[hist-analytic] Analytic Philosophy: Oxonian Varieties

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Sun Aug 9 18:38:46 EDT 2009

A brief reply to Bruce and a reply to someone who raised some points 
on Carnap's philosophy of science, but who wishes not to post. Call him 


These are very interesting reflections. I've had occasion to discuss Carnap with 
a couple of his students, and their estimate coincides with yours. I was especially 
interested in a couple of things. First, your report of his interest in Russell's theory 
of relations. He credits Russell, strongly, as I recall in the Aufbau, and I see the 
connection to toplogy as having broader implications for philosophy of science. Second, 
there is one troubling thing I've heard about Carnap while he was at Chicago. There 
was a dispute involving McKeon, with whom I've had some interesting discussion on 
Aristotle. It is said that Carnap would not approve a diss. on the ontological argument 
because the argument was fallacious. An argument ensued with McKeon who it is 
said left the department and became head of a new department, Ideas and Methods. 
If a guy can tolerate Heidegger, then he ought to tolerate a scholarly treatment of 
the Ontolotical Argument, or so its seems. 

Still, I've never really heard a bad word about Carnap; he has a reputation for 
saintliness. I love most of his work but have only recently discovered his later phil. of 


Russell's treatment of the theory of relations in Intro. Mathematical Philosophy 
had some influence I believe on Eddington, although there was, no doubt, 
an interactive relation. It relates to a question I raised earlier about defining 
spatial relations purely topologically without the introduction of of metric 
properties etc. We have to consider not only the topology of space, but the topology 
of a field which pervades space if we want to get at the bottom of the determinism 
mess from a scientific perspective. Can we characterize a field's properties 
without introducing the properties of a point and time in space? If not won't we 
be committed to metric properties, properties we don't need in giving a topological 
analysis of space, that is, a treatment in terms of open sets, alone? There is 
no set theoretically interesting treatment of questions related to that of the 
"structure" of a field, but aren't there certain, purely, topological features since we 
construe a field as continuous. Recall that for Russell space, unlike a field, need 
not be continuous and yet, given Russell's theory of causation - as it might now 
be challenged by recent experiments in photon entanglement, Bell inequalities, 
and, perhaps, the Aharonov–Bohm effect - it would appear that causation is 
a local phenomena. Carnap, I think, sees much of this. I haven't, sufficiently, examined 
his later philosophy of science, which looks very rich in content and may contain some 
of the answers. I've spent entirely too much time on Carnap as a builder of 
languages, a tedious exercise. 


I'm preparing a reply to you interesting, albeit lengthy post. I should mention that 
Carnap is at his best when NOT discussing the object languages in 
meta-languages. Also, I must apologize to another mathematically oriented 
friend. I DO believe mathematics is very important for philosophy. But I think 
this is not, necessarily, logic. There is a great deal of beauty and relevance 
to philosophy in, for example, the algebra of the real number system, or 
Dedekind continuity. Russell realized this; post-Tarski philosophers of 
logic seldom realize this. The culprit is formal semantics, which is simply 
"piddling out." 



----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Bruce Aune" <aune at philos.umass.edu> 
To: "Roger Bishop Jones" <rbj at rbjones.com> 
Cc: hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk 
Sent: Sunday, August 9, 2009 7:58:24 AM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern 
Subject: Re: Analytic Philosophy: Oxonian Varieties 

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 behavior. 

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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