His fields of research are Social Sciences and General Studies of Methods. He is a critical rationalist, giving special attention to rational heuristics. He is a strong critic of the continental hermeneutic tradition coming from Heidegger and Gadamer.
Albert's critical rationalism
Albert held the chair of 'Social Sciences and General Studies of Methods' at the University of Mannheim. He is also a much-cited philosopher. Most importantly, he gave Popper's critical rationalism a concise, broad-ranging formulation, even as a way of life.
He gave evidence for his thesis that there is no field of human activities where one should not be critical. Thus he applied critical rationalism to the social sciences, especially to economics, politics, jurisprudence, and religion.
In his view the attitude of criticism is one of the oldest European traditions (going back to the pre-Socratics) in comparison with other less critical traditions.
Before his many books were published Hans Albert was already known to a broader audience for his contributions to the positivism dispute answering his opponents of the so-called Frankfurt School (school of Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer at Frankfurt's Institute of Sociology). His contributions were to:
- differentiate critical rationalism and positivism;
- argue against some strains of sociology opposing the application of methods used in natural sciences;
- suggest that the role of values and the scientific handling of values has to be given new thought;
- interpret Max Weber not as supporting value-free science but as demonstrating that scientists can 'be free of any value judgement', even for research in the fields of values.
New insights are not easy to be spread or proliferate. There is often an ideological obstacle, for which Albert coined the phrase 'immunity against criticism'.
Albert's well known Münchhausen trilemma is ironically named after Baron Münchhausen, who allegedly pulled himself out of a swamp seizing himself by his shock of hair. This trilemma rounds off the classical problem of justification in the theory of knowledge. All attempts to get a certain justification must fail. The verdict concerns not only deductive justifications as many of his critics believe, but also inductive, causal, transcendental, and all otherwise structured justifications. They all will be in vain:
- (1) All justification in pursuit of certain knowledge has also to justify the means of justification and therefore there can be no end.
- (2) One can stop at self-evidence or common sense or fundamental principles or anything else, but in doing so the intention to install certain justification is abandoned.
- (3) The third horn of the trilemma is the application of a circular argument.
Albert stressed repeatedly that there is no limitation of the Münchhausen trilemma to deductive conclusions. Therefore certain justification is impossible at all. Once having given up the classical idea of certain knowing one can stop the process of justification where one wants to stop. This, however, presupposes that one is ready to start critical thinking at this point anew if necessary. Thus:
- Don't look backwards to the solid basis of your thinking, but look always forward to the consequences.
- In this way no problem arises to justify this non-justificationalism.
To observe and criticize the endeavors made to escape from the quagmire of certain justification became an instructive part of Hans Albert's philosophy. For example his discussion of the ideas of Karl-Otto Apel, one of Germany's leading philosophers (see Albert's Transzendentale Träumereien... meaning Transcendental Reveries. Karl-Otto Apels Language Games and His Hermeneutical God, which is not yet translated).
Still, Albert argues that critical rationalists have to accept that those attempts of rigorous justification (like Apel's) are not senseless, since only as long as alternative methods are without success can critical rationalism be called successful.
Albert's style of writing and criticizing
Albert's plea is for critical rationalism. He avoids solemn preaching in favor of serious, serene discussion with people of different faith and thinking. While Popper always warned not to follow one's opponent into the mire, Albert follows them into their favored field of thinking on their own terms. So he criticized Heidegger's "being in the abyss" ("Sein im Ab-Grund"), Gadamer's "horizons melting together", Habermas's "consensual theoretical truth in the ideal discourse", Karl-Otto Apel's transcendental arguments, the theologian Hans Küng's "absolute-relative, this-life-and-hereafter, transcendental-immanent, allconcerning-allcontrolling most real reality in the very heart of things". Hans Albert meticulously follows their arguments to uncover:
- undiscovered premises
- new and often fatal consequences
- new and often better alternatives.
Underlying suppositions and injunctions of Albert's method are:
- Only if all alternatives to critical rationalism are untenable may one live with critical rationalism.
- There is value in keeping an open mind and learning from discussion. Other people may be right; thus give credit to their thinking.
- One should keep away from solemn gravity.
