Carnap’s political dimension

One of the main themes of my book about Carnap is that a decisive component of the original motivation first to write the Aufbau and then to push forward to the radical pluralism of the Syntax (and beyond) was Carnap’s diagnosis of the political situation immediately after the First World War in Germany.  Amidst revolution and upheaval, Carnap saw very clearly that the German intelligentsia had contributed to the outbreak and continuation of the war by failing to get politically involved in the 19th century as French and British intellectuals had done, and thus failing to restrain the German elite’s war-oriented Betonköpfe (yes, that’s an anachronism — to make a point).  So he advocated greater political involvement (and got involved himself), but also thought that to prevent future wars, the chaotic development of societies over the past century or two of rapid industrialization had to be steered by reason to a greater extent.  But there existed no satisfactory account of reason, no system in which all the knowledge accumulated by the sciences over the past century could be seen to fit together.  In contrast to the traditional Enlightenment system of knowledge (e.g. the Encyclopédie), where the various parts and components of knowledge were anchored in the various human cognitive, practical, and other mental faculties — so that the system was ultimately grounded in human psychology — Carnap (having studied with Frege) thought, like Leibniz, that the system of knowledge should be deductive.  And so on from there.

To show that there was really something to this, I attempted in my concluding chapter, very briefly, to suggest how one might apply the later Carnap’s perspective to actual political discourse.  This was suggested to me by Michael Friedman, who was on my dissertation committee, and who said that it might help people to get what I was talking about if I applied it to a controversy they were familiar with, such as the Rawls-Habermas debate.  Well, I did exactly that, but no one really noticed, and when they did, they ridiculed the idea that such a rarefied nerd as Carnap, who sticks to the “icy slopes of logic,” could possibly have had a political motivation for the intricacies of his formalistic obsessions — or that his perspective could possibly contribute anything to political deliberation.  Until now.  James Pearson has taken pity on this explicitly political dimension of my book and devoted a paper to it, in which he tries to apply my Carnapian suggestions to a couple of concrete cases. Continue reading

A misguided critique of Carnapian explication

Back again, finally, from the many distractions of the past year.  With any luck I’ll now be able to catch up on the long list of subjects that has accumulated in the mean time.  I was already way behind before this long absence, and can’t catch up all at once.  But let’s get started again.

I finally gave in at some point last year and bought Ontology after Carnap (OUP 2016, ed. by Stephan Blatti and Sandra Lapointe).  There are some interesting things in it, that I will be commenting on occasionally over the next couple of months if my time doesn’t get away from me again.  Right now I want to focus on Appendix A (“Epistemic vs. Pragmatic Interpretations of the Methodology of Intensions”) of a paper by Stephen Biggs and Jessica Wilson, which is just over two pages long (pp. 98-100) and claims to undermine Carnapian explication. Continue reading

Bill Demopoulos

Bill died earlier this week.  He’d been ill for a long time, but when I last talked to him it had stabilized, and while he was unable to travel internationally (so I haven’t seen him in a while), he was unconcerned.  I had only got to know him personally a few years ago at a conference in Nancy organized by Gerhard Heinzmann.

I am particularly devastated by this news because he and I had, since that conference, been discussing various Carnap-related issues, first surrounding his 2011 paper in Journal of Philosophy on extending ESO to the realism-instrumentalism controversy, through its various drafts before it appeared (in my Oxford Bibliography on Carnap, I call it the “deepest and subtlest analysis of ESO published to date, probing questions Carnap left open”); he had given an early version of it at that Nancy conference.  He republished it along with several other papers on Carnap (and other matters) in his collection Logicism and its Philosophical Legacy.  When I read that book, I was struck how the Carnap papers added up to a very compelling and original overall interpretation which, however, was never spelled out in any one of them.

