedagogy, born in Vienna and which, over time, has spread through branches in Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Prague, New York and Moscow. In Oxford, he founded a similar institute: the Institute for Visual Education in Oxford.

    In Vienna he was director of the Vienna Society and Economy Museum and was part of the Vienna circle, Which was considered a group that served as an ideological and organizational core for one of the currents it defended: logical positivism, a theory that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century and which postulated that the only way to acquire of knowledge is through these experiences that they are based on the perception of the senses.

      The ISOTYPE language

      The ISOTYPE language was a type of visual communication created by Otto Neurath in 1937, accompanied by two graphic designers: Casa Neurath (who would eventually become his wife) and Gernt Arnzt. This language was characterized by its ability to express exclusively visually all kinds of messages and information..

      Otto Neurath’s goals were to be able to convey information about society and the economy in a clear, simple, easy and accessible way, designed for a post-war population that at the time had high rates of ‘illiteracy.

      like that, it aimed to ensure that all citizens, whatever their studies, are able to understand the complexity of the world and its nuances. and so, to make them real participants in world affairs. Otto Neurath advocated the search for a new way of transmitting information, through a simple and easy method of teaching and at the same time learning.

      Otto Neurath defined the ISOTYPE language as “a method which contains a visual dictionary and a grammar; a new visual world comparable to that of the word ”. In this way, it was possible to communicate important problems related to any field of knowledge, through symbolic language based on images.

      The ISOTYPE language it consisted of a dictionary of symbols with a meaning and a grammar that gave rise to the appropriate rules to assign meanings.

      In the creation of the dictionary, the two graphic designers Casa Neurath and Gerd Arntx defined and engraved in the wood hundreds of synthetic drawings, which were enough to represent in a nominal way all kinds of things belonging to reality> people, spaces, objects, ideas, cultures, etc.

      With the creation of this dictionary, Otto Neurath structure a series of ways of combining symbols, providing them with functional values ​​for the syntactic construction of the language. Let’s take an example to better understand: a symbol of a jacket and another of a store are used to make a new one which means shoe store.

      Trajectory abroad

      Otto Neurath’s career spanned several regions. Between 1931 and 1934 made frequent trips to the Soviet Union, where he worked at the Moscow Institute of Visual Statistics. This would have consequences, and he would end up being threatened with arrest in Vienna after the Austrian fascists took power.

      Otto Neurath then traveled directly from Moscow in exile to The Hague, Holland. From this event will be born a new partnership with several graphic designers who will end up working with him on the ISOTYPE language model.

      In Holland, he spread his language ISOTYPE, and ended up calling the Viennese method of pictorial statistics; later it was developed and renamed the International System of Education for Typographic Figures.

      The ISOTYPE program was expanded to Oxford, England after Neurath had to leave the Netherlands. with the capture of the country by Nazi forces in 1940. Otto Neurath later moved to the University of Reading (Oxford, UK), until his death on December 22, 1945.


      Neurath’s thought has been documented and termed “physicalism”, Characterized by a tendency to bring language to more scientific fields such as physics. In other words, language itself ends up being seen as a physical act.

      In addition, Otto Neurath has always shown an interest in the practical side, and was aware and sensitive to the problems associated with the application of theoretical principles in the social field.


      Among his outstanding works and contributions, the following are particularly relevant:

      • Empirical sociology (1931)

      • Unified Science and Psychology (1933)

      • The Development of the Vienna Circle and the Future of Logical Empiricism (1935)

      • International Encyclopedia of Unified Science (1938).

      Bibliographical references:

      • Cartwright, N., Cat J., Fleck L., and Uebel ET (2008). Otto Neurath: philosophy between science and politics (original name: Philosophy between science and politics). Cambridge University Press.
      • Ruiza, M., Fernández, T., and Tamaro, I. (2004). Biography of Otto Neurath. In Biographies and Lives. The online biographical encyclopedia. Barcelona, ​​(Spain).
      • Symons, J., Pombo, O., Torres, JM (2010). Otto Neurath and the Unity of Science (original name: Otto Neurath and the Unity of Science). Editorial Springer.

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