Epistemology and the Nazi Weltanschauung

- Theory of knowledge

- How do we know what we think we know?

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Four epistemological sources:

Two are Rational but prone to rhetorical manipulation:

1. Inductive Reasoning from Sensory Knowledge

- science, empiricism, systematic observation

- truth of universal statements generated from observation

2. Deductive Reasoning

- logic, mathematics, overall coherence, technical knowledge, engineering

- truth of conclusion through rigorous derivation from premises or axioms


Two are Non-rational and arguably prone to irrational speculation:

3. Internal Knowing

- intuitive, innate, instinct, affective, feelings, aesthetic appreciation

- art, culture,

4. Revelation

- religion, prophecy, transcendent, eternal nature, mysticism, awe



is composed of Welt ('world') and Anschauung ('view' or 'outlook').

It means a comprehensive conception or image of reality and of humanity's relation to it. 

It is characteristic of much 19th & e20th c. German philosophy and fundamental to Nazi epistemology.

See Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)’s last Lecture on Psychoanalyses (1932).




Nazis used...

Weltanschauung added...





Internal Knowing

Instincts .



Art &


Aesthetics is political so they politicized aesthetics.


Fine art, music, craft and architecture.

Eg. Symbols, Monuments, Rituals, Rallies, Holidays, Great German Art Shows.

Propaganda to propagate a particular language, view and even experience of the world in political and material but also aesthetic and affective terms confirmed by the instincts in one’s racial soul.

Eg. Degenerate Art Show.





External Revelation



Eternal Nature

Cooptation and coexistence of Protestantism and Catholicism, alongside Neo-paganism.

Emerging split c. 1937-8, especially in the SS, the racial vanguard.

However, once into the war, the Nazi regime retreated to respectful invocations of churches and religiosity.

Hitler characterized and experienced as prophet and increasingly sacralized or sanctified or deified.

Nazism turned into a political religion.





Deductive Reasoning


Science &


Not logical but they did make selective use of the implications of science, and technological innovations in modernizing Germany.

Promises of new technology, new weapons especially, were not forthcoming.

‘Logic’ or ‘System’.

Truth becomes a function of success in recognition and implementation or ‘embodiment’ of ‘unit-ideas.

True if can be made true.

Eg. Negative ‘association’ and Positive ‘identification’.





Inductive Reasoning


Scientific method

Considerable appeal to selective evidence.

But also criticized ‘objectivity’ when it failed to be useful, conform, to the volk, eg Criminology


Arguably, science would have declined given  expulsion of alien scientists and under-investment in genuinely objective study.

Required that science conform to expectations and predictions of the racial Weltanschauung.

Racial(ized) scientific fields:





Political Science




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How could one respond to Nazi ‘crimes’ given that its ethics was based in a distinctive Weltanschauung?


Karl Popper (1902-1994)

Austrian, Jewish, social democrat, Phd Psych on method in cognitive psychology; went to Britain on leave in 1935, 1936; to New Zealand in 1937; to Britain in 1946.


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The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934).

Later, The Poverty of Historicism (1944) and 

The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945). 


Problem of induction: observation can never provide enough evidence to prove universal statements (such as scientific laws).

David Hume (1711-1776).

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970): Imagine a turkey trying to determine how humans deal with his kind. It reasons to itself: ‘Every day, a human comes and gives me food. This has happened so many times that it must always be true. Tomorrow, I know I will again be fed.’ Unfortunately, the next day turns out to be Thanksgiving, and so instead the fowl is disappointedly killed and eaten. 


Logical Positivism: use observation to generate universal statements.


Popper: a scientist's task is to try to prove theories incorrect.


The best theories are ones that make lots of predictions which can be checked against the observable facts of the matter.

Science proceeds by rejecting theories that make incorrect predictions and revising or creating new ones to take their place.

When we talk about whether a theory is ‘testable’ or ‘falsifiable,’ or even affirm ‘critical thinking,’ we are invoking Popper.

Science is a self-criticizing process.

The ethics and politics of science, or conversely, the science of ethics and politics equally require an ‘open society’ (i.e., a democracy with transparent institutions and a plural media) in which multiple skeptical constituencies subject the knowledge claims of themselves and others to reproducible testing.


JS Mill (1806-1873) – ‘experiments in living.’


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FW Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924) frame: 129.22.