[hist-analytic] Carnap on Philosophy

Roger Bishop Jones rbj at rbjones.com
Fri Jul 31 08:33:25 EDT 2009

I observed in an earlier message that:

   "Carnap was surely quite clear that
    the propositions of analytic philosophy
    are analytic."

Not thinking that this would be a controversial

Steve asked for citations to support it, and I
could not immediately locate a straightforward
statement of this principle.

In fact, I already had on my web site some relevant
quotes, in my

   "Quotations from the Writings of Rudolph Carnap"

From the autobiographical part of the Schilpp volume (p13)
talking of "The Logico-Analytic Method in Philosophy",
Carnap says:

  "Whereas Frege had the strongest influence on me
   in the fields of logic and semantics, in my philosophical
   thinking in general I learned most from Bertrand Russell.
   In the winter of 1921 I read his book, Our Knowledge of
   the External World, as a Field For Scientific Method in
   Philosophy. Some passages made an especially vivid impression
   on me because they formulated clearly and explicitly a view
   of the aim and method of philosophy which I had implicitly held
   for some time. In the Preface he speaks about
   "the logical-analytic method of philosophy" and refers to
   Frege's work as the first complete example of this method.
   And on the very last pages of the book he gives a summarizing
   characterization of this philosophical method
   in the following words:"

Then he quotes a passage from Russell which is also on
my web site in a page entitled:

   "Quotations from the Writings of Bertrand Russell"


    "The study of logic becomes the central study in philosophy:
     it gives the method of research in philosophy,
     just as mathematics gives the method in physics...."

    "All this supposed knowledge in the traditional systems
     must be swept away, and a new beginning must be made. . . ."

    "To the large and still growing body of men engaged in
     the pursuit of science, . . . the new method, successful
     already in such time-honored problems as number, infinity,
     continuity, space and time, should make an appeal which the
     older methods have wholly failed to make.
     The one and only condition, I believe, which is necessary
     in order to secure for philosophy in the near future
     an achievement surpassing all that has hitherto been accomplished
     by philosophers, is the creation of a school of men with
     scientific training and philosophical interests, unhampered
     by the traditions of the past, and not misled by the literary
     methods of those who copy the ancients in all except their merits."

(from: Our Knowledge of the External World,
 as a Field For Scientific Method in Philosophy)

Carnap follows the Russell Quote with:

   "I felt as if this appeal had been directed to me personally.
    To work in this spirit would be my task from now on!
    And indeed henceforth the application of the new logical
    instrument for the purposes of analyzing scientific concepts
    and of clarifying philosophical problems has been
    the essential aim of my philosophical activity."

There is a more explicit quote from Russell at:


Which concludes:

   "Philosophy, if what has been said is correct,
    becomes indistinguishable from logic as that word
    has now come to be used."

(from: On Scientific Method in Philosophy)

My own first introduction to this conception of philosophy
was in "Language Truth and Logic" in which Ayer gives his
Oxonian interpretation of Logical Positivism.


  "In other words, the propositions of philosophy are not factual,
   but linguistic in character - that is, they do not describe
   the behaviour of physical, or even mental, objects;
   they express definitions, or the formal consequences of definitions.
   Accordingly we may say that philosophy is a department of logic*2.
   For we will see that the characteristic mark of
   a purely logical enquiry, is that it is concerned with
   the formal consequences of our definitions and not with
   questions of empirical fact."

It was to Ayer's advantage as a propagandist that he was
not so interested as Carnap was in the technical details.
Consequently, he does make the plain statements which we
sometimes have to hunt around for in Carnap.

The best places to look for these in Carnap are in the
Schilpp volume (the autobiographical part and also in
those parts of the "responses" where he summarises his
then current position before responding in detail to his
critics), and in "Philosophy and Logical Syntax" which
are transcripts of public lectures in London and
are not therefore confused by too much technical detail.
The Schilpp volume is in my view enormously important
for any real understanding of Carnap's philosophy,
because it is the norm for people to speak of Carnap
as if his philosophy consisted of the Aufbau or 
terminated with his philosophy of logical syntax.
His philosophy continued to improve throughout his
life, for example, his presentation of semantics and
analyticity is improved in the Schilpp to overcome
some of the spurious objections raised by Quine.

Anyway, going back to the main thesis, and looking
again for short explicit statements to support my
claim, we find:

   "The only proper task of Philosophy is Logical Analysis."

(Philosophy and Logical Syntax I.7, p35)

and the rest of that section is very relevant, discussing
their disagreement with Wittgenstein on the status
of philosophical propositions and leaving no doubt about
what he thinks their status is, but actually not containing
anything quite explicit enough for our present purposes.

Later he asks:

  "What kind of sentences are those which express
   the results of logical Analysis?"

(III.1 p68)

But frustratingly his answer is:

."..sentences of logical syntax ..."

not quite explicit enough perhaps.

Actually, the most explicit concise indication of
the view in question is in the diagram on page 32.
I have transcribed this into my notes at:

What is says is (in my words):

Philosophy as traditionally conceived may be considered
to have three components, which are:

   1. Metaphysical (including ethics)
   2. Psychological
   3. Logical

Of these:
   1. the first is expressive rather than descriptive,
      and therefore should properly be considered a form of art.
   2. the second belongs to empirical science

and only the third should properly be considered philosophy.
(hence, the propositions of philosophy as conceived by
Carnap are logical).

On the word "analytic", he says on p55 of PLS,

"Among the valid sentences some are analytic, namely
those which are valid on the basis of the L-rules alone"

(note that by "valid" he seems to mean "true")

On the L-rules he has said on p50

"Take for instance the system of Principia Mathematica.
In its present form it contains only such primitive
sentences and rules of inference as have a purely
logical character.
Transformation rules of this logical or mathematical
character we will call L-rules"

and on p54
"Thus every valid sentence is analytic"

and we see in his table that he means here L-valid.

Finally, I observe, that though the discussion
arising from my claim about Carnap has often
considered matters which pertain to the tenability
of Carnap's position, I have not myself asserted
that it is tenable.

I do not myself hold that all true propositions
of philosophy are analytic, and have no inclination
to eject from philosophy those which are not.
I am inclined to think that Lao-Tzu had some
interesting philosophical insights, but doubt
that many of them could be construed as matters
of logic.

In Metaphysical Positivism a method of logical
analysis for use in philosophy (and elsewhere)
has a central place.
Its scope of applicability is deductive reasoning.
Any philosophy in which deductive arguments are
found is a candidate for analysis by the methods
which I advocate, as well as other demonstrative
sciences, and nomologico-deductive science.
And of course, many varieties of metaphysics.

Roger Jones

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