Bill died earlier this week. He’d been ill for a long time, but when I last talked to him it had stabilized, and while he was unable to travel internationally (so I haven’t seen him in a while), he was unconcerned. I had only got to know him personally a few years ago at a conference in Nancy organized by Gerhard Heinzmann.
I am particularly devastated by this news because he and I had, since that conference, been discussing various Carnap-related issues, first surrounding his 2011 paper in Journal of Philosophy on extending ESO to the realism-instrumentalism controversy, through its various drafts before it appeared (in my Oxford Bibliography on Carnap, I call it the “deepest and subtlest analysis of ESO published to date, probing questions Carnap left open”); he had given an early version of it at that Nancy conference. He republished it along with several other papers on Carnap (and other matters) in his collection Logicism and its Philosophical Legacy. When I read that book, I was struck how the Carnap papers added up to a very compelling and original overall interpretation which, however, was never spelled out in any one of them.
I mentioned this to him a year or two ago when I was inviting papers for the Monist special issue on Carnap, and asked whether he’d be willing to write such a paper for that issue. It turned out that he’d been thinking exactly the same thing, about a general synthesis putting his overall view of Carnap together in one place, and would be happy to do that for the Monist issue. So I was very much looking forward to getting his draft so we could continue our conversation begun in Nancy. Even a few weeks ago he was still hoping to send me something before the end of the year. Alas, it will never be! It is a loss for the Monist issue, a loss for the Carnap world (and even the world at large, I would venture) not to have this general statement of his exceptionally careful and well-thought out conception of Carnap, and a particularly acute loss for me personally, as I’d really been looking forward to arguing with him about that conception. One shouldn’t let one’s self get so distracted, one shouldn’t put things off for too long!
Pierre Wagner, Professeur des Universités at Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne), has brought out Der Raum in French. This was a long struggle, but is now brought to a triumphant conclusion, as the book was actually reviewed in the book supplement of Le Monde — the equivalent of getting it into the TLS or New York Review of Books. Pierre’s long efforts, going back twenty years or more, to bring logical empiricism back to some sort of respectability in France, are finally paying off. I won’t list his publications here (you can look them up on his website), but he’s also held a number of conferences in Paris, and, most relevantly to the current book, a fabulous two-day workshop in 2010 on Der Raum at the French cultural center on the Währingerstraße in Vienna, at which we just sat around and talked, without any papers being given at all; the main texts were the first draft of Michael Friedman’s notes on Der Raum (for volume 1 of the Carnap edition, now getting close to publication) and a long e-mail by Howard Stein commenting on some passages from Michael’s notes.
Pierre was a student of Jacques Bouveresse, most recently a professor at the Collège de France, and one of the first to introduce not only Carnap but also Wittgenstein to the attention of French philosophers. Pierre tells me that Bouveresse at certain times had fifty or sixty (I’m spelling this out so you won’t think it’s a typo!) research students at a time because if you wanted to do analytic philosophy at the time, there was no one else to go to. That situation, at least (due at least partly to Pierre’s own efforts) has improved considerably!
The current issue of Philosophy Now has a little article on Carnap by one Alistair MacFarlane, a Scottish electrical engineer who has held a number of academic administrative posts. To judge by a few of the details he relates about Carnap’s life, he seems to have known or met Carnap personally, though he also commits a surprising number of factual errors. More seriously, he seems completely unaware that after a long period in the doghouse, logical empiricism has attracted some attention again, and a huge literature has accumulated on many aspects of its leading figures, especially Carnap. He acknowledges none of this. The Carnap he presents is the die-hard positivist, verificationist, and reductionist familiar from the old comic-strip versions of philosophical mythology that we fancy ourselves to have overcome. So let this be a warning: the old comic strips may have lost some credibility, but there are still lots of philosophically interested non-philosophers (and perhaps even philosophically interested philosophers) out there to whom this news has not penetrated. And apparently no one in Philosophy Now editorial is aware of it either, or they’d have asked MacFarlane for revisions. Continue reading
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.” Continue reading
Recently I came across the following from Robert Brandom (he’s talking about “representationalism” and Rorty’s attack on it):
The proximal difficulty is that thinking of our broadly cognitive and intentional relations with our environment principally in terms of our representing things as being thus and so (thinking of the mind as a ‘mirror of nature’) requires, he thinks, commitment to various kinds of epistemically privileged representations. Prime among these, in their 20th-century analytic form, are what is given in sensory experience and cognitively transparent meanings. . . Representations of these sorts are understood as having a natural or intrinsic epistemic privilege so that their mere occurrence entails that we know or understand something. But there is no way to cash out this sort of intrinsic authority in terms of the practices of using expressions or interacting with each other or our world. . . [In] ‘Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind’ (1956) Sellars mounts a broadly pragmatist critique of the idea of things known simply by being in some sensory state, and in “Two Dogmas of Empiricism’. . . Quine does the same for the idea of things known simply by our grasp of our own meanings. (Rorty took it as persuasive evidence of how hard it is fully to disentangle ourselves from this particular tar baby that Sellars seemed to hold on to a version of the analyticity Quine had discredited, and Quine remained committed to the sensory given. Carnap, of course, embraced both forms of givenness.) (Huw Price et al. Expressivism, Pragmatism, and Representationalism, p. 92)
Carnap at no point in his career, even in the Aufbau, “embraced” either form of “givenness.” Brandom’s gratuitous assertion Continue reading
My main philosophical interest all along has been in the philosophy of social science, and I’ve found Carnap interesting as a refreshingly different perspective on that subject (which wasn’t his subject) from the currently most popular ones, which I have to admit I mostly find pretty dreary — especially the endless wallowing in “social ontology,” or “social ontologies.” (So you can see how one might find Carnap’s rejection of ontology refreshing.)
