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