Carnap, Brandom, and the “myth of the given”

Recently I came across the following from Robert Brandom (he’s talking about “representationalism” and Rorty’s attack on it):

The proximal difficulty is that thinking of our broadly cognitive and intentional relations with our environment principally in terms of our representing things as being thus and so (thinking of the mind as a ‘mirror of nature’) requires, he thinks, commitment to various kinds of epistemically privileged representations.  Prime among these, in their 20th-century analytic form, are what is given in sensory experience and cognitively transparent meanings. . . Representations of these sorts are understood as having a natural or intrinsic epistemic privilege so that their mere occurrence entails that we know or understand something. But there is no way to cash out this sort of intrinsic authority in terms of the practices of using expressions or interacting with each other or our world. . . [In] ‘Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind’ (1956) Sellars mounts a broadly pragmatist critique of the idea of things known simply by being in some sensory state, and in “Two Dogmas of Empiricism’. . . Quine does the same for the idea of things known simply by our grasp of our own meanings. (Rorty took it as persuasive evidence of how hard it is fully to disentangle ourselves from this particular tar baby that Sellars seemed to hold on to a version of the analyticity Quine had discredited, and Quine remained committed to the sensory given.  Carnap, of course, embraced both forms of givenness.)  (Huw Price et al. Expressivism, Pragmatism, and Representationalism, p. 92)

Carnap at no point in his career, even in the Aufbau, “embraced” either form of “givenness.”  Brandom’s gratuitous assertion Continue reading

Empirical application of a Carnapian perspective

My main philosophical interest all along has been in the philosophy of social science, and I’ve found Carnap interesting as a refreshingly different perspective on that subject (which wasn’t his subject) from the currently most popular ones, which I have to admit I mostly find pretty dreary — especially the endless wallowing in “social ontology,” or “social ontologies.”  (So you can see how one might find Carnap’s rejection of ontology refreshing.)

I haven’t had much time to work out my ideas on social science over the past couple of years (since my paper with Sheilagh Ogilvie on evidence in social and economic history, and a related review article), but I’m getting back to them, and was recently invited to post something about them (particularly as they apply to language) on the site History and Philosophy of the Language Sciences.  This post is just a small corner of a much larger conception, but may be of interest to some readers of this blog as it focusses on philosophy of language, and the nature of meaning, from an empirical point of view.  I think the connections to Carnap will be obvious.

Non-cognitivism: A very modest proposal

This year’s conference season is over (for me at least), and I will now once again, I hope, be able to devote a few shreds of surplus attention to keeping my posts here a bit more regular.  The latest conference I went to was in Vienna (where I always like to go anyway); the last day of it was on the Berggasse right next to where Freud’s office used to be (and a Freud museum now is).  I’m sure that someone somewhere must have remarked on the irony that the Berggasse is the continuation of the Schwarzspanierstraße, where Beethoven died — in the building Otto Weininger sought out to commit suicide in 75 years later.  (Freud, by the way, unlike Wittgenstein, was apparently unimpressed by Geschlecht und Charakter.)

One thing that came up a number of times at this very interesting conference, organized by Christian Damböck (together with Meike Werner and Günther Sandner), was Carnap’s “non-cognitivism.”  The word was used in a number of different ways, which I found very confusing.  I propose that when talking about Carnap, at least, we stick to what Carnap himself meant by it, which seems especially appropriate since, as far as I can tell, he actually introduced the term.   Continue reading

Some Budapest thoughts

Last week I went to a rather interesting little conference in Budapest organized by Ádám Tamás Tuboly at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.   Given its focus on “sociological” aspects of logical empiricism, most of the papers were focussed on Philipp Frank (about whom I learned a lot) and Neurath (about whom I learned even more, though I knew a lot more about him than Frank to begin with). I was a little surprised at the neglect of Richard von Mises, an outsider I’ve always found very attractive, especially in this connection, and especially of Felix Kaufmann. Neither, admittedly, belongs to either of the two notorious “parties” of the Left or Right Vienna Circles, so both are somewhat lonely eccentrics on the fringe. But then so is Wittgenstein (though of course he’s a much bigger name than either Mises or Kaufmann), to whom Martin Kusch devoted a superb paper focussing on the intellectual context of Wittgenstein’s many remarks on color and color perception, showing in detail how some, at least, of Wittgenstein’s ideas were formed in response to the experimental psychology he encountered in Cambridge when he was a student there before the First World War. Continue reading

