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

Serious problems of life

Esperanto and artificial languages for everyday communication have been unexpectedly (for me) high profile on this blog; in its short lifetime of about two months, I’ve already devoted three posts to that apparently recondite historical curiosity, one on Carnap and C.K. Ogden, one about Carnap’s application of the principle of tolerance to a practical question, and one on Carnap and Wittgenstein.  The latter consists mainly of a quotation in which Carnap tells the story of a backwoods Black Forest peasant, designed to undermine “the firm conviction that an international auxiliary language might be suitable for business affairs and perhaps for natural science, but could not possibly serve as an adequate means of communication in personal affairs, for discussions of serious problems of life, political conferences, for discussions in the social sciences and the humanities, let alone for fiction or drama.”  Well, a recent commenter on that post, Alexander George, asked the perfectly reasonable question whether Carnap himself actually ever discussed “serious problems of life” in Esperanto. Continue reading

Tolerance in action

[Sorry, couldn’t post these past few days as the internet connection at our new apartment here in Munich wasn’t functioning.  Welcome to super-efficient Germany!  But it’s fixed now.]

Carnap was involved in the international language movement all his life. From the age of 14 — as he himself points out, before he had encountered any logical languages — he was an Esperanto enthusiast and after 1918 went to a number of international Esperanto conferences. We know from McElvenny that — without putting Esperanto aside — he became involved in Ogden’s project of Basic English. And later, in North America, he became an active participant in the International Auxiliary Language Association (I.A.L.A.) — copious notes and comments exist in his papers about the various proposals considered by the association. But the only thing he ever published on the subject, apart from the highly abbreviated remarks in his autobiography (the original passage on this subject is roughly three times as long), Continue reading

Carnap’s answer to Wittgenstein on artificial languages

Everyone (well, everyone reading this, anyway) knows the story of Wittgenstein’s refusal to countenance Carnap’s further participation at the meetings with himself, Schlick, Waismann, and sometimes Feigl in the late 1920s.  One can speculate on Wittgenstein’s motivations here (I have my own ideas, which I won’t go into), but Carnap’s most notorious offense was to have shown some sympathy for Zamenhof and the Esperanto movement, which Wittgenstein — here a true disciple of Herder — found appallingly vulgar and inauthentic.  Wittgenstein’s family, parentage, and background have been the subject of extensive biographical and cultural-history study, so it’s clear where he was coming from.  Few have heard Carnap’s side of the story, though, Continue reading