I mentioned this to him a year or two ago when I was inviting papers for the Monist special issue on Carnap, and asked whether he’d be willing to write such a paper for that issue.  It turned out that he’d been thinking exactly the same thing, about a general synthesis putting his overall view of Carnap together in one place, and would be happy to do that for the Monist issue.  So I was very much looking forward to getting his draft so we could continue our conversation begun in Nancy.  Even a few weeks ago he was still hoping to send me something before the end of the year.  Alas, it will never be!  It is a loss for the Monist issue, a loss for the Carnap world (and even the world at large, I would venture) not to have this general statement of his exceptionally careful and well-thought out conception of Carnap, and a particularly acute loss for me personally, as I’d really been looking forward to arguing with him about that conception.  One shouldn’t let one’s self get so distracted, one shouldn’t put things off for too long!

Carnap in French

Pierre Wagner, Professeur des Universités at Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne), has brought out Der Raum in French.  This was a long struggle, but is now brought to a triumphant conclusion, as the book was actually reviewed in the book supplement of Le Monde — the equivalent of getting it into the TLS or New York Review of Books.  Pierre’s long efforts, going back twenty years or more, to bring logical empiricism back to some sort of respectability in France, are finally paying off.  I won’t list his publications here (you can look them up on his website), but he’s also held a number of conferences in Paris, and, most relevantly to the current book, a fabulous two-day workshop in 2010 on Der Raum at the French cultural center on the Währingerstraße in Vienna, at which we just sat around and talked, without any papers being given at all; the main texts were the first draft of Michael Friedman’s notes on Der Raum (for volume 1 of the Carnap edition, now getting close to publication) and a long e-mail by Howard Stein commenting on some passages from Michael’s notes.

Pierre was a student of Jacques Bouveresse, most recently a professor at the Collège de France, and one of the first to introduce not only Carnap but also Wittgenstein to the attention of French philosophers. Pierre tells me that Bouveresse at certain times had fifty or sixty (I’m spelling this out so you won’t think it’s a typo!) research students at a time because if you wanted to do analytic philosophy at the time, there was no one else to go to.  That situation, at least (due at least partly to Pierre’s own efforts) has improved considerably!

 

A missed opportunity

The current issue of Philosophy Now has a little article on Carnap by one Alistair MacFarlane, a Scottish electrical engineer who has held a number of academic administrative posts.  To judge by a few of the details he relates about Carnap’s life, he seems to have known or met Carnap personally, though he also commits a surprising number of factual errors. More seriously, he seems completely unaware that after a long period in the doghouse, logical empiricism has attracted some attention again, and a huge literature has accumulated on many aspects of its leading figures, especially Carnap.  He acknowledges none of this.  The Carnap he presents is the die-hard positivist, verificationist, and reductionist familiar from the old comic-strip versions of philosophical mythology that we fancy ourselves to have overcome.  So let this be a warning: the old comic strips may have lost some credibility, but there are still lots of philosophically interested non-philosophers (and perhaps even philosophically interested philosophers) out there to whom this news has not penetrated.  And apparently no one in Philosophy Now editorial is aware of it either, or they’d have asked MacFarlane for revisions. Continue reading

Carnap as plagiarist

A new book has just appeared that sets the record straight, and shows that not just Carnap’s ideas, but pretty much the whole of analytic philosophy, are largely derivative of Husserl’s phenomenology.  It is edited, of course, by none other than the redoubtable Guillermo E. Rosado Haddock, who has been on the case for quite a while.  It contains, among other papers, the one Haddock himself gave at the Aufbau conference Christian Damböck organized at the MCMP in Munich in 2013.  I’ve mentioned Haddock’s performance there in a previous post.  The published version of his paper does not refer to my paper (which he called “the big lie” in the Munich discussion) or even deign to list it in his bibliography (it’s been out for almost a year, and available online for over 18 months).  Haddock does however — a new addition since the conference — include references to, and even quotations from, the Carnap diary entries I used in my paper (the first time they were referred to in print).  At the Munich conference, he had cast doubt on the authenticity of these passages, implying that I had fabricated them or badly distorted their content.

Haddock has never quite come out and claimed that Carnap stole Husserl’s ideas, though he’s often insinuated it, and hinted darkly at various conspiracies to hide the dirty secret of Husserl’s influence on Carnap.  In this new volume, though, Haddock also includes a long paper by Verena Mayer that takes this step explicitly, right from the title — “Der Logische Aufbau als Plagiat.”   Continue reading

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

1 2 3 5