Sean Morris’s new collection of papers on Carnap and Quine has now come out with CUP, and looks very interesting. I hope to comment on several different papers in it, if there is time, over the next couple of months. Right now I will comment on the first paper, by Sander Verhaegh, which meticulously documents the initial encounter between Carnap and Quine in Vienna and (mainly) Prague in 1932 and 1933. Verhaegh establishes without any doubt that I had got the timing of this initial encounter a bit wrong; I had thought, for some reason, that Quine’s recollection of eagerly reading the Syntax as it emerged from Ina’s typewriter referred to 1932, and thus to the first draft of the Syntax. This mistake was significant because Carnap arrived at his principle of tolerance after completing the first draft, sometime in late 1932 — the first appearance of this principle in print, it is generally agreed, was in the paper “Über Protokollsätze” published in Erkenntnis in late 1932 (Benson gives the date of 30 December 1932), a response to Neurath’s paper on the same subject. Verhaegh establishes that what Quine witnessed emerging from Ina’s typewriter wasn’t the first draft at all, it was the second draft (close but not identical to the final book).
This matters because I had occasionally invoked this inaccurate understanding of the chronology (in this blog and elsewhere) to explain how Quine could have missed the principle of tolerance. In his Harvard lectures on Carnap (published in Rick Creath’s Dear Carnap, Dear Van, 1990), the principle of tolerance is absent. Nor does it come up in any of Carnap’s notes on discussions with Quine, or in their correspondence during this period.
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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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Gary Ebbs published an extended version of his previous paper “Carnap on Ontology” in the JHAP a couple of years ago, but I’m still not convinced. The core of both papers is the claim that “Carnap’s method of identifying and eschewing ontological questions . . . stands or falls with his analytic-synthetic distinction. . .” (“Carnap on Ontology,” p. 54). The new paper now also seeks to defend Quine’s reading of “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology” (ESO), and I have to admit that Ebbs does a decent job of making Quine’s paper “On Carnap’s Views on Ontology” (OCV) seem surprisingly reasonable, if you’re willing to grant Quine’s priors. But I get lost when Ebbs positions this against what he calls the “new standard reading” of OCV, which conflates a number of quite disparate views from all over the map into a homogeneous phalanx of opposition to Quine. It’s possible that some of the named authors agree about some things, but Ebbs doesn’t characterize this “new standard view” precisely enough to get across what he’s really talking about, or what his criteria for inclusion were (he leaves a lot of anti-Quine things out of his list). I will stick with Graham Bird’s 1995 paper in Erkenntnis, for now, which Ebbs acknowledges as the earliest of those he positions himself against, and quotes most frequently. I will argue that Ebbs fails to address its main argument. If I’m right, then presumably whatever one may think about the “new standard view” more generally, Bird‘s critique, at least, of Quine’s arguments in OCV survives Ebbs’s cavils unscathed.
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Peter Hylton has a paper in the Monist, now a few years old, that I’ve been meaning to comment on because it exemplifies a bad habit much of the Carnap-Quine literature suffers from: comparing the early Carnap with the later Quine. This is tempting, of course, because Quine himself did it (as e.g. Gregory Lavers has pointed out), and even Burton Dreben (Peter’s doctoral supervisor), though far more scrupulous than Quine, tended to fall into it; I guess it became a sort of Harvard thing, and Peter can’t be blamed too much for slipping into the ruts of his elders. However, he happens to have chosen a subject where this mismatch gets him into serious trouble, since if he’d actually compared the mature Quine with the mature Carnap, his main points wouldn’t be just questionable, they’d have collapsed entirely.
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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 →