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.”  When Christian Damböck first alerted me to this I thought it must be a joke, perhaps a parody of Haddock’s increasingly shrill, though never quite explicit, accusations.  But no, she is serious!  Carnap, it seems, plagiarized Husserl in his first major book and then artfully swept this outrage under the rug by targeting Heidegger (and so by association Husserl) as the antithesis of “scientific philosophy” in his well-known 1932 paper about “Die Überwindung der Metaphysik.”  Carnap thereby not only stole the mantle (and prestige) of the appellation “scientific philosophy” from Husserl and phenomenology, but originated the spurious divergence between analytic and continental philosophy that has caused so much needless confusion since then.  He took care, moreover, to ensure that Konstitution in the original Aufbau was mistranslated as “construction,” so that no one (least of all the ignorant Americans) would think of associating Carnap’s book with Husserl.  His motive in all this was simply to further his career by stealing the label of “scientific philosophy” from its rightful owner and setting himself and his friends up as its examplary specimens.  He was predisposed to such self-promoting behavior, says Mayer, by his lack of intellectual conscience, as illustrated by his failure (admitted in his autobiography) to find, in the mid-1920s, a particular commitment to any of the philosophical “languages” (idealism, positivism, realism, etc.) he finds himself talking with philosophers of different persuasions.

I have known and talked to many people who are partial to Husserl; some of them helped me a great deal in my own paper on this subject.  But apart from my abortive encounter with Haddock, I have never come across anything like this religious zealotry, embedded in a paranoid world view that reminds one uneasily of the more and more polarized political atavisms that are threatening to bury our western democratic institutions under piles of stinking populist garbage.  But what on earth is this sort of paranoia, this refusal even to acknowledge the existence of opposing views, never mind to engage with them, doing in academia?  Shouldn’t we, especially in a field such as philosophy, where differences among values and world-conceptions are not only inescapable, but at the heart of the subject, be a small (if largely ineffectual) counterweight to the irrationality of the world around us?  Shouldn’t we be exemplifying a sanity, and a willingness to listen, that much of the political realm seems to have forgotten?  What has happened here?  How did the barbarians get into the citadel?

It is a hallmark of paranoia that every detail of the surroundings is elaborately re-interpreted to fit into a consistent portrayal of them as unremittingly hostile and threatening.  Mayer’s paper is long and detailed, and it is tempting to repay it in its own coin — to throw up one’s hands and exclaim “where does one begin?” — and ignore it.  But we weak-kneed democratic liberals don’t really have that option, any more than we have the option of repaying the bully soon to enter the White House in his own coin.  We reject that currency; our coin is reason.  We have to do the work of going through this muck, line by line, and showing how none of it actually holds together, even if interesting points are made here and there.  We are bound by our own rules (of civility, of rationality) to respond.  So I do, reluctantly and exasperatedly, support Christian Damböck’s contention that this has to be raised at conferences and other venues, and can’t remain uncontradicted, even if it may seem a waste of time.  We have, after all, already looked at many of the same passages Mayer and Haddock base their case on and have argued at length for very different interpretations of them, but Mayer and Haddock just ignore us.  No matter, we have to keep trying, just as we have to keep trying in the larger arena.

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