When I was putting together my conception of Carnap’s early development, and the wellsprings of his later philosophy, in the first chapter of my book, I relied largely on his manifesto-like article on “Deutschlands Niederlage” (Germany’s Defeat), which was written in October 1918 but remained unpublished. I knew from the original draft of his autobiography about his effort of earlier that year (February through August) to stimulate discussion among his Youth Movement friends with a series of commented excerpts from the foreign press and from more extended essays (including Kant’s “Vom ewigen Frieden”!), which he continued to circulate and to correspond with individual friends about until he was prohibited by his commander, in September 1918, from further activity; as he remarked in the original version of the autobiography, he was lucky that his superior was so lenient, and that he wasn’t prosecuted for Hochverrat (high treason), since some of those he’d circulated his Rundbriefe to were actually still in action on the western front.
I had also seen the large folders of these Politische Rundbriefe in the Pittsburgh archive, and leafed through them, reluctantly deciding that I simply couldn’t afford the time to study them in detail. I was wrong. Continue reading
Has professionalization been good for philosophy? When people ask this question (usually to answer firmly in the negative), they think of logical positivism as a kind of turning point, at which philosophy (programmatically, at least) became “technical.” They remember the Vienna Circle’s pronouncements about breaking the big, unmanageable problems down into subunits it makes better sense to address, and about the corresponding submersion of the individual thinker into the collective endeavor of (unified) science. But, such critics object, did Kant’s hope of putting philosophy “auf den sicheren Weg einer Wissenschaft” (which the logical empiricists were trying to realize) even make any sense? Isn’t this a category mistake?
I agree with this criticism but I don’t think logical empiricism is to blame for what has happened to philosophy. Continue reading
In spirit, this document from the Pittsburgh ASP collection, transcribed here from Carnap’s sister’s Sütterlin longhand (the only copy that seems to exist), is something like Carnap’s first publication. It was an open letter, from the front, responding to a publication in a rather narrow-minded, nationalist-leaning, loosely Youth-Movement-affiliated journal called Vom deutschen Michel (untranslatable, sorry; something like “about the simple, honest German”) by a Berlin minister called Eduard LeSeur. What steps Carnap, his friends, and his family took to make the letter more widely known I haven’t yet explored; there are probably clues elsewhere in the file where this document is kept, along with LeSeur’s original piece, “Ein Brief an den Jünger der modernen Kultur” (“a letter to the disciple of modern culture”). Continue reading
Thanks to Christian Damböck, who has a multi-year grant for this purpose from the Austrian government, Carnap’s diaries (up to 1935) — long inaccessible, and only recently open to the public — have now all been transcribed from Carnap’s Stolze-Schrey shorthand. They will eventually be published in some form, perhaps with other early documents. A first draft is available here; Christian would like people to have a look and write him with suggestions (or even just guesses) to identify names or suggest possible alternative readings where something doesn’t seem to make sense. When I was working on early Carnap, these were still sequestered; I had to make do with some faded xeroxes of xeroxes of excerpts (only from the late 20s and early 30s) that were making the rounds for years. I can’t wait to read the real thing!
Carnap’s shorthand is not just a standard off-the-shelf system. It is based on Stolze-Schrey, but he used hundreds of personalized abbreviations of his own, which can only be learned by long experience of trial and error. So learning to read it is hard, and I have to admit that even after a lot of practice, I find it slow going. I’ve had a look at some of these diaries in shorthand, and they are often hard to puzzle out. Even with the occasional gap here and there I’m very impressed at the thoroughness and completeness of the job the transcribers have done. They are Brigitte Parakenings at the University of Konstanz, who has helped me with various transcriptions over the years, including the first draft of Carnap’s “Versuch einer Metalogik” (the germ of the Logical Syntax), and Brigitta Arden at the University of Pittsburgh, who has also helped me with a number of transcriptions, most recently with some difficult bits of Carnap’s 1958 fragment on “Value Concepts” which will shortly be published in Georg Schiemer’s special issue of Synthese on Carnap. Thanks to them also, of course, for doing the actual work!
The most popular response to the Carnapian linguistic turn has not been to reject it, as Quine did, but simply to ignore it — as Williamson does, along with Chalmers, Hirsch, Eklund, and many others. Some will consider this response entirely appropriate. If the tendency of the Carnapian linguistic turn is not actually to grapple with philosophical problems but to turn away from them and change the subject, as Strawson alleges, then surely those who are interested in such problems have every right to resist the change of subject and remain focussed on the problem they set out to solve?
