International language and the everyday: Contact and collaboration between C.K. Ogden, Rudolf Carnap and Otto Neurath

James McElvenny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although now largely forgotten, the international language movement was, from the 1880s to the end of the Second World War, a matter of widespread public interest, as well as a concern of numerous scientists and scholars. The primary goal was to establish a language for international communication, but in the early twentieth century an increasing accent was placed on philosophical considerations: wanted was a language better suited to the needs of modern science and rational thought. In this paper, we examine the example of the English scholar C.K. Ogden's international language Basic English and his efforts to win the Vienna Circle philosophers Otto Neurath and Rudolf Carnap over to the project. Basic is shown to be an implementation of key ideas in Ogden's philosophy of language, ideas shared to a large extent with Neurath and Carnap. This we see through an examination of their unpublished correspondence, as well as through the collaboration that emerged between Ogden and Neurath, in which Neurath's Isotype, a system for graphically representing statistical data, became closely aligned with Basic. Through the ideas and endeavours we investigate here, we gain a new perspective on this crucial period in the history of analytic philosophy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1194-1218
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Philosophy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2013


  • Vienna Circle
  • Otto Neurath
  • Rudolf Carnap
  • C.K. Ogden
  • international language
  • epistemology
  • isotype
  • BASIC English
  • protocol sentence debate
  • history of ideas


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