Complete Works of Rudolf Carnap

Finally!  We are now ready to announce officially that the complete published works of Rudolf Carnap, in 14 volumes, first signed by Open Court Publishing Company (of glorious memory) with the Carnap descendants in 2002, will now be published, beginning next year, by Oxford University Press.  An overview of the volumes (and other details) is available at the new website for the project, courtesy of Richard Zach.  The first volume to appear will, appropriately, be volume 1, sometime (early, I hope) next year.  Then there will be three or four per year for the next four to five years; there are bound to be stragglers. Continue reading

Carnap’s Letter about Sweden (1914)

A while ago I made a transcription available of Carnap’s open letter to LeSeur, which I said could in a sense be regarded as his first publication.  Another candidate for that status is this — privately published — letter of 1914 expressing Carnap’s fulsome enthusiasm for Sweden.  It is available among the papers the Archive of Scientific Philosophy (Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh) has put online in box 25, folder 101, pp. 28-31 (of the Carnap papers there).  Here, for convenience, is the Carnap item by itself.  Many thanks to Gottfried Gabriel for bringing this to my attention years ago.

New work on Carnap’s inductive logic

There’s a very interesting paper by Marta Sznajder in the latest Studies in History and Philosophy of Science about Carnap’s late (posthumously published) writings on inductive logic, especially his “Basic System” published by Dick Jeffrey in 1980. She focuses on Carnap’s introduction of “attribute spaces” to give structure to the semantics of the “world” to which properties are attributed; particular observations can be thought of then as points in such an attribute space, whose geometry is determined by the chosen linguistic framework (p. 70). There is an obvious continuity here with the structural characterization of the “world” in the Aufbau, a continuity Sznajder mentions (p. 65) but doesn’t develop. (I do hope someone follows this up soon – another obvious indication of the lifelong continuity, and overall unity, in Carnap’s thought that I am always banging on about!) What she does discuss very interestingly Continue reading

Carnap’s “Politische Rundbriefe” of 1918

When I was putting together my conception of Carnap’s early development, and the wellsprings of his later philosophy, in the first chapter of my book, I relied largely on his manifesto-like article on “Deutschlands Niederlage” (Germany’s Defeat), which was written in October 1918 but remained unpublished.  I knew from the original draft of his autobiography about his effort of earlier that year (February through August) to stimulate discussion among his Youth Movement friends with a series of commented excerpts from the foreign press and from more extended essays (including Kant’s “Vom ewigen Frieden”!), which he continued to circulate and to correspond with individual friends about until he was prohibited by his commander, in September 1918, from further activity; as he remarked in the original version of the autobiography, he was lucky that his superior was so lenient, and that he wasn’t prosecuted for Hochverrat (high treason), since some of those he’d circulated his Rundbriefe to were actually still in action on the western front.

I had also seen the large folders of these Politische Rundbriefe in the Pittsburgh archive, and leafed through them, reluctantly deciding that I simply couldn’t afford the time to study them in detail.  I was wrong. Continue reading

Reflections on St. Sylvester’s Eve

Has professionalization been good for philosophy? When people ask this question (usually to answer firmly in the negative), they think of logical positivism as a kind of turning point, at which philosophy (programmatically, at least) became “technical.” They remember the Vienna Circle’s pronouncements about breaking the big, unmanageable problems down into subunits it makes better sense to address, and about the corresponding submersion of the individual thinker into the collective endeavor of (unified) science. But, such critics object, did Kant’s hope of putting philosophy “auf den sicheren Weg einer Wissenschaft” (which the logical empiricists were trying to realize) even make any sense? Isn’t this a category mistake?

I agree with this criticism but I don’t think logical empiricism is to blame for what has happened to philosophy. Continue reading

Carnap’s 1916 letter to LeSeur: “Good for us if we glow so intensely!”

In spirit, this document from the Pittsburgh ASP collection, transcribed here from Carnap’s sister’s Sütterlin longhand (the only copy that seems to exist), is something like Carnap’s first publication.  It was an open letter, from the front, responding to a publication in a rather narrow-minded, nationalist-leaning, loosely Youth-Movement-affiliated journal called Vom deutschen Michel (untranslatable, sorry; something like “about the simple, honest German”) by a Berlin minister called Eduard LeSeur.  What steps Carnap, his friends, and his family took to make the letter more widely known I haven’t yet explored; there are probably clues elsewhere in the file where this document is kept, along with LeSeur’s original piece, “Ein Brief an den Jünger der modernen Kultur” (“a letter to the disciple of modern culture”). Continue reading

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