The problem for Chalmers, Hirsch, and Eklund in adopting such a view is that they appropriate certain pieces of Carnapian conceptual apparatus while ignoring, indeed defying, the larger conception (the Carnapian linguistic turn) that makes sense of those pieces, as I’ve argued in some of the posts linked above. Moreover, these authors share with Williamson an apparent committment to certain standards of rational argument and conceptual rigor loosely associated with the “analytical” tradition in philosophy with which they presumably identify, given their willingness to be associated with Carnap.
Williamson has made these standards remarkably explicit in his dressing-down of the profession, “Must Do Better” Continue reading
I still get copies of Open Court books sent to me, for some reason, and I recently received the Library of Living Philosophers volume on Hilary Putnam. I could have sworn there already was one, but evidently I was wrong. Like most of these volumes, it’s huge, and I’ll obviously be looking at it for a while, but I have some immediate responses especially to the many Carnap-related remarks in Putnam’s autobiography, which are very interesting (see for instance section XVII, “Becoming a Philosopher: Carnap” in which Putnam attributes his beginning in philosophy to Carnap). Today I want to focus on a section entitled “The Story of Carnap’s Wire Recorder,” which addresses the very subject I posted on a few days ago, from a different, almost opposite, angle. Continue reading
Obviously lots of you found this long before I did (just now), as over a thousand people have listened to it, according to YouTube, but in case a few of you are as slow as I am, and haven’t come across it yet, here is a tape recording of Carnap giving his Santa Barbara APA talk in 1959 — the very talk whose typescript Stathis Psillos published (with a very useful and knowledgeable introduction) a few years ago. There isn’t much to it that isn’t in the typescript, though of course it’s interesting to hear the author himself reading it, but there’s also the bonus of a few discussion questions at the end (does anyone recognize who’s asking the questions? if so please write me, or leave a comment!).
The Carnapian linguistic turn was never widely accepted; most of Carnap’s interlocutors, early and late, did not take it seriously. Only the “left wing” of the Vienna Circle warmed to it; most other scientifically-oriented philosophers, including Schlick, Reichenbach, Russell, Popper, Quine, and Feigl, rejected it. Most of them misunderstood it quite fundamentally, and certain others (Ayer, Urmson, Rorty) attacked or ridiculed the Carnapian linguistic turn without grasping what it even was (see my book, pp. 34-5). Resistance to it remains obdurate, insofar as it’s even discussed. The idea is that you can’t just do away with all the grand old philosophical problems, you have to take them at face value. There is an austere, Quinean version of this impulse, but most people (or rather, I should say, most philosophers) want there to be something right about our everyday intuitions mediated by natural language, especially about the conflicts among such intuitions that result in the classic philosophical problems. These people tend to go for something more like an argument Peter Strawson first made fully explicit (in his contribution to the Schilpp volume). Carnapian explication, he said, misses the point. It is no substitute for philosophical analysis (of any kind) because “typical philosophical problems about the concepts used in non-scientific discourse cannot be solved by laying down the rules of use of exact and fruitful concepts in science. To do this last is not to solve the typical philosophical problem, but to change the subject.” (Schilpp volume, p. 506)
I hope I’ve made clear in my previous posts about Ladyman and Ross and their wonderful book All Things Must Go (here and here) that my critical remarks about them are to be understood as supportive and constructive. I’m trying to buttress their position and make it stronger. I’m on their side, as are certain other sympathetic critics, who have pointed out other problems with their approach, not directly related to what I’ve said in those previous posts. Of particular importance, I think, is the critique by Kyle Stanford in a 2010 symposium on the Ladyman-Ross book in Metascience. Stanford points out that the concept of “structure” central to Ladyman-Ross’s structural realism serves several distinct purposes in their book: it is what remains continuous through theoretical transitions, for instance, and is also what explains the novel predictive successes of those theories. Stanford doubts whether a single concept of “structure” can do all these jobs. Continue reading
In my previous remarks about Ladyman and Ross I wondered whether the differences between them and Carnap were (largely or entirely) a matter of terminology. What Ladyman and Ross call “metaphysics” Carnap entertained as a programmatic constraint on the language chosen, or developed, as an agreed common language of science, i.e. that it enable us to unify all the disperate knowledge from all the special sciences into a single coherent story. Does it matter whether we call this “metaphysics”? For Carnap, it didn’t really. He obviously was wary of the word “metaphysics” but was quite clear that a good deal of traditional metaphysics (he mentions Aristotle, Leibniz, Kant, Peirce, and Whitehead) could easily be interpreted as engineering work on our conceptual apparatus, rather than taken at face value in the material mode, i.e. as pertaining to some sort of ultimate “reality.” He would no doubt have taken Ladyman and Ross in the same spirit, Continue reading