[hist-analytic] A Scientist's Landscape

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Fri Jul 24 09:30:11 EDT 2009


I don't recall Carnap ever saying that he was unable to 
comprehend a pseudo-problem. If pseudo-problems were 
incomprehensible they wouldn't present much of a 
problem. The "problem" with pseudo-problems is that they 
look like real problems but in fact arise from confusions 
in ordinary language. They look this way because the 
sentences in which they are formulated are "pseudo-object 
statements" in the "material mode" of speech.Generally, 
Carnap speaks more about "pseudo-sentences" rather than 
pseudo-problems. But not always. My reason for bringing this 
up is that pseudo-sentences ARE incomprensible within 
an "syntactical language." In the material mode they 
look fine. Here I address the Carnapian view. 

For Carnap "pseudo-questions" (and here he does use this 
expression) arise from metaphysical statements purporting 
to be about objects that go beyond the domain of science. 
_Logical Syntax of Language_ p. 331.Compare Kant in this 
regard; they are close to this point, at least with respect to 
Kant proclamations against metaphysics. Consider the 
following example: "The world is the totality of facts not 
things." Of course, this is the sentence Wittgenstein uses 
to begin the Tractatus. This sentence occurs in the "material 
mode" of speech. It raises pseudo-problems about the 
nature or ontology of facts, etc.But the point Carnap is 
making is that by translating the pseudo-sentences that 
give rise to these pseudo-problems we state the scientific 
content without the problmatic dross. So instead of this 
sentence we have in the syntactical language: "Science is a 
system of sentences not names." (op cit. p. 303). 

The situation is similar to the one that Plato addresses 
in the Sophist and elsewhere: the appearances are 
used to create an illusion and that illusion is persuasive; 
the philosophical "art" then becomes a game of illusion 
and persuasion, not truth seeking. The pseudo-problem is 
a way of rejecting any requirement of a solution because the 
problem is bogus. This is a *sort* of realist attack on 
sophistry that arises prior to the answer to a philosophical 
question. The sophist will take a question that may be 
real; but then he will proffer illusory solutions. For him there 
is not reality, man being the measure of all things. But let's 
stick to Carnap. Let's take an examplle. You remark: 

"It seems to me that your nominalistic tendencies are 
much the same kind of thing. You decline to consider 
explanations which invoke entities about whose existence 
you are sceptical. How does this differ from the 
rejection of pseudo-problems?" 


I am a nominalist; in fact a radical nominalist! The only 
entities are particulars (of the lowest type). Much of what 
passes for semantics on my view is purely a matter of 
psychology. Philosophical psychology is central. Philosophical 
problems associated with explanation etc. are also central. 
But ontologically I'm a nominalist. Carnap would consider 
my ontology, or any ontology outside the domain of 
science a breeding ground for pseudo problems; but my 
view is that the "ideal language" (syntactical language) 
approach is barren. When I ask: "What is a number?" for 
Carnap this is a pseudo-question. Not for me. For me this 
is a legit question. 

I think Grice is right about meaning. Meaning is the thorn 
in the side of the Carnapians, in my opinion. The wind up 
taling about worlds, and these in my opinion are pseudo 
objects if ever there were one! Grice is a pragmatist of a 
SORT. He views language neither as a mirror of nature 
nor as a medium of exchange; it is an instrument. I think 
this is right, but it leaves my metaphysics untouched. 

You remark: 

>Let's not confuse logic and language. Logic supplies 
>a good tool. But if you look at the history of philosophy 
>of science you find instances where a preoccupation 
>with meaning has had a stultifying effect. A good 
>example in my opinion is the issue of causation. 
>Here the notion of a law becomes a linguistic notion. 
>This leads to the appearance of progress, then 
>falters; there being no where to go. 

Carnap's idea of philosophy is the examination of the 
"logic of the language of science." This is not a dubious 
conflation of 'logic' and 'language' but I do disagree with 
him (especially circa 193X). I'm inclined to agree that the 
issue of causation by becoming inextricably linked to 
law has taken us in some rather unproductive directions. 
But this is understandable at a certain level. Hume was the 
first to really link regularity with cause, and then subjectivize 
it. The idea (that of a deductive nomological characterization 
of scientific explanation) is, actually, turned against Hume 
(at one point) by Popper and Kneale, leading us to the 
Goodman story on lawlikeness, which gets tangled up 
with the semantics of counterfactuals. This is brilliant work. 
(Canap, Hempel, et al) but causes get lost. The problem of 
"pre-emption" with respect to radical treatments of cause in 
terms of counterfactuals has, I believe stymied this approach 
(D. Lewis etc). Davidson buys in wholesale to the language/ 
law connection. At the root of this dispute, in my opinion, is 
the status of singular causal relations. I am a "singularist" in 
this dispute. But that is a long story which I address in 
part in my book. Anscombe was a singularist, probably one 
of her best positions. 

