Meingast: A Biographical Sketch

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Adalbert Ignatz Meingast (February 9, 1845 – March 24, 1927) was an Austrian philosopher, classical scholar, poet, and esotericist. Meingast’s father, Johannes Irnfritz Meingast, left a position as a gamekeeper in the Waldviertel in Lower Austria to marry Henriette Pauernfeind, the daughter of the chief steward in Salomon Mayer von Rothschild’s household. In the first three years of Adalbert’s life, the family moved twice, first to Floridsdorf, and then to Vienna when his father was promoted to lead stationmaster in the newly founded Nordbahn railway line.

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Meingast, ca. 1854

Adalbert received his secondary education at a military academy in Vienna and, following four years of service in the Imperial-Royal army, studied philosophy and classical philology at the University of Vienna under Vahlen, Gomprez and Hoffmann. From 1875 to 1881 he taught high school in Linz, and afterwards lectured at Lemberg in Austrian Galicia (now Lviv in the Ukraine) and subsequently at the University of Graz, where in 1894, through the help of Meinong and Boltzmann, he secured a position as a full professor.

During his long and prolific academic career, Meingast became a familiar fixture in Austrian academic circles. As a result of his eccentric philosophical views and non-academic interests, his critics and commentators have often referred to Meingast as “the playful philosopher.” At a meeting of the Austrian philosophical association, Meinong was quoted as saying: “I admire Meingast. Nobody today can compare with him, all in all. But, frankly, I cannot tell whether he is joking or serious half the time.” In a review of Meingast’s treatise on the scientific spirit, Boltzmann wrote: “Meingast is probably the most important philosopher one could encounter today, but what he says about physics only shows what a mis­fortune it is that people always take him so seriously.”

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Meingast (right) at a meeting of the philosophical society “the Policemen”, ca. 1881

Although he remained a philosopher’s philosopher for most of his life, the objections to Meingast’s work were occasionally fierce. His long-time adversary Ernst Mach referred to his ideas as a “grave blight” infecting the discipline of philosophy. Public opposition and personal attacks included describing Meingast as a “charlatan”, a “renegade” and a “corrupter of youth.” After his death Meingast’s work was almost forgotten in German speaking countries. His writings began to disappear during the early 1930s. Meingast’s manuscripts, amounting to approximately 40,000 pages, were almost entirely lost.

 

 

One response

  1. Thanks for creating this page about a too often forgotten philosopher! My great-great grandfather, the astronomer Carl Gustave Witt, had the honor of meeting Meingast at a conference in Stuttgart on the effects of the luminiferous aether on non-physical bodies via spirit mediums. Meingast’s contributions to fields beyond philosophy cannot be overestimated.

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