Strawson vs. Carnap: A primer

The Carnapian linguistic turn was never widely accepted; most of Carnap’s interlocutors, early and late, did not take it seriously. Only the “left wing” of the Vienna Circle warmed to it; most other scientifically-oriented philosophers, including Schlick, Reichenbach, Russell, Popper, Quine, and Feigl, rejected it. Most of them misunderstood it quite fundamentally, and certain others (Ayer, Urmson, Rorty) attacked or ridiculed the Carnapian linguistic turn without grasping what it even was (see my book, pp. 34-5). Resistance to it remains obdurate, insofar as it’s even discussed.  The idea is that you can’t just do away with all the grand old philosophical problems, you have to take them at face value.  There is an austere, Quinean version of this impulse, but most people (or rather, I should say, most philosophers) want there to be something right about our everyday intuitions mediated by natural language, especially about the conflicts among such intuitions that result in the classic philosophical problems. These people tend to go for something more like an argument Peter Strawson first made fully explicit
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Yet another friendly suggestion for Ladyman and Ross (with an aside on Quine)

I hope I’ve made clear in my previous posts about Ladyman and Ross and their wonderful book All Things Must Go (here and here) that my critical remarks about them are to be understood as supportive and constructive.  I’m trying to buttress their position and make it stronger.  I’m on their side, as are certain other sympathetic critics, who have pointed out other problems with their approach, not directly related to what I’ve said in those previous posts.  Of particular importance, I think, is the critique by Kyle Stanford in a 2010 symposium on the Ladyman-Ross book in Metascience. Stanford points out that the concept of “structure” central to Ladyman-Ross’s structural realism serves several distinct purposes in their book: it is what remains continuous through theoretical transitions, for instance, and is also what explains the novel predictive successes of those theories. Stanford doubts whether a single concept of “structure” can do all these jobs. Continue reading

Further thoughts on Ladyman and Ross

In my previous remarks about Ladyman and Ross I wondered whether the differences between them and Carnap were (largely or entirely) a matter of terminology.  What Ladyman and Ross call “metaphysics” Carnap entertained as a programmatic constraint on the language chosen, or developed, as an agreed common language of science, i.e. that it enable us to unify all the disperate knowledge from all the special sciences into a single coherent story. Does it matter whether we call this “metaphysics”? For Carnap, it didn’t really. He obviously was wary of the word “metaphysics” but was quite clear that a good deal of traditional metaphysics (he mentions Aristotle, Leibniz, Kant, Peirce, and Whitehead) could easily be interpreted as engineering work on our conceptual apparatus, rather than taken at face value in the material mode, i.e. as pertaining to some sort of ultimate “reality.” He would no doubt have taken Ladyman and Ross in the same spirit, Continue reading

Look who’s joined us!

Here are the proofs I was sent of Carnap’s “Value Concepts” fragment of 1958; have a look at Carnap’s institutional affiliation.  Quite a coup for Hannes Leitgeb to be able to attract such people, even from beyond the Styx!

Proofs-p1Also of course it’s rather nice to be listed as Carnap’s co-author but unfortunately I’m going to have to correct that.  This will be its only appearance.

Apologies for the absence of posts over the past few weeks, and thanks to those who keep coming back to see what’s up.  I will get back on track now, and may even have a few comments on the CLMPS in Helsinki next week, where I’m giving one of those mini-papers, but mostly interested in what others have to say.

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

Carnap’s architectonic

In the last chapter of my book I tried, far too cryptically, to outline a conception of rationality that had the potential, at least, of doing justice to two desiderata: (a) it would build on what one might call the “Enlightenment rationality” epitomized by inductive logic and (broadly speaking Bayesian) decision theory; (b) it would, however, introduce a broad freedom of choice (“Carnapian tolerance”) regarding the conceptual system in which (a) is undertaken.  These two goals seem at odds, and indeed, this is a conflict which in various forms has haunted the Enlightenment (and scientific rationality in general) from the beginning: die Dialektik der Aufklärung.  And where these goals come into conflict, (a) has generally won out over (b).  This is why science has seemed coercive and authoritarian to so many people; it has seemed like a false religion, and continues to inspire the kind of vituperative rejection Goethe’s polemic against Newton first exemplified two centuries ago. 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

“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

Carnap and Husserl

A few days ago I mentioned a paper by Stone on Carnap’s and Heidegger’s responses to Husserl.  It’s an interesting paper but in one respect at least it would appear to be misinformed: its view of the role Husserl played for Carnap.  First of all, it exaggerates the extent of that role; Carnap was never a “follower” of Husserl, as Stone claims in an earlier paper.  He doesn’t, admittedly, exaggerate as grossly as Rosado Haddock (from whose book I’m glad to see Stone now carefully distances himself in a footnote).   Continue reading

How Carnap sees the task of philosophy, according to Stone

An interesting paper by Abraham D. Stone on Carnap’s and Heidegger’s different, though in some ways symmetrical responses to Husserl (still unpublished, as far as I know), concludes with some pronouncements on Carnap’s conception of the task of philosophy that appear superficially plausible but don’t in the end quite cohere: Continue reading

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