Howard Stein appreciation

I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who thinks of Howard Stein as something like “the greatest living philosophical historian of science,” though he himself would certainly find such a description distasteful (not the “living philosophical historian of science” part, but the superlative preceding it).  And it’s good to see his words examined closely, whatever quarrels I may have with the conclusions reached.  Howard’s papers are very dense; there is a lot in there, much more than one can possibly take in on a first reading; putting them under a microscope can only help. 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

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 on Value Concepts

This transcription of a shorthand text from the Carnap Papers at Pitt (Archive of Scientific Philosophy) will remain its only publication in its original “German” (actually a mishmash of German and English, in vocabulary as well as syntax and word order); the journal in which my translation of it into English and a brief introduction will appear considered the possibility of publishing the original as well, but then thought better of it.   Continue reading

Carnap and C.K. Ogden

James McElvenny (now a Humboldt Fellow at the University of Potsdam) has written a dissertation, Meaning in the Age of Modernism: C.K. Ogden and his Contemporaries — not in history but in English, if you can believe it!  There is a chapter on Ogden’s interactions with Carnap and Neurath (Chapter 4: Ogden and the Vienna Circle).  McElvenny has published some papers derived from it, which I haven’t looked at yet, but the dissertation itself is terrific.   Continue reading

Putnam anecdote about Carnap

Expands a little on Carnap’s well-known but brief account of his switch from physics to philosophy in Jena (p. 11 of the autobiography in the Schilpp volume).  On other occasions (e.g. in his reply to Ricketts, p. 281 of Reading Putnam), Putnam sometimes argues from the authority of personal acquaintance that some position or another “is just not the Carnap I knew and loved,” but in this case he’s merely telling the story, without editorializing, and it sounds authentic (to me, anyway).  Note the parallel between Carnap’s attitude toward his ponderously authoritative professor and toward the ignorant peasant to whom he compares Esperanto disparagers — both pronounce with portentous confidence on matters of which they know nothing.

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

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

Is “unity of science” a form of metaphysics?

The one thing people can be counted on to know about Carnap is that he was against metaphysics.  But what is metaphysics?  According to the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, it is “the philosophical investigation of the nature, constitution, and structure of reality” and is “broader in scope than science, e.g. physics and even cosmology. . ., since one of its traditional concerns is the existence of non-physical entities. . . It is also more fundamental, since it investigates questions science does not address but the answers to which it presupposes” (2nd ed., p. 563).  Ladyman and Ross (LR) in their book Every Thing Must Go contrast their “naturalized” metaphysics to this Cambridge-Dictionary (CD) type, which they refer to as the “metaphysics of domestication,” since it tries to make counter-intuitive scientific knowledge accessible to the crude categories of our inherited vernacular, the ways of thinking that have evolved from the accumulated experience of the species since the Continue reading

Carnap and Cassirer suspended above Davos

A gem from Peter Gordon’s Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos:

. . . a twenty-two year old student named Ernst Benz. . . recalled many years afterward that, in the afternoon following one of Heidegger’s lectures, a handful of the guests decided to take in the local scenery by riding the cable car that ascended from the valley of Davosplatz to the high, snow-covered peak of the Jakobshorn.  Pressed together in the cabin and swaying slightly as it rose were a number of professors and students, including both Cassirer and Carnap.  Cassirer turned to his neighbor: “Herr Kollege,” he asked, “How would you express the content of today’s lecture by Herr Heidegger in the language of mathematical logic?” And Carnap responded: “Quite simple: Bi-ba-bum!” (p. 327)

Gordon focuses on Carnap’s sardonic reply, which he speculates might allude to Christian Morgenstern’s Heine-esque little Bim, Bam, Bum (I seem to recall Carnap using those syllables somewhere else — perhaps the 1932 psychology paper?), but it seems to me that Cassirer’s question is at least as mischievous as Carnap’s answer.

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