So says Roberto Burioni, and I have to say, I found it refreshing to hear someone say that out loud! Burioni is a pugnacious virologist at a university in Milan who isn’t afraid to attack Italian anti-vaxxers in the aggressive terms in which they attack the scientific establishment. He expands it into a general issue of science vs. populist anti-science. The speed of light is an established fact, he says; it’s not decided by popular vote. He’s become quite a celebrity in Italy, a TV and social-media personality with a huge following. He is hardly “vulgar,” though, as the article in Foreign Policy by an Italian journalist (that brought him to my attention) claims, nor does he descend to “Trumpian” rhetoric (no self-aggrandizement, no gratuitous insults, no lies) — but he doesn’t pull his punches, and his aggressiveness reminds me pleasantly of the Vienna Circle in its heyday. Yes, they went further than they should have, and brought some perfectly respectable ideas into temporary disrepute, but at least they were campaigning for something worth campaigning for; they were letting sympathizers around the world know that someone out there was sticking up for the scientific world view when the hordes of brown-shirted Heideggers and Carl Schmitts and other devotees of authenticity were bent on crushing it underfoot. Burioni is inspiring in the same sort of way. Why don’t we have Burionis in Germany or in the US? Americans I can see; they might not be willing to stick their necks out at the moment since you never know what may turn out to be politically incorrect and unleash a Twitter mob, leading to unemployment. But Germans? I guess there is Christian Drosten, but he’s come across more as a foot soldier for Merkel than as a skeptical voice of reason in the midst of the (very considerable, and deeply traditional) German skepticism about science. Both Fauci in the US and Drosten in Germany are much more narrowly focused, less combative, and more emollient than Burioni. Why?Continue reading
During the past few years a lot of rubbish has been circulating about Carnapian frameworks. I have been watching this infestation with dismay, but so far addressed it only occasionally, e.g. here with respect to Chalmers, or here with respect to Eklund (and that was a while ago). I’m very glad to see that someone has now decided that enough is enough, and sprayed some serious ant killer on this irruption of philosophical insect life. Bravo to Gabriel Broughton for having taken on this unpleasant task in his new paper “Carnapian Frameworks” (Synthese)!Continue reading
Reflections on St. Sylvester’s Eve
Has professionalization been good for philosophy? When people ask this question (usually to answer firmly in the negative), they think of logical positivism as a kind of turning point, at which philosophy (programmatically, at least) became “technical.” They remember the Vienna Circle’s pronouncements about breaking the big, unmanageable problems down into subunits it makes better sense to address, and about the corresponding submersion of the individual thinker into the collective endeavor of (unified) science. But, such critics object, did Kant’s hope of putting philosophy “auf den sicheren Weg einer Wissenschaft” (which the logical empiricists were trying to realize) even make any sense? Isn’t this a category mistake?
I agree with this criticism but I don’t think logical empiricism is to blame for what has happened to philosophy. Continue reading
Carnap and C.K. Ogden
James McElvenny (now a Humboldt Fellow at the University of Potsdam) has written a dissertation, Meaning in the Age of Modernism: C.K. Ogden and his Contemporaries — not in history but in English, if you can believe it! There is a chapter on Ogden’s interactions with Carnap and Neurath (Chapter 4: Ogden and the Vienna Circle). McElvenny has published some papers derived from it, which I haven’t looked at yet, but the dissertation itself is terrific. Continue reading