Ontology and explication: Lavers narrowly misses the point

In his paper on “Carnap, Quine, Quantification, and Ontology,” Gregory Lavers holds forth — mostly quite instructively — on the connections between Carnap’s and Quine’s conceptions of ontology, and on the connections between these and their respective conceptions of explication. He misses a few critical details, though, and it seems to me that these apparently minor omissions undermine some, at least, of the points he wants to make.

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Carnap and Quine on evidence

Peter Hylton has a paper in the Monist, now a few years old, that I’ve been meaning to comment on because it exemplifies a bad habit much of the Carnap-Quine literature suffers from: comparing the early Carnap with the later Quine. This is tempting, of course, because Quine himself did it (as e.g. Gregory Lavers has pointed out), and even Burton Dreben (Peter’s doctoral supervisor), though far more scrupulous than Quine, tended to fall into it; I guess it became a sort of Harvard thing, and Peter can’t be blamed too much for slipping into the ruts of his elders. However, he happens to have chosen a subject where this mismatch gets him into serious trouble, since if he’d actually compared the mature Quine with the mature Carnap, his main points wouldn’t be just questionable, they’d have collapsed entirely.

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Mormann replies

Thomas Mormann has sent a response to my Vienna talk about Carnap’s 1917-18 political development, which I posted here in April. In that talk, I had criticized Mormann’s reading of “Deutschlands Niederlage,” a programmatic essay Carnap wrote just before the German Revolution in October 1918 but never published.

Mormann’s response is largely ad hominem; he impugns my motives, but introduces no new facts or arguments concerning the questions over which we differ. So I won’t respond, beyond these two points, which I will make in German (to remain consistent with my policy of addressing Mormann’s remarks in the language he wrote them in):

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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.)

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Endlich! (Another update on vol. 1)

Vol. 1 of the Carnap edition is now officially available on the Oxford University Press site, for immediate order. Amazon.co.uk is now saying it will be available on Friday (12 July), and is charging the same price as OUP’s own site (which, though high, is much more reasonable than I’d feared). I’m not sure which of the two would arrive sooner if you order it before Friday. After that I’d definitely guess Amazon would be quicker. The German and American Amazon sites are saying the book will be released on 25 August, so you’re better off ordering from Amazon UK or OUP direct (be sure to use their British site, with prices in pounds sterling, or you’ll get the same availability date as the German or American Amazon sites).

The advance copies to the editors and the editorial board are on their way; I’ve already received mine. I won’t post a photo, since it won’t convey any more information than the one in the previous post, but I must say that I’m very pleased with the result of all those years of work, and congratulate OUP on the job they did with it. They deserve their status as the world’s leading philosophy publisher; it looks terrific!

Catching up: Special issue on Carnap’s metaphilosophy

(This is the first of several posts that will try to catch up on a few bits of Carnap-related news over the past year or so. Most of you will already know about most of it; these catching-up posts will mainly be of interest to those who, like me, were too busily focused to pay attention to the wider world.)

A few years ago, I mentioned here that there would be an issue of the Monist on Carnap’s metaphilosophy. Quite a number of people responded to the cfp and sent things in; the result was published last October. Thanks go especially to Fraser MacBride, the editor of the Monist, who helped a great deal, not only with general day-to-day guidance, but specifically with the suggestion that I translate a couple of the early Carnap texts I was writing about at the time and include them in the issue, especially since their originals are about to be published in a conference volume edited by Christian Damböck, Günter Sandner, and Meike Werner (Logical Empiricism, Life Reform, and the German Youth Movement, Springer, forthcoming). These translations were Carnap’s first contributions to the Monist.

When I first went about putting the issue together, the centerpiece was to have been a synthesis by Bill Demopoulos of his various writings on Carnap over the previous decade (mostly collected in his Logicism and its Philosophical Legacy, CUP 2013), in which he intended to spell out the general perspective on Carnap implicit in many of those pieces. I was very much looking forward to this (I disagreed with Bill, around the edges, but it was a very productive sort of disagreement) — but it was never written, alas, as Bill had the effrontery to die before he could get down to work on it. Thanks to Fraser (again) and all the contributors for ensuring that despite this devastating blow, the issue still came together amazingly well; details in my introduction. My own contribution to it, as well as Huw Price’s reply, can be found here.

Carnap’s Collected Writings vol. 1: Now published!

Sorry about the long interruption, but now I can resume with some good news. From today, the long-awaited first volume of Oxford’s 14-volume edition of the Collected Writings of Rudolf Carnap is finally available (from OUP directly and, apparently with some delay, from Amazon.co.uk — the Amazon site in Germany shows a publication date in August, and those in France and the US list it as “temporarily out of stock,” but OUP and Amazon UK deliver to those countries — and presumably others).

It’s been years and years of work, and I’m very glad we finally have something to show for our labors. There are too many people to thank, and I won’t even try here — but see the volume 1 editors’ acknowledgements reproduced below.

For those who haven’t yet seen the propaganda, I will summarize it:

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Carnap’s political dimension

One of the main themes of my book about Carnap is that a decisive component of the original motivation first to write the Aufbau and then to push forward to the radical pluralism of the Syntax (and beyond) was Carnap’s diagnosis of the political situation immediately after the First World War in Germany.  Amidst revolution and upheaval, Carnap saw very clearly that the German intelligentsia had contributed to the outbreak and continuation of the war by failing to get politically involved in the 19th century as French and British intellectuals had done, and thus failing to restrain the German elite’s war-oriented Betonköpfe (yes, that’s an anachronism — to make a point).  So he advocated greater political involvement (and got involved himself), but also thought that to prevent future wars, the chaotic development of societies over the past century or two of rapid industrialization had to be steered by reason to a greater extent.  But there existed no satisfactory account of reason, no system in which all the knowledge accumulated by the sciences over the past century could be seen to fit together.  In contrast to the traditional Enlightenment system of knowledge (e.g. the Encyclopédie), where the various parts and components of knowledge were anchored in the various human cognitive, practical, and other mental faculties — so that the system was ultimately grounded in human psychology — Carnap (having studied with Frege) thought, like Leibniz, that the system of knowledge should be deductive.  And so on from there.

To show that there was really something to this, I attempted in my concluding chapter, very briefly, to suggest how one might apply the later Carnap’s perspective to actual political discourse.  This was suggested to me by Michael Friedman, who was on my dissertation committee, and who said that it might help people to get what I was talking about if I applied it to a controversy they were familiar with, such as the Rawls-Habermas debate.  Well, I did exactly that, but no one really noticed, and when they did, they ridiculed the idea that such a rarefied nerd as Carnap, who sticks to the “icy slopes of logic,” could possibly have had a political motivation for the intricacies of his formalistic obsessions — or that his perspective could possibly contribute anything to political deliberation.  Until now.  James Pearson has taken pity on this explicitly political dimension of my book and devoted a paper to it, in which he tries to apply my Carnapian suggestions to a couple of concrete cases. Continue reading

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