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

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

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 architectonic

In the last chapter of my book I tried, far too cryptically, to outline a conception of rationality that had the potential, at least, of doing justice to two desiderata: (a) it would build on what one might call the “Enlightenment rationality” epitomized by inductive logic and (broadly speaking Bayesian) decision theory; (b) it would, however, introduce a broad freedom of choice (“Carnapian tolerance”) regarding the conceptual system in which (a) is undertaken.  These two goals seem at odds, and indeed, this is a conflict which in various forms has haunted the Enlightenment (and scientific rationality in general) from the beginning: die Dialektik der Aufklärung.  And where these goals come into conflict, (a) has generally won out over (b).  This is why science has seemed coercive and authoritarian to so many people; it has seemed like a false religion, and continues to inspire the kind of vituperative rejection Goethe’s polemic against Newton first exemplified two centuries ago. Continue reading