Carnap’s political cartography in 1918: How to read “Deutschlands Niederlage”

Two months ago today (seems like a bygone era!) I was in Vienna at a workshop about Carnap’s early diaries, hosted by Christian Damböck, who is in the final stages of editing them for publication. I also gave a little talk there, about one of the major turning points in Carnap’s life during this early period, his political awakening during his year in Berlin before and during the German Revolution in October 1918. Just before the revolution, Carnap wrote a kind of manifesto summarizing his political outlook at the time, a piece that remained unpublished (for reasons unknown), called “Deutschlands Niederlage: Sinnloses Schicksal oder Schuld?”

A few years ago, Thomas Mormann wrote a very tendentious diagnosis of this essay and put it up on PhilPapers. He probably intended it just as a kind of provocation; well, I fell for it, and — true to form — overreacted. In any case, I think it was worth it, as the company Carnap kept in the German youth movement before and during the war is certainly a bit suspect, and one inevitably has to wonder whether he really did escape any influence from that quarter altogether. Predictably, I argue, against Mormann, that Carnap did actually emerge entirely unscathed. (And here are the slides for the talk.)

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Catching up: Special issue on Carnap’s metaphilosophy

(This is the first of several posts that will try to catch up on a few bits of Carnap-related news over the past year or so. Most of you will already know about most of it; these catching-up posts will mainly be of interest to those who, like me, were too busily focused to pay attention to the wider world.)

A few years ago, I mentioned here that there would be an issue of the Monist on Carnap’s metaphilosophy. Quite a number of people responded to the cfp and sent things in; the result was published last October. Thanks go especially to Fraser MacBride, the editor of the Monist, who helped a great deal, not only with general day-to-day guidance, but specifically with the suggestion that I translate a couple of the early Carnap texts I was writing about at the time and include them in the issue, especially since their originals are about to be published in a conference volume edited by Christian Damböck, Günter Sandner, and Meike Werner (Logical Empiricism, Life Reform, and the German Youth Movement, Springer, forthcoming). These translations were Carnap’s first contributions to the Monist.

When I first went about putting the issue together, the centerpiece was to have been a synthesis by Bill Demopoulos of his various writings on Carnap over the previous decade (mostly collected in his Logicism and its Philosophical Legacy, CUP 2013), in which he intended to spell out the general perspective on Carnap implicit in many of those pieces. I was very much looking forward to this (I disagreed with Bill, around the edges, but it was a very productive sort of disagreement) — but it was never written, alas, as Bill had the effrontery to die before he could get down to work on it. Thanks to Fraser (again) and all the contributors for ensuring that despite this devastating blow, the issue still came together amazingly well; details in my introduction. My own contribution to it, as well as Huw Price’s reply, can be found here.

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