A gem from Peter Gordon’s Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos:
. . . a twenty-two year old student named Ernst Benz. . . recalled many years afterward that, in the afternoon following one of Heidegger’s lectures, a handful of the guests decided to take in the local scenery by riding the cable car that ascended from the valley of Davosplatz to the high, snow-covered peak of the Jakobshorn. Pressed together in the cabin and swaying slightly as it rose were a number of professors and students, including both Cassirer and Carnap. Cassirer turned to his neighbor: “Herr Kollege,” he asked, “How would you express the content of today’s lecture by Herr Heidegger in the language of mathematical logic?” And Carnap responded: “Quite simple: Bi-ba-bum!” (p. 327)
Gordon focuses on Carnap’s sardonic reply, which he speculates might allude to Christian Morgenstern’s Heine-esque little Bim, Bam, Bum (I seem to recall Carnap using those syllables somewhere else — perhaps the 1932 psychology paper?), but it seems to me that Cassirer’s question is at least as mischievous as Carnap’s answer.
Analytic metaphysicians assume that philosophical — especially ontological — questions can (and perhaps should) be taken at face value, as Timothy Williamson urges. For Williamson, taking philosophical problems at face value and accepting “the” linguistic turn are mutually exlusive (and, it seems, collectively exhaustive) choices. The expression “linguistic turn” Williamson associates with Michael Dummett, and his Frege-centered version of the history of analytic philosophy: Continue reading →
Nice summary of Carnap’s play about Scipio written when he was 12 (with link to the original document); the blogger who wrote this summary credits Greg Frost-Arnold with bringing this document to his attention.
Video of Carnap on German TV, from the 1960s. This was put up four years ago and has been widely linked since, so most of you have already seen it, but it’s worth linking again for the few who haven’t, as it’s the only extant video of Carnap I’m aware of.
Richard Zach points out (with a nice quotation) that “syntax” started out as “semantics,” and the linguist Darin Flynn, in response, talks about Carnap’s influence on Chomsky. I had thought this was all well-known, but is it discussed in print anywhere?
A talk by Steve Awodey in Paris, ten years ago, about Carnap and Saunders Mac Lane (whose last student Steve was); he must have been working on his paper in the Cambridge Companion to Carnap at the time. Includes a nice précis of our “Carnap’s Dream” paper at the beginning, including the chess metaphor (a little past minute 8). I never knew about this talk until a few days ago, so perhaps others have missed it as well.
A somewhat different take on Carnapian explication by Catarina Dutilh Novaes. A more worked-out version of this idea, jointly written with Erich Reck, will apparently soon be coming out as part of Georg Schiemer’s special issue of Synthese on Carnap. When it appears, I will give it more detailed attention here. (See especially her “Update” at the end of the post!)
One of the chief playgrounds of the new, supposedly Carnapian, metaontology has been Carnap’s distinction between internal and external questions in his “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology” (ESO). David Chalmers (in the 2009 Metametaphysics volume, pp. 80-85), for instance, acknowledges that there is “something natural” about the distinction as it “seems to reflect a distinction in our practice of raising questions about existence.” However, he thinks Carnap’s terminology is “suboptimal” as it is “too closely tied to Carnap’s theoretical apparatus involving frameworks to serve as a neutral starting point.” So he proposes a “relatively pretheoretical” replacement for the internal-external distinction “that almost anyone can accept, regardless of their theoretical inclinations” (p. 80). Continue reading →
Thanks to Erika Carnap-Thost, Carnap’s granddaughter, I was able to borrow and digitize a large number of her family photos, some dating way back (there are pictures of Carnap’s parents, sister, relatives and many other people, as well as later family snapshots from the 60s in California). There is some overlap between this collection and the even larger one at the Pittsburgh archive (this part, i.e. Boxes 22 and 23, of the Carnap papers there has not yet been made available online), but I’m not sure which copy of the photos in this overlap is an original — if either — or even how extensive the overlap is. With a few exceptions, the negatives appear to be lost. Continue reading →
Florian Steinberger’s paper “How Tolerant Can You Be?” was originally part of Georg Schiemer’s “Carnap on Logic” conference a couple of years ago, and largely shaped the direction my own paper took in its final form, since it contains one of the clearest statements I’ve come across of the basic dilemma facing any attempt to make the principle of tolerance the basis for an overall conception of rationality.