>You solve the problems with a linguistic or logical 
>"gizmo" without even understanding what is at issue, 
>once that is the "pseudo-problem" detector buzzes. 

There is no decision procedure for telling when a problem is 
pseudo. If it is failure of translatability into a canonical language 
then you are reformulating what used to be called dogmatism. 
Moreover the same world that contains atoms contains actions, 
ethical actions. A comprehensive picture of the world is what 
makes philosohy difficult. Leibniz knew this as did Kant. Carnap 
did not. He dominates most of the last century in my opinion. He 
was a towering figure; but it is time to take another look at the 
old problems; no syntactical language will resolve our problems with 
the help of translation. 

Regards 


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Roger Bishop Jones" <rbj at rbjones.com> 
To: Baynesr at comcast.net 
Cc: "hist-analytic" <hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk> 
Sent: Thursday, July 23, 2009 11:55:23 AM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific 
Subject: Re: A Scientist's Landscape 

I had a lot of difficulty understanding what Steve is 
saying about pseudo-problems. 

On Wednesday 22 July 2009 12:28:27 Baynesr at comcast.net wrote: 

>It may be the case that all philosophy is is a conflation 
>of "pseudo-problems," but I think this is the easy way 
>out. All you have to do is develop some criterion for 
>being a "pseudo-problem," e.g. verifiability, etc and then 
>you can just apply your mechanical pseudo-problem 
>solver and all is well. 

I thought a pseudo-problems didn't have answers! 
How could it be an easy way out to believe that 
most philosophical problems are psedo-problems? 
Surely you then have the difficult problem of 
identifying real (and worthwhile) problems to solve. 

>I know of no "pseudo-problem 
>detector" that doesn't rely on a linguistic approach to 
>traditional problems. I, myself, make serious use of 
>linguistic techniques for trying to solve a problem, but 
>rarely if ever (a few exceptions) consider linguistic 
>solutions. Rather it is a methodology in attempting to 
>unearth connections. 

I'm going to try to represent Carnap in this, because 
he is the only one whose views on this I know anything 
about. 

For Carnap a pseudo problem is one which he is unable 
to comprehend. I don't believe he had some "linguistic 
technique" to detect them. You just try to understand 
a problem, and if you fail and come to doubt that it is 
meaningful you label it a pseudo problem. 
Of course, your philosophical beliefs about what makes 
a sentence meaningful are significant, and in his most 
radical phase when he identified meaning with conditions 
for verification one might think that this myopic conception 
of meaning blinded him to the content of many meaningful 
sentences. However, later his conception of meaning 
came closer to truth-conditions, and it is harder to 
dismiss this in the areas which he was considering. 
Still, we don't so much have a method for solving 
problems as a stipulation of some preconditions for 
attempting a solution. 

It seems to me quite essential be very careful about 
what kinds of problem you take seriously, and I think 
its also a good idea to be as explicit as you can be 
about the criteria involved, even though my own 
criteria are a little more liberal than Carnap's. 

It seems to me that your nominalistic tendencies are 
much the same kind of thing. You decline to consider 
explanations which invoke entities about whose existence 
you are sceptical. How does this differ from the 
rejection of pseudo-problems? 

>On meaning: I think Grice actually allows us to set this 
>notion aside for the most part and pursue philosophy. 

Are you saying that Grice thinks that all putative 
problems deserve to be taken seriously by philosophers? 

>Let's not confuse logic and language. Logic supplies 
>a good tool. But if you look at the history of philosophy 
>of science you find instances where a preoccupation 
>with meaning has had a stultifying effect. A good 
>example in my opinion is the issue of causation. 
>Here the notion of a law becomes a linguistic notion. 
>This leads to the appearance of progress, then 
>falters; there being no where to go. 

I'm afraid I don't understand the issue here. 

>You solve the problems with a linguistic or logical 
>"gizmo" without even understanding what is at issue, 
>once that is the "pseudo-problem" detector buzzes. 

Any chance of you spelling this out for me, 
what is "the problem" here, why is it considered 
a pseudo problem, how does that constitute a 
solution and why is that a bad thing? 

RBJ 
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