I haven’t had much time to work out my ideas on social science over the past couple of years (since my paper with Sheilagh Ogilvie on evidence in social and economic history, and a related review article), but I’m getting back to them, and was recently invited to post something about them (particularly as they apply to language) on the site History and Philosophy of the Language Sciences. This post is just a small corner of a much larger conception, but may be of interest to some readers of this blog as it focusses on philosophy of language, and the nature of meaning, from an empirical point of view. I think the connections to Carnap will be obvious.
This year’s conference season is over (for me at least), and I will now once again, I hope, be able to devote a few shreds of surplus attention to keeping my posts here a bit more regular. The latest conference I went to was in Vienna (where I always like to go anyway); the last day of it was on the Berggasse right next to where Freud’s office used to be (and a Freud museum now is). I’m sure that someone somewhere must have remarked on the irony that the Berggasse is the continuation of the Schwarzspanierstraße, where Beethoven died — in the building Otto Weininger sought out to commit suicide in 75 years later. (Freud, by the way, unlike Wittgenstein, was apparently unimpressed by Geschlecht und Charakter.)
One thing that came up a number of times at this very interesting conference, organized by Christian Damböck (together with Meike Werner and Günther Sandner), was Carnap’s “non-cognitivism.” The word was used in a number of different ways, which I found very confusing. I propose that when talking about Carnap, at least, we stick to what Carnap himself meant by it, which seems especially appropriate since, as far as I can tell, he actually introduced the term. Continue reading
Last week I went to a rather interesting little conference in Budapest organized by Ádám Tamás Tuboly at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Given its focus on “sociological” aspects of logical empiricism, most of the papers were focussed on Philipp Frank (about whom I learned a lot) and Neurath (about whom I learned even more, though I knew a lot more about him than Frank to begin with). I was a little surprised at the neglect of Richard von Mises, an outsider I’ve always found very attractive, especially in this connection, and especially of Felix Kaufmann. Neither, admittedly, belongs to either of the two notorious “parties” of the Left or Right Vienna Circles, so both are somewhat lonely eccentrics on the fringe. But then so is Wittgenstein (though of course he’s a much bigger name than either Mises or Kaufmann), to whom Martin Kusch devoted a superb paper focussing on the intellectual context of Wittgenstein’s many remarks on color and color perception, showing in detail how some, at least, of Wittgenstein’s ideas were formed in response to the experimental psychology he encountered in Cambridge when he was a student there before the First World War. Continue reading
Finally! We are now ready to announce officially that the complete published works of Rudolf Carnap, in 14 volumes, first signed by Open Court Publishing Company (of glorious memory) with the Carnap descendants in 2002, will now be published, beginning next year, by Oxford University Press. An overview of the volumes (and other details) is available at the new website for the project, courtesy of Richard Zach. The first volume to appear will, appropriately, be volume 1, sometime (early, I hope) next year. Then there will be three or four per year for the next four to five years; there are bound to be stragglers. Continue reading
A while ago I made a transcription available of Carnap’s open letter to LeSeur, which I said could in a sense be regarded as his first publication. Another candidate for that status is this — privately published — letter of 1914 expressing Carnap’s fulsome enthusiasm for Sweden. It is available among the papers the Archive of Scientific Philosophy (Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh) has put online in box 25, folder 101, pp. 28-31 (of the Carnap papers there). Here, for convenience, is the Carnap item by itself. Many thanks to Gottfried Gabriel for bringing this to my attention years ago.