[hist-analytic] A Scientist's Landscape

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Sun Jul 26 17:05:15 EDT 2009

You remark: 

"Let me explain how I got there." 

I can't really comment without giving my own account of how I go where I'm at. This would require a lot of documentation. Moreover, you make statements I can't really accept without a good source. For example, you say, 

"Carnap defines necessity in terms of analyticity" 

This illustrates what a complicated story we have: 'necessity' in terms of 'analyticity''; 'analyticity' in terms of 'L-truth' etc. And this is just one stage in his development. Pseudo-problems enter as a class before Tarski, which initiated profound changes in his views, eventuating in a semantics of intensions that may very well carrya metaphysical aspect. After all, if we take pseudo-problems as resulting from using pseudo-statements in a certain way and pseudo-statements as statements lacking cognitive content; and those lacking cognitive contents as being is some sense not confirmable or verified or in some way grounded in experience, then what IS the "cognitive content" of a statement about intensions. Again, if we are doing a study of Carnap we have a mess if for no other reason than, like Russell, he was prolific. 

But if we are interested in problem solving then as much as I think the history is crucial we have to move on. There is a very complex and beautiful story to be told relating Russell's principle of acquaintance to verificationism and this later to the whole issue of "pseudo-questions." A lot depends, and here I borrow from the usage of the linguists, on your "technologies." So do you accept intensions? Do you accept classes, worlds, concepts, objects, functions etc? All of this gets thrown into the soup. What is important and productive is to pursue the history as you pursue a particular problem. That's when one really learns about guys like Russell, whom contemporaries continue to undervalue. 

If I am puzzled by questions of imminent causation, for example, I am not discouraged by the latest "rage" over substance or the lack of it. Pursue the problem. Then if current fashion looks attractive try it on, but don't be discouraged about metaphysics because on Carnap's view or any other the question is meaningless. Let me explain autobiographically how I got to THIS position. 

In high school I picked up a copy of Kan't first Critique. We had a first class high school library, everyone from Leó Szilárd to Darwin, from Kropotkin to Plato. So I pick up Kant. I look at the thing. I can't understand it. I was fluent in English. I asked myself "what is the problem." I went to college. I was told by my ordinary language teachers that this was all "metaphsical nonsense." The next semester the same guy is assigned the task of teaching Kant. "This ought be interesting!" I say to myself. 

Well it was. Kant came to life. The anti-metaphysical stance of Kant became a "pseudo-problematic" on in Phil. 303. It was not problematic in Phil. 311. So what was I to do? Answer: pursue the problem, forget the "program." And that is what I'm saying here. The problem of agent causation is not a pseudo problem, but I don't think quantification with identity tacked on to an improvised formal semantics is going to solve this or any other problem. Nor is rejecting the problem on extraneous programmatic considerations an option. Nor, even, is science. Causation is not, really, an issue for science. 

I conclude witht two terse sounding comments. We are friendly enough that I'm sure you will take them in stride. First, it is clear that you haven't taken a close look at the Logical Syntax of Language. This is, probably, Carnap's most important book. The last chapters, the one I referred to is on Hist-Analytic. Take a look. Second, I don't believe there are abstract objects, so I don't believe there are abstract worlds. Remember the origin of "abstract." It is from the Latin verb meaning to "drag." ('trahere' I think, have to check). So if a world is abstract from what is it "dragged"? 



----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Roger Bishop Jones" <rbj at rbjones.com> 
To: "hist-analytic" <hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk> 
Sent: Sunday, July 26, 2009 12:40:29 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific 
Subject: Re: A Scientist's Landscape 

On Friday 24 July 2009 14:30:11 Baynesr at comcast.net wrote: 
>I don't recall Carnap ever saying that he was unable to 
>comprehend a pseudo-problem. 

Probably not. 

Let me explain how I got there. 

Carnap's own precis in his "intellectual autobiography" 
describes his position on pseudo-problems (by which he 
seems to mean metaphysics) as having evolved through the 
following stages: 
1. They are useless 
2. They are meaningless 
3. They lack cognitive content 

Now for a first cut stage 2 corresponds to a 
confession that he does not understand pseudo-problems. 
If they are meaningless, how could he? 
Of course, its more in-your-face than that, 
his words imply that neither he nor anyone else 
understands them because they are nonesensical. 

In time Carnap becomes more conciliatory, but 
this is not apparent in the story about pseudo 

These three stages all appear very early, 
he has already arrived at stage 3 in 1931, with 
nearly another 40 years of further development to 

Perhaps the shortfall in the account arises 
because he stopped using the phrase. 

