Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5db6c4db9b-bhjbq Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-23T15:34:16.104Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

13 - The Case for Mach’s Neutral Monism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 March 2021

John Preston
University of Reading
Get access


Although the received view of Ernst Mach comported well with Mach’s historical influence on members of the Vienna Circle , it is inadequate, and it is now giving way to a more realistic and nuanced ‘neutral monist’ view. I defend the neutral monist tradition and show that it is actually a form of scientific realism, not positivism. I also argue that it is more in line with Mach’s contemporary reception, and that it leads to the views of American Realists, as well as to the views of our contemporary neutral monists. I start with a characterisation of some tenets of neutral monism in general, many of which were shared by William James and Bertrand Russell, both deeply influenced by Mach. I then detail the evidence for these views in Mach’s texts (including his notebooks and other documents). Seeing Mach as a kind of realist also casts much light on his scientific views and corrects a number of historical misconceptions regarding both atomism and Mach’s philosophy of space and time. Finally, I discuss Mach’s place in the neutral monist movement of James, Russell, and the American Realists, and the revival of these views in recent philosophy of mind.

Interpreting Mach
Critical Essays
, pp. 258 - 279
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Adler, Friedrich 1908. ‘Die Entdeckung der Weltelemente: Zu Ernst Machs 70. Geburtstag’, Der Kampf 5: 231240.Google Scholar
Banks, Erik C. 2003. Ernst Mach’s World Elements: A Study in Natural Philosophy. Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Banks, Erik C. 2004. ‘The Philosophical Roots of Ernst Mach’s Economy of Thought’, Synthese 139: 2353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Banks, Erik C. 2013. ‘Metaphysics for Positivists: Mach versus the Vienna Circle’, Discipline filosofiche 23: 5777.Google Scholar
Banks, Erik C. 2014. The Realistic Empiricism of Mach, James, and Russell: Neutral Monism Reconceived. Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Banks, Erik C. 2019. ‘Empiricism or Pragmatism? Ernst Mach’s Ideas in America 1890–1910’, in Stadler, F. (ed.), Ernst Mach – Life, Work, Influence (Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook). Springer, pp. 485500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bhattacharya, Manjulekha 1972. ‘Ernst Mach: Neutral Monismʼ, Studi Internazionali di Filosofia 4: 145182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blackmore, John T. 1972. Ernst Mach: His Work, Life, and Influence. University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blackmore, John T. (ed.) 1992. Ernst Mach – A Deeper Look: Documents and New Perspectives. Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carnap, Rudolf 1967. The Logical Structure of the World. University of California Press.Google Scholar
Carus, Paul 1893. ‘Professor Mach’s Term “Sensation”’, The Monist 3: 298299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carus, Paul 1906. ‘Professor Mach’s Philosophy’, The Monist 16: 331356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chalmers, David 1996. The Conscious Mind. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Chalmers, David 2002. ‘Consciousness and its Place in Nature’, in Chalmers, D. (ed.), Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings. Oxford University Press, pp. 247272.Google Scholar
Dennett, Daniel C. 1988. ‘Quining Qualia’, in Marcel, A. J. and Bisiach, E. (eds.), Consciousness in Contemporary Science. Oxford University Press, pp. 4277.Google Scholar
Feyerabend, Paul K. 1970/1999. ‘Philosophy of Science: A Subject with a Great Past’, as reprinted in his Knowledge, Science and Relativism: Philosophical Papers, Volume 3, ed. Preston, J. M.. Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 127137.Google Scholar
Feyerabend, Paul K. 1984. ‘Mach’s Theory of Research and Its Relation to Einstein’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 15: 122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frank, Philipp 1947. Einstein: His Life and Times. Knopf.Google Scholar
Frank, Stephanie F. 2001. Symmetry in Mechanics. Birkhäuser.Google Scholar
Gerhards, Karl 1914. Machs Erkenntnistheorie und der Realismus. Münchner Studien zur Psychologie und Philosophie. Verlag W. Spemann.Google Scholar
