A name for the version of positivism developed by Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach(1838-1916) and the German Richard Avenarius(1843-1896), and coming between the original positivism of Auguste Comte (1798-1857) and the later logical positivism.

Science on this view aims at the most economical  in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1908 translated by Abraham Fineberg (1947)).

E Mach, Popular Scientific Lectures (1898, German original 1894 or 1896) 186


Avenarius attended the Nicolaischule in Leipzig and studied at the University of Zurich, Berlin, and the University of Leipzig. At the University of Leipzig, he received the Doctor of Philosophy in 1868 with his thesis on Baruch Spinoza and his pantheism, obtained the habilitation in 1876 and taught there as Privatdozent. One year later, he became professor at the University of Zurich. He died in Zurich in 1896.


Avenarius believed that scientific philosophy must be concerned with purely descriptive definitions of experience, which must be free of both metaphysics and materialism. His opposition to the materialist assertions of Carl Vogt resulted in an attack upon empirio-criticism by Vladimir Lenin in the latter’s Materialism and Empirio-criticism.

Avenarius’ principal works are the famously difficult Kritik der reinen Erfahrung (Critique of Pure Experience, 1888–1890) and Der menschliche Weltbegriff (The Human Concept of the World, 1891) which influenced Ernst Mach, Ber Borochov and, to a lesser extent, William James.[2]

He taught Anatoly Lunacharsky and was also influential on Alexander Bogdanov and Nikolai Valentinov.


Avenarius was the second son of the German publisher Eduard Avenarius and Cäcilie née Geyer, a daughter of the actor and painter Ludwig Geyer and a (step-)sister of Richard Wagner. However, there are speculations in science that her father was the biological father of Richard Wagner too. Richard’s brother, Ferdinand Avenarius, led the cultural organization Dürerbund and belonged to the initiators of a culture reform movement in Germany. Wagner was Avenarius’ godfather

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