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
Here are the proofs I was sent of Carnap’s “Value Concepts” fragment of 1958; have a look at Carnap’s institutional affiliation. Quite a coup for Hannes Leitgeb to be able to attract such people, even from beyond the Styx!
Also of course it’s rather nice to be listed as Carnap’s co-author but unfortunately I’m going to have to correct that. This will be its only appearance.
Apologies for the absence of posts over the past few weeks, and thanks to those who keep coming back to see what’s up. I will get back on track now, and may even have a few comments on the CLMPS in Helsinki next week, where I’m giving one of those mini-papers, but mostly interested in what others have to say.
Some afterthoughts on my previous remarks about “ontological pluralism.” I said there that
A “string of symbols” cannot “come out true in some languages but false in others, while meaning what it actually means,” because “what it actually means” is not specifiable language-independently. To suppose that a string of symbols “actually” means something independently of the language it is expressed in is just to take an external statement literally, at face value.
Of course there may be multiple explicata for a single explicandum, but this is not a case of a string of symbols coming out true in some languages but false in others; Continue reading
In the last chapter of my book I tried, far too cryptically, to outline a conception of rationality that had the potential, at least, of doing justice to two desiderata: (a) it would build on what one might call the “Enlightenment rationality” epitomized by inductive logic and (broadly speaking Bayesian) decision theory; (b) it would, however, introduce a broad freedom of choice (“Carnapian tolerance”) regarding the conceptual system in which (a) is undertaken. These two goals seem at odds, and indeed, this is a conflict which in various forms has haunted the Enlightenment (and scientific rationality in general) from the beginning: die Dialektik der Aufklärung. And where these goals come into conflict, (a) has generally won out over (b). This is why science has seemed coercive and authoritarian to so many people; it has seemed like a false religion, and continues to inspire the kind of vituperative rejection Goethe’s polemic against Newton first exemplified two centuries ago. Continue reading
Esperanto and artificial languages for everyday communication have been unexpectedly (for me) high profile on this blog; in its short lifetime of about two months, I’ve already devoted three posts to that apparently recondite historical curiosity, one on Carnap and C.K. Ogden, one about Carnap’s application of the principle of tolerance to a practical question, and one on Carnap and Wittgenstein. The latter consists mainly of a quotation in which Carnap tells the story of a backwoods Black Forest peasant, designed to undermine “the firm conviction that an international auxiliary language might be suitable for business affairs and perhaps for natural science, but could not possibly serve as an adequate means of communication in personal affairs, for discussions of serious problems of life, political conferences, for discussions in the social sciences and the humanities, let alone for fiction or drama.” Well, a recent commenter on that post, Alexander George, asked the perfectly reasonable question whether Carnap himself actually ever discussed “serious problems of life” in Esperanto. Continue reading