Gori, Pietro 2009. ‘The Usefulness of Substances: Knowledge, Science and Metaphysics in Nietzsche and Mach’, Nietzsche-Studien 38: 111155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haller, Rudolf and Stadler, Friedrich (eds.) 1988. Ernst Mach: Werk und Wirkung. Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky.Google Scholar
Heidelberger, Michael 2004. Nature from Within: Gustav Theodor Fechner and His Psychophysical Worldview. Pittsburgh University Press.Google Scholar
Klaus, Hentschel and Blackmore, John T. (eds.) 1985. Ernst Mach als Aussenseiter. Braumüller.Google Scholar
Holt, Edwin B., Marvin, Walter T., Montague, W. P., et al. 1910. ‘Program and First Platform of Six American Realists’, Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 7: 393401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
James, William 1977. The Writings of William James. Ed. McDermott, J. J.. University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Janssen, Michel 2014. ‘“No Success Like Failure …ˮ: Einstein’s Quest for General Relativity, 1907–1920’, in Janssen, M. and Lehner, C. (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Einstein. Cambridge University Press, pp. 167227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kleinpeter, Hans 1906. ‘On the Monism of Professor Mach’, The Monist 16: 161168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lenin, Vladimir I. 1952. Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. World Publishing House (orig. 1909).Google Scholar
Lockwood, Michael 1989. Mind, Brain and The Quantum: The Compound ‘I’. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Mach, Ernst 1863. ‘Vorträge über Psychophysik’, Österreichische Zeitschrift für praktische Heilkunde 9: 146148, 167–170, 202–204, 225–228, 242–245, 260–261, 277–279, 294–298, 316–318, 335–338, 352–354, 362–366.Google Scholar
Mach, Ernst 1871. ‘Über die physikalische Bedeutung der Gesetze der Symmetrie’, Lotos 21: 139147.Google Scholar
Mach, Ernst 1872/1910. History and Root of the Principle of the Conservation of Energy. Open Court.Google Scholar
Mach, Ernst 1883/1960. The Science of Mechanics: A Critical and Historical Account of its Development. Open Court.Google Scholar
Mach, Ernst 1886/1959. The Analysis of Sensations. Dover.Google Scholar
Mach, Ernst 1895. ‘On the Economical Nature of Physical Inquiry’, in his Popular Scientific Lectures. Open Court, pp. 186213.Google Scholar
Mach, Ernst 1905/1976 Knowledge and Error. D. Reidel.Google Scholar
Maxwell, Grover 1978. ‘Rigid Designators and Mind–Body Identity’, in Savage, C. Wade (ed.), Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 9, pp. 365403.Google Scholar
Nagel, Thomas 2000. ‘The Psychophysical Nexus’, in Boghossian, P. and Peacocke, C. A. B. (eds.), New Essays on the A Priori. Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
Perry, Ralph Barton 1925. Present Philosophical Tendencies. Longman’s, Green and Co.Google Scholar
Popper, Karl R. 1953. ‘A Note on Berkeley as a Precursor of Mach and Einstein’, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 4: 2636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Quine, Willard van O. 1966. ‘Russell’s Ontological Development’, Journal of Philosophy 63: 657667.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Russell, Bertrand 1984. Collected Papers Vol. 7 Theory of Knowledge: The 1913 Manuscript, eds. Eames, E. R. and Blackwell, K.. Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
Russell, Bertrand 1914. Our Knowledge of the External World. Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
Russell, Bertrand 1918. Lectures on Logical Atomism. Open Court.Google Scholar
Russell, Bertrand 1919. ‘On Propositions: What They Are and How They Mean’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 2: 143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Russell, Bertrand 1921. The Analysis of Mind. Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
Russell, Bertrand 1927. The Analysis of Matter. Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
Stadler, Friedrich 2001. The Vienna Circle – Studies in the Origins, Development, and Influence of Logical Empiricism. Springer.Google Scholar
Strawson, Galen 2006. ‘Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism entails Panpsychism’, Journal of Consciousness Studies 13: 331.Google Scholar
Stubenberg, Leopold 2016. ‘Neutral Monism’, The Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy, updated November 2016. Available from Scholar
Suppe, Fred (ed.) 1977. The Structure of Scientific Theories. University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
Uebel, Thomas 2007. Empiricism at the Crossroads: The Vienna Circle’s Protocol Sentence Debate. Open Court.Google Scholar
Wolters, Gereon 1987. Mach I, Mach II und die Relativitätstheorie: Eine Fälschung und ihre Folgen. Walter de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats