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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the revolution, Carnap wrote a kind of manifesto summarizing his political outlook at the time, a piece that remained unpublished (for reasons unknown), called “Deutschlands Niederlage: Sinnloses Schicksal oder Schuld?”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.)

Since Mormann put his provocation on PhilPapers in German, I’ve left my response in German as well, since it’s probably a rather internecine thing that needn’t bother serious philosophers (or historians of philosophy) who confine themselves to texts in English.

(I’ve added a few bibliographical references, and a footnote or two, that weren’t in my original talk notes; also I’ve posted the slides I showed (see above link); the boldface numbers inserted in the talk notes in square brackets indicate where I showed the corresponding slide.)

I doubt Mormann is aware of this blog, but I’d be very grateful if someone could send him a link to this post and let him know about it (I will send one myself to the latest e-mail address I have, but I’ve been told he’s moved to Japan meanwhile, and may well not get my note). Obviously the best outcome of posting my Vienna talk here would be that Mormann sends a response (either via the comments facility on this blog or by posting it somewhere else), and we can get down to a serious discussion of the evidence for and against our respective hypotheses. We’ll see what happens!

PS: Comments in German welcome; ich antworte dann auch auf deutsch.

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

    1. Du hast mich durchschaut! (Oder vielleicht wollte ich bloß Gereon Wolters ein Bißchen ärgern?)

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