Verbal disputes

A few days ago I argued that Chalmers’s proposed replacement of Carnap’s internal-external distinction (in ESO) bears little resemblance to its Carnapian original.  Today I will go on to claim that this proposed replacement (like other related proposals from the new metaontologists) not only doesn’t resemble that original, but is actually incompatible with it. Continue reading

Carnap’s answer to Wittgenstein on artificial languages

Everyone (well, everyone reading this, anyway) knows the story of Wittgenstein’s refusal to countenance Carnap’s further participation at the meetings with himself, Schlick, Waismann, and sometimes Feigl in the late 1920s.  One can speculate on Wittgenstein’s motivations here (I have my own ideas, which I won’t go into), but Carnap’s most notorious offense was to have shown some sympathy for Zamenhof and the Esperanto movement, which Wittgenstein — here a true disciple of Herder — found appallingly vulgar and inauthentic.  Wittgenstein’s family, parentage, and background have been the subject of extensive biographical and cultural-history study, so it’s clear where he was coming from.  Few have heard Carnap’s side of the story, though, Continue reading

Is “unity of science” a form of metaphysics?

The one thing people can be counted on to know about Carnap is that he was against metaphysics.  But what is metaphysics?  According to the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, it is “the philosophical investigation of the nature, constitution, and structure of reality” and is “broader in scope than science, e.g. physics and even cosmology. . ., since one of its traditional concerns is the existence of non-physical entities. . . It is also more fundamental, since it investigates questions science does not address but the answers to which it presupposes” (2nd ed., p. 563).  Ladyman and Ross (LR) in their book Every Thing Must Go contrast their “naturalized” metaphysics to this Cambridge-Dictionary (CD) type, which they refer to as the “metaphysics of domestication,” since it tries to make counter-intuitive scientific knowledge accessible to the crude categories of our inherited vernacular, the ways of thinking that have evolved from the accumulated experience of the species since the Continue reading

Carnap and Cassirer suspended above Davos

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.

Williamson on undoing the linguistic turn

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

Miscellaneous Carnap-related links

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!)


Chalmers on internal and external questions

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

Treasure trove of Carnap photos

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

Steinberger on limits of tolerance

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

Hirsch on common sense

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.

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