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

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

Popper and Carnap again

Anyone who’s even heard of Popper knows that he advanced his falsifiability criterion (of science) in opposition to the Vienna Circle’s verifiability criterion (of meaning). What the Popper fans seem unaware of (yes, I know, they’re no longer as numerous as in the days of Helmut Schmidt’s public endorsement) is that Carnap actually responded to this criticism by pointing out that you can’t distinguish between verification and falsification except in certain special cases, which happen not to include the laws of e.g. physics. That was in “Testability and Meaning” (1936-7), which Popper praised volubly, e.g. in his Schilpp volume. But despite the fatal consequences of Carnap’s argument for Popper’s whole edifice, Popper never responded, nor, as far as I’m aware, has any of his followers. Continue reading

Hirsch on common sense

Eli Hirsch, in his paper in the Metametaphysics book, says he wants to conjoin a “Carnapian” approach to ontological questions with a “robust realism” (p. 231) and a defense of common sense, which, he claims, “doesn’t seem to be a concern for Carnap” (p. 232). Actually, it was a constant concern of Carnap through all stages of his career.  He saw a continuity, rather than a sharp break, between common sense and science (Schilpp volume, p. 934).  But he also saw them as playing fundamentally different roles; he saw an increasing gap, since perhaps Newton (or Archimedes), between the ordinary language in which we live and act and the technical languages (to which alone sentences could be “internal”) we depend on for knowledge. He thought it simply unfeasible — a kind of category mistake (Huw Price considers the parallel to Ryle) — to rely on the former kind of language in the latter context.

Only the continuing general ignorance about Carnap makes it possible for people to get away with this sort of thing.  Would anyone take you seriously if you said you wanted to combine a Kantian approach to ontological questions with a robust realism and a defense of common sense?  Or Frege’s approach to arithmetic with Mill’s?  But apparently you can still say almost anything you like about Carnap and no one will call you out on it.  More examples to come.