Hans & Gretl Albert

Hans Albert - Professor of Sociology and Scientific Studies at the University of Mannheim

Gretl Albert - translator of Popper's Conjectures and Refutations (Vermutung und Widerlegung)

Letter to Paul on His 65th Birthday

Heidelberg, October 1988

Dear Paul,

you will surely remember that I am in a volume with comments on your views, which Hans Peter Duerr, the enfant terrible of German ethnology, published a few years ago a message from the Dölle-student Igor Zehrfasel S.J. from Saragossa, in which he calls on you to finally overcome the remnants of Enlightenment thinking that can still be found in your works, and to join the growing movement of those contemporaries who feel connected to the destiny of being and the meaning of being are on the trail. My friend Zehrfasel is probably not entirely wrong when he thinks that the philosophical efforts of the two most influential thinkers of this century - namely Heidegger and Wittgenstein - ultimately point in the same direction, in the direction of a relativism that leaves the rational belief of the Enlightenment behind, a belief revived by Russell and Husserl around the turn of the century. According to Zehrfasel, the philosophical movements that emanated from these two thinkers at the beginning of the century failed because of Wittgenstein and Heidegger. Perhaps one should add: also to Quine, who, with his logical negativism - probably without wanting to - has made the hermeneutic soup palatable to our American friends, which they are now beginning to spoon up. Hermeneutics in both forms does indeed seem to have won the - according to Zehrfasel: deserved - victory over rationalism - at least insofar as one adheres to the standards for such a judgment that are valid in the public consciousness. According to Zehrfasel, it is therefore time not to dwell on the rearguard action on the positivism controversies, but to strive with full sail for postmodernism and thus the Age of Aquarius.

According to Zehrfasel, even in the theory of science, which had previously been a haven of fruitless logical exercises, relativism has now made a breakthrough, above all under the influence of Kuhn, but also with your active help. In this context he recalls the slogan written on the banner at the time – in May 1968 – by Marxist students under the leadership of Red Dany: "Imagination takes power!". This slogan has now been able to assert itself in the intellectual realm in a completely different sense: not in the footsteps of the late Enlightenment Marx, whose followers seem to be deserting in droves, but in the sense of the two thinkers I mentioned who are getting ready to dominate the intellectual scene in the West. Incidentally, our friend from Zaragoza recently signalled to me that in connection with "Glasnost" he had high hopes that sooner or later the two hermeneutic twins mentioned would also replace the fathers of the revolution as leading figures in the Soviet sphere. He has probably already secretly spun threads to Moscow that entitle him to this hope.

As far as the humanities and social sciences are concerned, everyone is happy, as far as I can tell, that so-called "weak thinking" - successfully propagated in Italy as "pensiero debole" - has now been given a chance, a thinking that gives the hitherto disadvantaged "soft sciences" the opportunity to catch up with the natural sciences, which, because of their inner development, seem to be forced to approach Eastern wisdom. A variety of language games, paradigms, and discourses are beginning to flourish in this area, unperturbed by the attempts at disciplining of positivist allotment gardeners who seek in vain to interfere. Everyone can now cultivate their own garden, the territory that they have marked out for themselves can grow their plants and breed their animals, depending on their own taste, because not only imagination has come into power, but taste now sets the tone – the taste which, as we know from the ancient Romans, cannot be disputed.

In any case, Zehrfasel's blossom dreams seem to be ripening and the fruits are already in store for us. Yet you have not heard his appeal, presumably because you have long developed a reluctance to join mass movements. You don't seem very tempted by the prospect of participating in the watch on being. But maybe there are deeper reasons for your refusal? My friend Jochen Fehlhaber, a declared opponent of nonsense and a defender of the dwindling belief in reason, who recently showed up in Zurich and claims to have made contact with your circles, overheard the rumour that you were meanwhile on the way to a new version of realism and that your relativistic impulses were real to be regarded as an example of a mental detour production, with which you would have fooled your friends for a while, by the way - unfortunately, you can't be spared this accusation. You can imagine that I would like to know more about it.

But for too long I've kept you up with reflections that will bore you, especially since they don't contain anything new for you and may sometimes seem like soliloquy to you. Your 65th birthday, which is the actual motive for my letter, gives me reason to remind you of Alpbach, where we both met for the first time exactly 35 years ago, shortly after Stalin's death and in the year of the Austrian State Treaty. In his book "Der andere Zauberberg", Otto Molden, who, together with Simon Moser, founded the Alpbacher Hochschulwochen - the current "European Forum Alpbach" - in 1945 and still organizes them today, as you will surely have heard, gave you some flattering passages, and in your book "Science in a Free Society" you yourself wrote a few friendly words about these events, which you attended for the first time in the late 1940s as a member of the Vienna "Kraft Circle". I still vividly remember your performances in Alpbach, which always triggered more or less heated discussions and often surprised those who had tried to lock you in a mental box that seemed appropriate to them, such as when you, who one was more inclined to assign to positivism, emphasized the importance of dialectic thinking for the emergence of modern physics, much to the delight of the followers of Ernst Bloch who were present at the time, who had just made a vain attempt in the farmhouse at the Büglerhof to convince us that man could explain the contradictions of society with the help of contradictory statements.

At first I thought that one could see you again in Alpbach every year, but then your visits became less and less and finally - despite repeated invitations - they didn't happen at all. You didn't turn up in my house in Heidelberg either. As far as I can remember, your last visit took place before your appearance at the Kiel Philosophers' Congress, where you tried to characterize the theory of science as a modern form of insanity. At some Alpbach anniversary to which you were invited - I think it was the 35th anniversary in 1979 - your picture was seen appearing on the Alpbach screen in your place, and a friendly refusal and congratulatory telegram was read out, an incident that caused great emotion among the "Altalpbachers" present. It is now hoped to at least welcome you to the 50th anniversary celebrations, which would be due in 1994, six years from now.

Your diary probably won't go that far, quite apart from the fact that according to all experience you can't rely on it anyway - if it even exists. But I would still like to draw your attention to this date today and to the fact that you could then meet a whole series of "Altalpbachers" who you met decades ago when you were young. Of course, I don't know if you're particularly attracted to this prospect. Be that as it may, for the time being, together with my sons Max, Kurt and Gert, who all fondly remember you, I am sending you warmest congratulations on your birthday,

your Hans

PS: I too wish you all the best and a happy birthday! I feel like Hans, I miss you very much! Over the years I'd gotten used to the fact that you show up unexpectedly when you're not expected and don't come when one prepared. We were only too happy to let you take us to the theater or cinema. With the children I enjoyed it when you read Wilhelm Busch for hours - and when you shocked us and our friends with views that you then fought back yourself (of course only when we were convinced of the former), that was always a pleasure. And also if you helped me in the kitchen, for example by preparing Russian eggs, whereby to my horror you used so much salt, mustard and pepper that I would not have used even with ten times the amount. But lo and behold, it tasted great! And so, dear Paul, you are always welcome here. For your peace of mind, I can also tell you that we have improved the accommodation options for our guests.

It hugs you very warmly, 

your Gretel