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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).  Second, his paper mischaracterizes that role in the published Aufbau.  As I show in some detail in my (forthcoming) paper on the subject, while Carnap took Husserl as his starting point in the original conception of the Aufbau in the 1922 sketch “Vom Chaos zur Wirklichkeit,” he decided two years later to abandon the phenomenological basis of that original conception.  The published Aufbau competes with phenomenology; it approaches the task of “constitution” (by which Carnap comes to mean something rather different than what Husserl began with) by different means.  In fact, the published Aufbau contains an — inevitably sachlich and low-key — attack on Husserl (in the first few sections of the book’s philosophical conclusion, culminating in §164, where Husserl is named explicitly).

Despite all this, I believe (and argue in the paper linked to above) that the published Aufbau in fact is strongly influenced by Husserl, but not at all in the way diagnosed by Stone (or most others before him, though David Woodruff Smith is an exception).

Rosado Haddock, in his book and elsewhere, encourages us (those of us who are interested in these questions) to go and consult the archives to figure out what actually went on.  That is what I did; the first part of my paper is just a review of what the archives actually tell us about the relations between Carnap and the Husserl circle in Freiburg in the early 1920s.  But when Rosado Haddock heard this paper, as a talk in Munich (July 2013), he denounced it vociferously (and at length, ignoring the chair’s attempts to get him to bring his remarks to a close).  It was “the big lie,” he said.  He did not attempt to engage with any of my evidence, let alone my arguments from that evidence.  You decide.


3 thoughts on “Carnap and Husserl

  1. Thank you for your response. Since I wrote my first comment, Carnap’s diaries have become easily available. I have compared the data given there with the Husserl-Chronik.
    — Carnap did attend Husserl’s advanced seminar in the winter semester of 1923—24. The seminar was called Phänomenologische Übungen für Fortgeschrittene and met every Wednesday. What was discussed in this seminar I have not been able to find out.
    — As you note, Carnap did attend one of Husserl’s lectures, which he reports not to have liked very much. Given the date (13.11.1923) this must have been the 7th lecture of the course Erste Philosophie. Husserl’s lecture notes for that day can be found in Husserliana VII pages 44—51.
    — Carnap’s diaries do not support Landgrebe’s report. a) Husserl is not mentioned after March 1924. b) As in the previous years, the seminars met on Wednesdays, and as the diaries show, Carnap was then usually doing other things.

  2. Thank you for this nice paper. According to Schumann’s Husserl-Chronik p. 281, Carnap participated in Husserl’s Oberseminar, “SS 1924 — SS 1925”, which I assume means that he participated in that seminar the summer semester of 1924, the winter semester of 1924–25, and the summer semester of 1925; this information, we are told in a footnote, stems from a letter of Ludwig Landgrebe. This seems, however, to conflict with the information you provide in the beginning of your paper. Do you think Landgrebe might have remembered incorrectly? Settling which seminars Carnap participated in is useful in this discussion, since Husserl’s extensive lecture notes from most of these are now available, hence they can let us see more precisely what it is that Carnap heard.

    Do I understand you correctly that you wish to read the process of elimination of the basic relation in Aufbau 153–155 as involving something along the lines of the phenomenological reduction? If one wishes to employ Husserlian notions for understanding these as well as other Aufbau-paragraphs on form and structure, it seems to me that `formalization’ and `formal category’ from the first chapter of the Ideas are better suited; did you consider such an interpretation? We know from Der Raum that Carnap was well acquianted with these notions.

    (And some pedantry: on pages 13ff. you write §65 where what I think you mean is §66.)

    1. Thanks for your comment, and sorry about the long wait for my response. I was aware of the remark in Schuhmann’s Husserl-Chronik, but if I’m remembering correctly, Landgrebe’s letter footnoted there dates from three or four decades after the period in question, while Carnap’s diaries (on which I largely rely for the chronology) were written in real time. It’s possible, of course, that Carnap was eingeschrieben at the university for the entire period Landgrebe recalls, but as far as Carnap’s diaries tell us, there is no reason to think that his contact with Landgrebe’s discussion group extended beyond the spring of 1924. To what extent Carnap went to Husserl’s lectures in addition to the Oberseminar is unclear. He only mentions going to one, in late November 1923, and he didn’t like it much, which is not surprising as that would presumably have been part of Erste Philosophie, whose absurdly inflated conception of philosophy Carnap would have found deeply problematic even then. I would incline to the view that he did not go to any further lectures after that one.

      I don’t think the elimination of the basic relation in Aufbau sections 153-5 can be read as an application of the phenomenological reduction, and I hope I didn’t say anything in the paper to make you think otherwise. I do think Carnap applied Husserl’s bracketing strategy more broadly as I suggest in my section on “Carnap’s Synthesis,” though of course the residuum of bracketing was language, not pure consciousness.

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