- One should avoid the moralising know-it-all but not conceal one's preferred way of life.
The intellectual life of Hans Albert
In 1950 Hans Albert earned his first degree as a 'Diplom-Kaufmann', followed by an Academic degree of a Dr. rer.pol. 1952. In the years 1952–1958 he worked as an assistant at the 'Forschungsinstitut für Sozial- und Verwaltungswissenschaften' of the University of Cologne. In 1957 he got the degree of a 'Dr. habil. for Social Politics' at the University of Cologne. As a lecturer he read logic, theory of science and economics of the welfare state. Since 1958 he has been participating the Alpbacher Hochschulwochen (a summer conference in the Austrian alpine village of Alpbach). It was there he made the acquaintance of Karl Popper after having studied Popper's philosophy and having mostly accepted it long ago. After 1955 he had exciting discussions with Paul Feyerabend, who in those times was a critical rationalist and an admirer of Karl Popper. Their letters later were published. In 1963 Albert finally got the chair of 'Social Sciences and General Studies of Methods' (later dubbed 'Sociology and Studies of Economics') at the Wirtschaftshochschule Mannheim (later University of Mannheim).
1961–1969 was the time of the so-called 'Positivismusstreit' (positivism dispute), i.e. the debate between Karl Popper and Theodor W. Adorno concerning positivism within German sociology during the 1960s. Albert participated at this meanwhile famous Conference of the German Society of Sociology ('Tagung der deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie') 1961 in Tübingen. In the beginning there was no dispute on positivism, because Adorno as well as Popper were opposed to positivism. The debate was more about the differences between social sciences and natural sciences and the status of values in the social sciences. 1963 The debate was continued by Jürgen Habermas in the Festschrift für Adorno. 1964 On the Soziologentag (conference on sociology) in Heidelberg the debate grew up into an excited discussion between Habermas and Albert. The famous dispute culminated in a collection of essays published in 1969, translated into several languages, also into English (1976, see booklist below). This dispute gained a broad audience.
In 1989 Hans Albert was discharged from active service as Professor Emeritus but continued writing books and giving lectures at many universities, such as the 1990 lectures at the University of Graz on Critical Rationalism, the 1995 'Walter Adolf Lectures' at the Hochschule St. Gallen, and the 1998 Wittgenstein-Lectures at the University of Bayreuth (with Prof. Rainer Hegselmann) about Critical Rationalism.
He was honored with the 'Vits prize' 1976 and with the 'Arthur Burckhard prize' 1984. He was decorated with the Austrian 'Ehrenkreuz für Kunst und Wissenschaft der Republik Österreich' (1994) and got honorary doctorates of the universities of Linz/Austria (1995), Athens/Greece (1997), Kassel/Germany (2000), Graz/Austria (2006), and Klagenfurt/Austria (2007).
Albert published around 30 books. Some of them are translated into different languages
- 1976 (with Adorno, Dahrendorf, Habermas, Pilot, and Popper): The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, Heinemann London and Harper Torchbook. Review extracts  and 
- 1985 Treatise on Critical Reason, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
- 1999 Between Social Science, Religion, and Politics. Essays on Critical Rationalism, Amsterdam-Atlanta (Rodopi). Description and chapter-preview links.
- Social Science and Moral Philosophy. A Critical Approach to the Value Problem in the Social Sciences, in: Mario Bunge (eds.), The Critical Approach to Science and Philosophy. Essays in Honor of Karl Popper, Glencoe/Illinois.
- Law and State, Vol. 13, Tübingen 1976.
- Science and the Search for Truth. Critical Rationalism and the Methodology of Science, in: G. Radnitzky/G. Andersson (eds.), Progress and Rationality in Science, Dordrecht/ Holland 1978, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, R.S. Cohen/M. Wartofsky (eds.), Vol LVIII.
- The Economic Tradition. Economics as a Research Programme for Theoretical Social Science, in: Karl Brunner (ed.), Economics and Social Institutions, Insights from the Conferences on Analysis and Ideology, Boston/The Hague/London 1979.