The problem is essentially the same as the one articulated by e.g. Alexander George who argues that the price Carnap pays for his external perspective on scientific knowledge (which Quine eschews) is that rationality — which requires a rationality-constituting framework — can’t be brought to bear on the choice among such frameworks: Continue reading →
Eli Hirsch, in his paper in the Metametaphysics book, says he wants to conjoin a “Carnapian” approach to ontological questions with a “robust realism” (p. 231) and a defense of common sense, which, he claims, “doesn’t seem to be a concern for Carnap” (p. 232). Actually, it was a constant concern of Carnap through all stages of his career. He saw a continuity, rather than a sharp break, between common sense and science (Schilpp volume, p. 934). But he also saw them as playing fundamentally different roles; he saw an increasing gap, since perhaps Newton (or Archimedes), between the ordinary language in which we live and act and the technical languages (to which alone sentences could be “internal”) we depend on for knowledge. He thought it simply unfeasible — a kind of category mistake (Huw Price considers the parallel to Ryle) — to rely on the former kind of language in the latter context.
Only the continuing general ignorance about Carnap makes it possible for people to get away with this sort of thing. Would anyone take you seriously if you said you wanted to combine a Kantian approach to ontological questions with a robust realism and a defense of common sense? Or Frege’s approach to arithmetic with Mill’s? But apparently you can still say almost anything you like about Carnap and no one will call you out on it. More examples to come.
The photo I’ve put at the head of this blog was taken at one of the Paris conferences (1936 or 1937). A couple of years later, Russell came to the University of Chicago for a quarter (perhaps two — long enough anyway for the U of C to count him as one of their faculty awarded a Nobel Prize); Carnap and Russell had the opportunity of weekly confrontation in a regular seminar. The scene is described vividly by Abraham Kaplan, a postdoc there at the time, and later a colleague of Carnap’s at UCLA, in a memoir published as part of Ed Shils’s Remembering the University of Chicago: Teachers, Scientists, and Scholars (1991), a great collection on a once (and perhaps still) great university:
The contrast between the styles of the two philosophers was even more exciting and instructive than the content of the seminar. Russell wielded a rapier — thrust, cut, and parry, with flashing wit and insight. Carnap was a whole panzer division all by himself, a Star Wars fighting machine clanking inexorably with heavy tread and crushing all in its path. (p. 40)
The whole memoir is worth reading, if only to see how venerated Carnap could be by a philosopher who was really on a completely different wavelength. One begins to see why, despite this, it was in response to Kaplan that Carnap decided to set out his conception of values more systematically (last chapter of the Schilpp volume).
The actual substance of the philosophical tensions between Carnap and Russell — as opposed to the difference in style — is more elusive, but Chris Pincock in the Cambridge Companion to Carnap makes a very good beginning. It’s an interesting case; Carnap probably identified more with Russell than with any other living philosopher, but differed from him quite fundamentally in philosophical doctrine. In retrospect, Carnap is — correctly, I would say — seen as closer to the neo-Kantian tradition and to Frege than to Russell and British empiricism, but he himself would not have been very happy with that.
The papers at Georg Schiemer’s “Carnap on Logic” meeting in Munich a couple of summers ago are eventually going to appear as a special issue of Synthese. Actually, they are already in the process of appearing, as they dribble in to the Synthese “online early” list one by one.
The first one I’ve encountered is Peter Olen’s close study of the Iowa school’s (i.e. Bergmann’s, Hall’s, Sellars’s) reception — or rather mis-reception — of Carnap’s semantic works in the early 1940s. Perhaps I was not listening carefully enough when he gave the talk in Munich, but I have to say the published version strikes me as much more lucid and compelling. He documents in elaborate detail just what Bergmann and Hall (and then Sellars, as a result) got wrong, and why Carnap, despite some effort, was unable to set them straight. I hope people notice, because the misunderstanding in question has propagated itself pretty aggressively. If Fraser MacBride is to be believed, it was Bergmann’s student Herbert Hochberg who is to be held responsible for the “ontological turn” in analytic philosophy (not Quine, as Huw Price and others have made adequately clear) — and, it seems, largely on the basis of this very misunderstanding! Hochberg apparently had some influence on Armstrong, and thus perhaps at least indirectly also on Chalmers. So the misunderstanding Olen focusses on so minutely is worthy of the attention — it has a lot to answer for, and may even be partly responsible for our current efflorescence of metaontology and analytic metaphysics more generally.
I have to confess I have a personal axe to grind, as I wrote something on Sellars’s reception of Carnap a while ago, and no one paid much attention at the time. I argued there that Sellars’s early notion of a “pure pragmatics” (including the “material rules of inference” beloved of Brandom) derived from a misunderstanding of Carnap. Now Olen not only vindicates (part of) that claim, but shows in convincing detail where that misunderstanding came from and how Sellars arrived at it. Without that context, I have to admit, the misunderstanding seemed pretty outlandish and my appraisal of Sellars was therefore perhaps unduly harsh (which is no doubt why the Sellars-Gemeinde paid no attention).