[hist-analytic] Analytic Philosophy: Oxonian Varieties

Bruce Aune aune at philos.umass.edu
Sun Aug 9 07:58:24 EDT 2009

Since Roger has directed interest to Rudolf Carnap, I thought that  
those following the discussion might be interested in my remarks about  
Carnap as a teacher, which I included in a philosophical memoir I have  
been writing.  The remarks follow:

Before climbing up on my soap box, I was describing the seminars I  
took at UCLA in the academic year 1957-58.  In the semester following  
John Wisdom's seminar[1] I took Carnap's seminar in logical theory.   
This seminar was no more demanding than Wisdom's, but it was  
considerably more technical.  The subject was Carnap's version of the  
logic of relations (he followed pretty much the exposition in  
Principia Mathematica but he used his lambda operator in place of the  
symbolism of class abstraction) and its extension to a non- 
quantitative treatment of space-time topology.  Except (as I recall)  
for one report by David Kaplan, who appeared to be enrolled in the  
seminar although he was probably engaged in preparing exercises for  
the volume in which the seminar material was later published,[2]  
Carnap himself presented material in the seminar sessions.  His  
procedure was to hand out mimeographed sheets containing the formulas  
he proceeded to discuss.  He would read a formula, explain its meaning  
if its meaning were not obvious, sometimes indicate how it could be  
proved if it were a theorem, and then go on to the next formula.  (In  
indicating how a theorem could be proved in the logic of relations, he  
liked to use arrow diagrams as heuristic aids.  If a relation were  
transitive, say, it could be represented by a diagram in which an  
arrow would be drawn between points a and c if it connected points a  
and b and also points b and c.)  Listening to him presenting such  
material was like reading a textbook.  If he were a lesser person, the  
class might have seemed to be a waste of time; but I and the other  
students were so impressed by his intelligence, his learning, and his  
earnest, kindly personality that we felt fortunate to be in his  
presence.  He was not teaching so much as presenting the results of  
his research.  It was our job to understand him.

In my experience philosophers who have achieved some distinction often  
possess large, unattractive egos, and it is not uncommon for them to  
speak ill of other philosophers, often equally distinguished, whom  
they consider rivals. Carnap was not like this at all--at least in my  
experience.  He was obviously self-confident, but he was not in the  
least vain, self-important, or disparaging of those who disagreed with  
him.  On one occasion he gently admonished me and another student  
when, no doubt hoping to impress him with our commitment to the tough- 
minded ideology he was noted for espousing, we expressed our utter  
contempt for some claim by Heidegger.  His response was immediate:   
"Tolerance, boys, tolerance."  It was clear that he didn't object to  
our being critical of Heidegger; he objected to our intolerant  
manner:  We should treat others with respect even when we think they  
are wrong.  He obviously felt we should be careful of tooting our own  
horn, too, for he was noticeably self-effacing in discussion.  He  
often said such things as "We logical empiricists now think that …,"  
speaking as if he belonged to a team of investigators in which  
personal achievement is subordinate to a collective purpose of working  
out a mutually acceptable "scientific" philosophy.  I have never felt  
that I belonged to an investigative team in philosophy, but in  
subsequent years it has always seemed to me that Carnap and his  
friends Herbert Feigl and Carl Hempel, who shared his kindness,  
tolerance, and lack of self-importance, were models of professorial  

Bruce Aune

[1] John Wisdom was a visiting professor that semester.  He had just  
retired from his professorship at Cambridge University.
[2] Introduction to Symbolic Logic and its Applications (New York:  
Dover, 1958).
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