- Transcendental Realism and Rational Heuristics: Critical Rationalism and the Problem of Method, in Gunnar Anderson (ed.), Rationality in Science and Politics, Reidel, Dordrecht 1984.
- On Using Leibniz in Economics. Comment on Peter Koslowski, in: Peter Koslowski (ed.), Economics in Philosophy, Mohr, Tübingen 1985, p. 68–78.
- Law as an Instrument of Rational Practice, in: Terence Daintith/ Günther Teubner (ed.), Contract and Organization. Legal Analysis in the Light of Economic and Social Theory, Berlin/New York 1986, de Gruyter, p. 25–51.
- Is Socialism inevitable? Historical prophecy and the possibilities of reason in: Svetozar Pejovich (ed.), Socialism: institutional, philosophical and economical issues, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, Boston, Lancaster 1987.
- Critical Rationalism. The Problem of Method in Social Sciences and Law, Ratio Juris Volume 1, Number 1, March 1988, p. 1–19.
- Hermeneutics and Economics. A Criticism of Hermeneutical Thinking in the Social Sciences, Kyklos, Volume 41, Fasc. 4, 1988, pages 573–602.
- Reply to Lord Alford, Newsletter (Editor Fred Eidlin), Vol 3 (No 3 & 4), pages 13–14, July 1988.
- Some remarks on reasons in explaining human action, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 7 No.1, 1993, pp. 25–27.
- Religion, Science, and the Myth of the Framework, in: I.C.Jarvie/ N.Laor (eds), Critical Rationalism, Metaphysics and Science. Essays for Joseph Agassi, Vol.I, Kluwer Acad.Publishers, pp. 41–58.
- Commentary on Bernholz, in: Gerard Radnitzky/ Hardy Bouillon (eds), Values and the Social Order, Vol. I: Values and society, pages 251–254, Avebury, Aldershot/ Brookfield USA/ Hong Kong/ Singapore/ Sidney.
- The Ideal of Liberty and the Problem of the Social Order, in: Dino Fiorot (ed.), Ordino, Conflitto e Libertà nei Grandi Mutamenti del Nostro Tempo, G. Giappichelli Editore, Torino, pp. 1–30.
- The Conflict of Science and Religion: Religious Metaphysics and the Scientific World View as Alternatives, Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Vol.153 (1), 1997, pp. 216-234.
- Hans Albert, Critical Rationalism and Universal Hermeneutics, in Jeff Malpas, Ulrich Arnswald, Jens Kertscher (ed.), Gadamer's Century. Essays in Honor of Hans-Georg Gadamer (MIT Press, March 2002), pp. 15–24.
- Historiography as a Hypothetical-Deductive Science: A Criticism of Methodological Historism, in: Colin Cheyne/John Worrall (eds), Rationality and Reality. Conversations with Alan Musgrave, Springer, Dordrecht, pp. 263–272.
- 1967 Marktsoziologie und Entscheidungslogik. Ökonomische Probleme in soziologischer Perspektive.
- 1968 Traktat über kritische Vernunft Tübingen (Mohr Siebeck), many later editions.
- 1971 Plädoyer für kritischen Rationalismus, Piper Verlag, München 1971.
- 1972 Konstruktion und Kritik. Aufsätze zur Philosophie des kritischen Rationalismus, Verlag Hoffmann und Campe, Hamburg 1972.
- 1973 Theologische Holzwege. Gerhard Ebeling und der rechte Gebrauch der Vernunft, Verlag Mohr (Siebeck), Tübingen 1973.
- 1975 Transzendentale Träumereien. Karl-Otto Apels Sprachspiele und sein hermeneutischer Gott, Verlag Hoffmann und Campe, Hamburg 1975.
- 1976 Aufklärung und Steuerung. Aufsätze zur Sozialphilosophie und zur Wissenschaftslehre der Sozialwissenschaften, Verlag Hoffmann und Campe, Hamburg * *1976 'Positivism Dispute', see English books, also in German and other languages.
- 1977 Kritische Vernunft und menschliche Praxis with autobiographical notes.
- 1978 Traktat über rationale Praxis.
- 1979 Das Elend der Theologie.
- 1982 Die Wissenschaft und die Fehlbarkeit der Vernunft.
