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.”
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.
We all know, meanwhile, about the productivity gap that has opened up between academics (and lots of others) who have children at home full time because the schools have been closed and those who don’t. I’m pretty sure it’s worse for the children than it is for us, on the whole, but anyway, I’m on the wrong side of that divide. Nonetheless, I’ve managed to squeeze out a few bits and pieces over the past year or so.
For Thomas Uebel’s forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Logical Empiricism, I wrote a shorter and snappier and more accessible version of “Carnapian Rationality” (I’ve noticed that other contributors have had their chapters online for years).
For Jordi Cat and Adam Tuboly’s huge new Neurath Reconsidered, I contributed a chapter on Neurath’s notorious disagreement with Carnap about semantics. The book has the terrific feature that it reprints the entire wartime (1940-45) Neurath-Carnap correspondence, in which that disagreement largely played out, so I was able to refer to it very conveniently. (The correspondence is on pp. 521-685, which I point out here since it doesn’t appear in the Table of Contents. Very mysterious that the publishers should choose deliberately to hide their light under a bushel.)
In the forthcoming issue of the Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook, on “The Vienna Circle and Religion” (edited by Esther Ramharter), I put together an English version of things I’ve published in German in the past few years to trace the origins of Carnap’s later non-cognitivism. Teaser: it turns out that in the beginning (before 1914) the religious writings of Johannes Müller played a major role; Kant came later — and (Rickert’s) Goethe seems to have played a key role in the transition from Müller to Kant.
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.
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.)
(This is the first of several posts that will try to catch up on a few bits of Carnap-related news over the past year or so. Most of you will already know about most of it; these catching-up posts will mainly be of interest to those who, like me, were too busily focused to pay attention to the wider world.)
A few years ago, I mentioned here that there would be an issue of the Monist on Carnap’s metaphilosophy. Quite a number of people responded to the cfp and sent things in; the result was published last October. Thanks go especially to Fraser MacBride, the editor of the Monist, who helped a great deal, not only with general day-to-day guidance, but specifically with the suggestion that I translate a couple of the early Carnap texts I was writing about at the time and include them in the issue, especially since their originals are about to be published in a conference volume edited by Christian Damböck, Günter Sandner, and Meike Werner (Logical Empiricism, Life Reform, and the German Youth Movement, Springer, forthcoming). These translations were Carnap’s first contributions to the Monist.
When I first went about putting the issue together, the centerpiece was to have been a synthesis by Bill Demopoulos of his various writings on Carnap over the previous decade (mostly collected in his Logicism and its Philosophical Legacy, CUP 2013), in which he intended to spell out the general perspective on Carnap implicit in many of those pieces. I was very much looking forward to this (I disagreed with Bill, around the edges, but it was a very productive sort of disagreement) — but it was never written, alas, as Bill had the effrontery to die before he could get down to work on it. Thanks to Fraser (again) and all the contributors for ensuring that despite this devastating blow, the issue still came together amazingly well; details in my introduction. My own contribution to it, as well as Huw Price’s reply, can be found here.
This year’s conference season is over (for me at least), and I will now once again, I hope, be able to devote a few shreds of surplus attention to keeping my posts here a bit more regular. The latest conference I went to was in Vienna (where I always like to go anyway); the last day of it was on the Berggasse right next to where Freud’s office used to be (and a Freud museum now is). I’m sure that someone somewhere must have remarked on the irony that the Berggasse is the continuation of the Schwarzspanierstraße, where Beethoven died — in the building Otto Weininger sought out to commit suicide in 75 years later. (Freud, by the way, unlike Wittgenstein, was apparently unimpressed by Geschlecht und Charakter.)
One thing that came up a number of times at this very interesting conference, organized by Christian Damböck (together with Meike Werner and Günther Sandner), was Carnap’s “non-cognitivism.” The word was used in a number of different ways, which I found very confusing. I propose that when talking about Carnap, at least, we stick to what Carnap himself meant by it, which seems especially appropriate since, as far as I can tell, he actually introduced the term. Continue reading