However his position in relation to metaphysics 
does continue to evolve, and this is apparent in 
things like "the liberalisation of empiricism" 
and his "principle of tolerance". 

In his "liberalisation of empiricism" Carnap 
admits first physicalistic and then theoretical 
languages, even though these are in radical 
positivism going beyond the given into progressively 
remote "metaphysics". 

His principle of tolerance elucidated through the 
internal/external distinction effectively commit 
Carnap to accepting the most speculative metaphysics 
provided only that it is presented in the right way. 
(or at least reduce his opposition fall back to 
a claim of uselessness). 

This is how it works, in relation to any metaphysical 
theory which is held to consist of necessary truths. 
Carnap defines necessity in terms of analyticity, so 
to persuade Carnap that your theory is necessary 
you just have to define the semantics of your 
metaphysical language appropriately. 
If your theory is logically consistent then this 
will always be possible (actually, you don't even 
need to know that its consistent). 
Once you have done this, the claims of the theory 
become internal to the language you have defined, 
and they will in that language be necessarily true. 

There remains the external question of whether 
the language in which you have formalised your 
metaphysics is acceptable. For Carnap, the external 
question is to be resolved pragmatically, and 
therefore the worst he can say about it is that it 
is useless, which if you think of metaphysics in the 
way in which Hardy thought of pure mathematics, won't 
greatly worry you. 

This may seem like a trick to you, but it seems 
to me that Carnap is wrongly thought of as dogmatist, 
though he undoubtedly did pass through a pretty 
dogmatic phase (which he partly attributes to 
Wittgenstein's influence), and that there is a 
pretty good chance that he could have been persuaded 
by arguments on these lines to take one step further 
of liberalisation. The step further would be not 
simply to accept that his principle of tolerance 
(etc,) demand a return to a pragmatic consideration 
of metaphysics, but, on the basis of arguments I 
have not yet produced, to accept that even speculative 
metaphysics can sometimes be useful. 

>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. 

This does not correspond to my understanding of Carnap's 
position in his syntactic phase. 
The role of "semantic ascent" is not in dealing with 
pseudo-problems, but in dealing with analytic or 
necessary propositions, for example the propositions 
of mathematics. 
These propositions can be understood by translating 
them from the misleading material mode into the 
formal mode. Then you can see that they are necessary. 
A pseudo-question is one in the material mode which 
talks about pseudo-objects but cannot 
be translated into the syntactic mode. 

>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). 

I think if you can do the translation then Carnap would 
not regard the original as a pseudo-problem, even though 
he would describe it as a statement in pseudo-object mode. 

>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 would like to understand your position better than 
I can from the above description. 

Presumably in your belief that your particulars are 
unacceptable to Carnap you are thinking of his 
phenomenalistic phase. But I would guess that the 
first stage in his liberalisation (embracing 
physicalistic language) is pretty much the admission 
of an ontology of particulars. 

Carnap doesn't actually have a problem with numbers, 
even though in his early phase he would have considered 
them pseudo-objects. Even the question "What is a number?" 
would be OK provided you settle the context. 
In the syntactic phase it surely is held to 
translate into a question about numerals? 
I don't care for this, but I think he could give 
a much more satisfactory answer later on. 
(e.g. in the language of set theory we have standard 
definitions of numbers). 

Most importantly, to have a conversation with you 
about many of the topics which are common on this 
list, I need to know how as a radical nominalist 
you can talk about the meaning of sentences. 
Is this possible? 
If so, how can you have discussions about necessity? 
Or indeed, how can you do any philosophy at all! 

I point out to you, that you effectively duck 
out of conversations as soon as I mentions meanings 
or propositions, without any enquiry into what I 
consider their ontological status. 

How do you know that I am not a radical nominalist? 
(I'm pretty close to being a fictionalist in respect 
of all non-particulars). 

>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. 

"Possible worlds" are, in my book, just abstract objects, 
which for present purposes we can treat as fictions. 
So what's the problem? 
(I think Carnap's principle of tolerance is pretty 
much like fictionalism, it rules out the idea that 
questions about the existence of abstract objects 
have objective answers, but allows that we use them 

>You remark: 

From here on in you are commenting not on my remarks 
but on your own remarks as quoted in my last response! 

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://rbjones.com/pipermail/hist-analytic_rbjones.com/attachments/20090726/90f24f18/attachment-0002.html>

More information about the hist-analytic mailing list