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.
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.
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.
Back again, finally, from the many distractions of the past year. With any luck I’ll now be able to catch up on the long list of subjects that has accumulated in the mean time. I was already way behind before this long absence, and can’t catch up all at once. But let’s get started again.
I finally gave in at some point last year and bought Ontology after Carnap (OUP 2016, ed. by Stephan Blatti and Sandra Lapointe). There are some interesting things in it, that I will be commenting on occasionally over the next couple of months if my time doesn’t get away from me again. Right now I want to focus on Appendix A (“Epistemic vs. Pragmatic Interpretations of the Methodology of Intensions”) of a paper by Stephen Biggs and Jessica Wilson, which is just over two pages long (pp. 98-100) and claims to undermine Carnapian explication. Continue reading
A new book has just appeared that sets the record straight, and shows that not just Carnap’s ideas, but pretty much the whole of analytic philosophy, are largely derivative of Husserl’s phenomenology. It is edited, of course, by none other than the redoubtable Guillermo E. Rosado Haddock, who has been on the case for quite a while. It contains, among other papers, the one Haddock himself gave at the Aufbau conference Christian Damböck organized at the MCMP in Munich in 2013. I’ve mentioned Haddock’s performance there in a previous post. The published version of his paper does not refer to my paper (which he called “the big lie” in the Munich discussion) or even deign to list it in his bibliography (it’s been out for almost a year, and available online for over 18 months). Haddock does however — a new addition since the conference — include references to, and even quotations from, the Carnap diary entries I used in my paper (the first time they were referred to in print). At the Munich conference, he had cast doubt on the authenticity of these passages, implying that I had fabricated them or badly distorted their content.
Haddock has never quite come out and claimed that Carnap stole Husserl’s ideas, though he’s often insinuated it, and hinted darkly at various conspiracies to hide the dirty secret of Husserl’s influence on Carnap. In this new volume, though, Haddock also includes a long paper by Verena Mayer that takes this step explicitly, right from the title — “Der Logische Aufbau als Plagiat.” Continue reading
In the last chapter of my book I tried, far too cryptically, to outline a conception of rationality that had the potential, at least, of doing justice to two desiderata: (a) it would build on what one might call the “Enlightenment rationality” epitomized by inductive logic and (broadly speaking Bayesian) decision theory; (b) it would, however, introduce a broad freedom of choice (“Carnapian tolerance”) regarding the conceptual system in which (a) is undertaken. These two goals seem at odds, and indeed, this is a conflict which in various forms has haunted the Enlightenment (and scientific rationality in general) from the beginning: die Dialektik der Aufklärung. And where these goals come into conflict, (a) has generally won out over (b). This is why science has seemed coercive and authoritarian to so many people; it has seemed like a false religion, and continues to inspire the kind of vituperative rejection Goethe’s polemic against Newton first exemplified two centuries ago. Continue reading
This time edited by me. You have over two years to figure out what to submit for this and get it written down, so I expect lots of good stuff. The scope is almost limitless. Here’s what it says on the Monist calls for papers: Continue reading
[Sorry, couldn’t post these past few days as the internet connection at our new apartment here in Munich wasn’t functioning. Welcome to super-efficient Germany! But it’s fixed now.]
Carnap was involved in the international language movement all his life. From the age of 14 — as he himself points out, before he had encountered any logical languages — he was an Esperanto enthusiast and after 1918 went to a number of international Esperanto conferences. We know from McElvenny that — without putting Esperanto aside — he became involved in Ogden’s project of Basic English. And later, in North America, he became an active participant in the International Auxiliary Language Association (I.A.L.A.) — copious notes and comments exist in his papers about the various proposals considered by the association. But the only thing he ever published on the subject, apart from the highly abbreviated remarks in his autobiography (the original passage on this subject is roughly three times as long), Continue reading
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