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Edgar Zilsel was the youngest child of a , Jacob Zilsel and his wife, Ina Kollmer, and had two older sisters, Wallie and Irma. He attended high school at the Franz-Joseph-Gymnasium between 1902 and 1910 and then attended the where he studied philosophy, physics, and mathematics. He served in the between August 1 and December 15, 1914 and received his PhD in 1915 while under the supervision of . His dissertation was entitled "A Philosophical Investigation of the Law of Large Numbers and related Laws". After working as a mathematician at an insurance company for a few months, he found a position as a teacher on February 16, 1917. He passed his teacher's examination on November 18, 1918 in mathematics, physics, and natural history.
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"This book provides the historical background for a central issue in the history of science: the influence of artisans, craftsmen, and other practitioners on the emergent empirical methodologies that characterized the "new sciences" of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Long offers a coherent account and critical revision of the "Zilsel thesis, " an influential etiological narrative which argues that such craftsmen were instrumental in bringing about the "Scientific Revolution." Artisan/Practitioners reassesses the issue of artisanal influence from three different perspectives: the perceived relationships between art and nature; the Vitruvian architectural tradition with its appreciation of both theory and practice; and the development of "trading zones"--Arenas in which artisans and learned men communicated in substantive ways. These complex social and intellectual developments, the book argues, underlay the development of the empirical sciences. This volume provides new discussion and synthesis of a theory that encompasses broad developments in European history and study of the natural world. It will be a valuable resource for college-level teaching, and for scholars and others interested in the history of science, late medieval and early modern European history, and the Scientific Revolution"--
The position of Marxism on science is more complex and diverse than that in Layton’s sketch. Science is not literally reduced to a mere summary of knowledge of the crafts. One theorist of science, Edgar Zilsel has much to contribute to laying the historical and social background to the instrumental realist thrust of modern science. Zilsel’s affiliations were with the logical positivists, despite the anti-positivist implications of his sociological and historical theses. (Zilsel's Vienna Circle connections may account in part for his initial neglect by continental European Marxists). Joseph Needham took up Zilsel’s theses on the rise of modern science. Ihde makes use of the work of Joseph Needham on inter-cultural influences on western technology (, 127-8; , 65), but not of the part of Needham’s theorizing influenced by Zilsel on the reasons for lack of experimental and science in traditional China. A less sociological version of the Zilsel Thesis is that the early modern experimental scientists (such as William Gilbert on the magnet) absorbed and incorporated knowledge from the crafts (including the then relatively novel writings by practitioners of the crafts.) A recent, popular development of the Zilsel Thesis and related Marxist social accounts of the origins of early modern science in the crafts is by Clifford Conner ().