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!

More on “ontological pluralism”

Some afterthoughts on my previous remarks about “ontological pluralism.”  I said there that

A “string of symbols” cannot “come out true in some languages but false in others, while meaning what it actually means,” because “what it actually means” is not specifiable language-independently. To suppose that a string of symbols “actually” means something independently of the language it is expressed in is just to take an external statement literally, at face value.

Of course there may be multiple explicata for a single explicandum, but this is not a case of a string of symbols coming out true in some languages but false in others; Continue reading

“Ontological pluralism”

Various forms of “pluralism” are making the rounds these days.  There is, for instance, the “logical pluralism” of Beall and Restall (among others), the subject of a recent book by Stewart Shapiro, which will be discussed here at some point.  But then there is also something much vaguer and murkier called “ontological pluralism,” which, amazingly, is attributed to Carnap.  Matti Eklund, for instance, considers this question in his paper in the Metametaphysics volume.  What does he mean by it? He considers various formulations, starting with the “quantifier-variance” understanding of Hirsch, in which ontological pluralism requires the quantifiers to take on different interpretations in different languages. But Eklund thinks this is insufficiently precise, as it can seem to amount to “the thesis that a string of symbols can come out true in some languages but false in others, while meaning what it actually means.” The trouble with this, he thinks, is that it “would appear to commit the ontological pluralist to a form of relativism or idealism absent from pluralist writings.” (p. 138) Continue reading

What is a “framework,” and why does Chalmers have an opinion about this?

A few weeks ago I argued first that Chalmers’s conception of internal and external questions bore little relation to the Carnapian one it’s supposed to explicate, then that the Chalmers version is actually incompatible with the Carnap one. Chalmers says Carnap’s internal-external distinction needs to be replaced (p. 80 of his paper in the Metametaphysics volume) because the idea of a framework is too philosophically tendentious to be allowed to burden that distinction, which must therefore also be replaced by a supposedly more neutral one. In my earlier posts, I focused on Chalmers’s replacement of the internal-external distinction, and bracketed the (in a sense more fundamental) question of his replacement for Carnap’s notion of a framework. That it needs some replacement I take to be obvious; you can’t very well have any notion of “internal” if there isn’t something for concepts or questions to be internal to, a representational medium of some sort in which questions or concepts can be stated. Carnap called that medium a (linguistic) “framework.”  Why does Chalmers consider this tendentious?  Not clear.

Continue reading

Verbal disputes

A few days ago I argued that Chalmers’s proposed replacement of Carnap’s internal-external distinction (in ESO) bears little resemblance to its Carnapian original.  Today I will go on to claim that this proposed replacement (like other related proposals from the new metaontologists) not only doesn’t resemble that original, but is actually incompatible with it. Continue reading

Chalmers on internal and external questions

One of the chief playgrounds of the new, supposedly Carnapian, metaontology has been Carnap’s distinction between internal and external questions in his “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology” (ESO). David Chalmers (in the 2009 Metametaphysics volume, pp. 80-85), for instance, acknowledges that there is “something natural” about the distinction as it “seems to reflect a distinction in our practice of raising questions about existence.” However, he thinks Carnap’s terminology is “suboptimal” as it is “too closely tied to Carnap’s theoretical apparatus involving frameworks to serve as a neutral starting point.” So he proposes a “relatively pretheoretical” replacement for the internal-external distinction “that almost anyone can accept, regardless of their theoretical inclinations” (p. 80). Continue reading