Mormann replies

Thomas Mormann has sent a response to my Vienna talk about Carnap’s 1917-18 political development, which I posted here in April. In that talk, I had criticized Mormann’s reading of “Deutschlands Niederlage,” a programmatic essay Carnap wrote just before the German Revolution in October 1918 but never published.

Mormann’s response is largely ad hominem; he impugns my motives, but introduces no new facts or arguments concerning the questions over which we differ. So I won’t respond, beyond these two points, which I will make in German (to remain consistent with my policy of addressing Mormann’s remarks in the language he wrote them in):

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Carnap’s political cartography in 1918: How to read “Deutschlands Niederlage”

Two months ago today (seems like a bygone era!) I was in Vienna at a workshop about Carnap’s early diaries, hosted by Christian Damböck, who is in the final stages of editing them for publication. I also gave a little talk there, about one of the major turning points in Carnap’s life during this early period, his political awakening during his year in Berlin before and during the German Revolution in October 1918. Just before the revolution, Carnap wrote a kind of manifesto summarizing his political outlook at the time, a piece that remained unpublished (for reasons unknown), called “Deutschlands Niederlage: Sinnloses Schicksal oder Schuld?”

A few years ago, Thomas Mormann wrote a very tendentious diagnosis of this essay and put it up on PhilPapers. He probably intended it just as a kind of provocation; well, I fell for it, and — true to form — overreacted. In any case, I think it was worth it, as the company Carnap kept in the German youth movement before and during the war is certainly a bit suspect, and one inevitably has to wonder whether he really did escape any influence from that quarter altogether. Predictably, I argue, against Mormann, that Carnap did actually emerge entirely unscathed. (And here are the slides for the talk.)

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Carnap’s Letter about Sweden (1914)

A while ago I made a transcription available of Carnap’s open letter to LeSeur, which I said could in a sense be regarded as his first publication.  Another candidate for that status is this — privately published — letter of 1914 expressing Carnap’s fulsome enthusiasm for Sweden.  It is available among the papers the Archive of Scientific Philosophy (Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh) has put online in box 25, folder 101, pp. 28-31 (of the Carnap papers there).  Here, for convenience, is the Carnap item by itself.  Many thanks to Gottfried Gabriel for bringing this to my attention years ago.

Carnap’s “Politische Rundbriefe” of 1918

When I was putting together my conception of Carnap’s early development, and the wellsprings of his later philosophy, in the first chapter of my book, I relied largely on his manifesto-like article on “Deutschlands Niederlage” (Germany’s Defeat), which was written in October 1918 but remained unpublished.  I knew from the original draft of his autobiography about his effort of earlier that year (February through August) to stimulate discussion among his Youth Movement friends with a series of commented excerpts from the foreign press and from more extended essays (including Kant’s “Vom ewigen Frieden”!), which he continued to circulate and to correspond with individual friends about until he was prohibited by his commander, in September 1918, from further activity; as he remarked in the original version of the autobiography, he was lucky that his superior was so lenient, and that he wasn’t prosecuted for Hochverrat (high treason), since some of those he’d circulated his Rundbriefe to were actually still in action on the western front.

I had also seen the large folders of these Politische Rundbriefe in the Pittsburgh archive, and leafed through them, reluctantly deciding that I simply couldn’t afford the time to study them in detail.  I was wrong. Continue reading

Carnap’s 1916 letter to LeSeur: “Good for us if we glow so intensely!”

In spirit, this document from the Pittsburgh ASP collection, transcribed here from Carnap’s sister’s Sütterlin longhand (the only copy that seems to exist), is something like Carnap’s first publication.  It was an open letter, from the front, responding to a publication in a rather narrow-minded, nationalist-leaning, loosely Youth-Movement-affiliated journal called Vom deutschen Michel (untranslatable, sorry; something like “about the simple, honest German”) by a Berlin minister called Eduard LeSeur.  What steps Carnap, his friends, and his family took to make the letter more widely known I haven’t yet explored; there are probably clues elsewhere in the file where this document is kept, along with LeSeur’s original piece, “Ein Brief an den Jünger der modernen Kultur” (“a letter to the disciple of modern culture”). Continue reading

Carnap gold mine!

Thanks to Christian Damböck, who has a multi-year grant for this purpose from the Austrian government, Carnap’s diaries (up to 1935) — long inaccessible, and only recently open to the public — have now all been transcribed from Carnap’s Stolze-Schrey shorthand.   They will eventually be published in some form, perhaps with other early documents.  A first draft is available here; Christian would like people to have a look and write him with suggestions (or even just guesses) to identify names or suggest possible alternative readings where something doesn’t seem to make sense.  When I was working on early Carnap, these were still sequestered; I had to make do with some faded xeroxes of xeroxes of excerpts (only from the late 20s and early 30s) that were making the rounds for years.  I can’t wait to read the real thing!

Carnap’s shorthand is not just a standard off-the-shelf system.  It is based on Stolze-Schrey, but he used hundreds of personalized abbreviations of his own, which can only be learned by long experience of trial and error.  So learning to read it is hard, and I have to admit that even after a lot of practice, I find it slow going.  I’ve had a look at some of these diaries in shorthand, and they are often hard to puzzle out.  Even with the occasional gap here and there I’m very impressed at the thoroughness and completeness of the job the transcribers have done.  They are Brigitte Parakenings at the University of Konstanz, who has helped me with various transcriptions over the years, including the first draft of Carnap’s “Versuch einer Metalogik” (the germ of the Logical Syntax), and Brigitta Arden at the University of Pittsburgh, who has also helped me with a number of transcriptions, most recently with some difficult bits of Carnap’s 1958 fragment on “Value Concepts” which will shortly be published in Georg Schiemer’s special issue of Synthese on Carnap.  Thanks to them also, of course, for doing the actual work!

Strawson vs. Carnap from a different angle

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

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

Putnam anecdote about Carnap

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.

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.

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