Jared Warren fancies himself “the lone contemporary defender of conventionalism in logic and mathematics” (p. 343 of his book Shadows of Syntax, 2020). His notion of “conventionalism” is somewhat offbeat (see below), but even so, he exaggerates wildly.
Warren goes out of his way to distance himself from Carnap, though admitting in asides that Carnap comes closer to his own “conventionalist” position than any other philosopher of the past. (I’m not so sure.) Carnap seems mostly (I haven’t read the whole book yet) to be portrayed as the garrulous old uncle who insists on boring us at dinner parties, and who may have got certain things right (perhaps by accident), but was too easily led astray by Neurath and other colorful personalities to be emulated as an inspiring forerunner.
This affords Warren ample opportunities to rap Carnap over the knuckles and tell us what Carnap should have thought or written, to bring him into conformity with Warren’s own more consistent and better-informed version of “conventionalism.” Warren does not, however, despite this frequent use of such normative language (addressed to Carnap), regard the question whether his own conventionalism is “correct” as a normative question. No, there is a fact of the matter about that; Warren is right, in his view, and everyone else is wrong. And yes, he means factually right! He has arrived at the “uniquely true and correct theory.”
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Peter Hylton reckons he’s got to the bottom of the debate on analyticity between Carnap and Quine. He hasn’t, but he comes surprisingly close to getting Carnap very right at certain points — which makes it all the more disappointing when he then backpedals and decides not to follow through on those episodes of insight.
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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 →
Expands a little on Carnap’s well-known but brief account of his switch from physics to philosophy in Jena (p. 11 of the autobiography in the Schilpp volume). On other occasions (e.g. in his reply to Ricketts, p. 281 of Reading Putnam), Putnam sometimes argues from the authority of personal acquaintance that some position or another “is just not the Carnap I knew and loved,” but in this case he’s merely telling the story, without editorializing, and it sounds authentic (to me, anyway). Note the parallel between Carnap’s attitude toward his ponderously authoritative professor and toward the ignorant peasant to whom he compares Esperanto disparagers — both pronounce with portentous confidence on matters of which they know nothing.