More on “ontological pluralism”

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

Carnap’s architectonic

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

Serious problems of life

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

“Ontological pluralism”

Various forms of “pluralism” are making the rounds these days.  There is, for instance, the “logical pluralism” of Beall and Restall (among others), the subject of a recent book by Stewart Shapiro, which will be discussed here at some point.  But then there is also something much vaguer and murkier called “ontological pluralism,” which, amazingly, is attributed to Carnap.  Matti Eklund, for instance, considers this question in his paper in the Metametaphysics volume.  What does he mean by it? He considers various formulations, starting with the “quantifier-variance” understanding of Hirsch, in which ontological pluralism requires the quantifiers to take on different interpretations in different languages. But Eklund thinks this is insufficiently precise, as it can seem to amount to “the thesis that a string of symbols can come out true in some languages but false in others, while meaning what it actually means.” The trouble with this, he thinks, is that it “would appear to commit the ontological pluralist to a form of relativism or idealism absent from pluralist writings.” (p. 138) Continue reading

Carnap and Husserl

A few days ago I mentioned a paper by Stone on Carnap’s and Heidegger’s responses to Husserl.  It’s an interesting paper but in one respect at least it would appear to be misinformed: its view of the role Husserl played for Carnap.  First of all, it exaggerates the extent of that role; Carnap was never a “follower” of Husserl, as Stone claims in an earlier paper.  He doesn’t, admittedly, exaggerate as grossly as Rosado Haddock (from whose book I’m glad to see Stone now carefully distances himself in a footnote).   Continue reading

How Carnap sees the task of philosophy, according to Stone

An interesting paper by Abraham D. Stone on Carnap’s and Heidegger’s different, though in some ways symmetrical responses to Husserl (still unpublished, as far as I know), concludes with some pronouncements on Carnap’s conception of the task of philosophy that appear superficially plausible but don’t in the end quite cohere: Continue reading

What is a “framework,” and why does Chalmers have an opinion about this?

A few weeks ago I argued first that Chalmers’s conception of internal and external questions bore little relation to the Carnapian one it’s supposed to explicate, then that the Chalmers version is actually incompatible with the Carnap one. Chalmers says Carnap’s internal-external distinction needs to be replaced (p. 80 of his paper in the Metametaphysics volume) because the idea of a framework is too philosophically tendentious to be allowed to burden that distinction, which must therefore also be replaced by a supposedly more neutral one. In my earlier posts, I focused on Chalmers’s replacement of the internal-external distinction, and bracketed the (in a sense more fundamental) question of his replacement for Carnap’s notion of a framework. That it needs some replacement I take to be obvious; you can’t very well have any notion of “internal” if there isn’t something for concepts or questions to be internal to, a representational medium of some sort in which questions or concepts can be stated. Carnap called that medium a (linguistic) “framework.”  Why does Chalmers consider this tendentious?  Not clear.

Continue reading

Howard Stein appreciation

I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who thinks of Howard Stein as something like “the greatest living philosophical historian of science,” though he himself would certainly find such a description distasteful (not the “living philosophical historian of science” part, but the superlative preceding it).  And it’s good to see his words examined closely, whatever quarrels I may have with the conclusions reached.  Howard’s papers are very dense; there is a lot in there, much more than one can possibly take in on a first reading; putting them under a microscope can only help. Continue reading

Popper and Carnap again

Anyone who’s even heard of Popper knows that he advanced his falsifiability criterion (of science) in opposition to the Vienna Circle’s verifiability criterion (of meaning). What the Popper fans seem unaware of (yes, I know, they’re no longer as numerous as in the days of Helmut Schmidt’s public endorsement) is that Carnap actually responded to this criticism by pointing out that you can’t distinguish between verification and falsification except in certain special cases, which happen not to include the laws of e.g. physics. That was in “Testability and Meaning” (1936-7), which Popper praised volubly, e.g. in his Schilpp volume. But despite the fatal consequences of Carnap’s argument for Popper’s whole edifice, Popper never responded, nor, as far as I’m aware, has any of his followers. Continue reading

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