- 1987 Kritik der reinen Erkenntnislehre. Das Erkenntnisproblem in realistischer Perspektive.
- 1993 Lectures about Rechtswissenschaft als Realwissenschaft. Das Recht als soziale Tatsache und die Aufgabe der Jurisprudenz at the University of Würzburg. – Kritik der reinen Hermeneutik – Der Antirealismus und das Problem des Verstehens, Tübingen (Mohr-Siebeck) 1994.
- 1997 Paul Feyerabend, Hans Albert, Briefwechsel (ed. Wilhelm Baum), Frankfurt/M. (Fischer) 1997.
- 2000 Kritischer Rationalismus, Tübingen Mohr-Siebeck (UTB) 2000.
- 2001 Hans Albert Lesebuch, UTB (Mohr Siebeck) Tübingen 2001.
- 2003 Kritik des transzendentalen Denkens, (Mohr Siebeck) Tübingen 2003 and in the same year: Erkenntnislehre und Sozialwissenschaft. Karl Poppers Beiträge zur Analyse sozialer Zusammenhänge, Wien (Picus) 2003.
- 2005 Hans Albert – Karl Popper – Briefwechsel 1958–1994 (Letters from and to Karl Popper); ed. Martin Morgenstern and Robert Zimmer.
- 2006 Rationalität und Existenz (Reprint of Albert's 1952 dissertation with a new foreword and a self-critical epilogue), 233 p., Tübingen (Mohr Siebeck).
- 2007 In Kontroversen verstrickt. Vom Kulturpessimismus zum kritischen Rationalismus, LIT Verlag 2007, 264 pages. (Autobiography)
Hans Albert, 'Autobiographische Einleitung', in: Kritische Vernunft und menschliche Praxis, Stuttgart (Reclam) 1977, pages 5–33. Hans Albert, 'Mein Umweg in die Soziologie. Vom Kulturpessimismus zum kritischen Rationalismus', in: Christian Fleck (ed.), Wege zur Soziologie. Autobiographiche Notizen, Leske + Budrich, Opladen, pages 17–37. Eric Hilgendorf: Hans Albert. Zur Einführung Junius Verlag 1997. Hans Albert, In Kontroversen verstrickt. Vom Kulturpessimismus zum kritischen Rationalismus, LIT Verlag 2007, 264 p. (Hans Albert's autobiography)
As for Hans Albert's scientific articles see List of Publications maintained by Hans-Joachim Niemann in . See also the Hans-Joachim Niemann (alias 'hjn') initiated German Wikibook: Studienführer Hans Albert (Study Guide Hans Albert) . It contains a large publication list with many quotations of English written articles as well as articles translated into Italian, Finnish, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Spanish, and Serbo-Croatian language. You will find also a lot of secondary literature.
Decorations and awards
- Iron Cross, 2nd class
- 1976: Ernst Hellmut Vits Prize
- 1994: Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class
- 2008: Merit Cross 1st Class of the Federal Republic of Germany (Verdienstkreuz 1. Klasse)
- Hans Albert, Kritik der reinen Hermeneutik – Der Antirealismus und das Problem des Verstehens, Tübingen (Mohr Siebeck) 1994, chap.I
- ibid., chap. II
- ibid., chap. VIII
- Hans Albert, Transzendentale Träumereien. Karl-Otto Apels Sprachspiele und sein hermeneutischer Gott, Hamburg (Hoffmann und Campe) 1975; Hans Albert, Kritik des transzendentalen Denkens. Von der Begründung des Wissens zur Analyse der Erkenntnispraxis, Tübingen (Mohr Siebeck) 2003
- Hans Albert, Das Elend der Theologie. Kritische Auseinandersetzung mit Hans Küng, Hamburg (Hoffmann und Campe)1979; 2nd ed. Aschaffenburg (Alibri) 2005
- Much of the mentioned criticism is repeated in the English written Hans Albert, Between Social Science, Religion, and Politics. Essays on Critical Rationalism, Amsterdam-Atlanta (Rodopi) 1999
- This and the following facts are taken from the books referred in the precedent chapter 'Biographical Books'.
- "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 972. Retrieved 20 January 2013.