[hist-analytic] Carnap on Philosophy

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Tue Aug 11 12:21:04 EDT 2009

The very first thing I want to ask Roger is this: give me an example of the successful employment of the methodology he advocates in solving a philosophical problem. I once had a discussion with a prominent analytical philosopher whom I believe has some friends in the “pomo” movement. He expressed sympathy, much to my puzzlement. I relinquished in the severity of my criticism out of deference to his past accomplishments as well as my personal respect for the man. After I quieted down, he did too. At one point he struck a note of compromise, saying, “Well, I DO have just one question. I have never actually seen an example of a deconstruction. I think I need to see one they all agree on before rendering a final judgment.” Well, I feel the same way. If you are going to defend a method give me an example of its success, NOT in general terms, but input/output. Other minds? External world? The Self? Ethics? State the philosophical problem and then in a few words tell me how it’s solved. Russell could do it; Tarski did it. Ok? So now give us a philosophical problem that has been solved. 

Part of my point is that this business of constructing logical languages is an expository method. In this respect it differs from an axiomatic system as a method of proof, not exposition. So let’s look at an example. Got one? Ok now to go on. 

I think we have to distinguish between philosophy’s being 

analytic, philosophy’s being a set of analytical propositions, 

and Carnap's philosophy as distinguished from other forms 

of analytical philosophy. 

There are other forms of analytical philosophy that meets 

this test. For example I think what Austin, Ryle, Grice and others were doing were not much like what Carnap recommends, but they are all fine analytical philosophers. So the metaphilosophical question is not resolved. How do we resolve it? Roger suggests that we do it by analogy with how we would answer the same question in mathematics. He says, 

“The propositions of mathematics are those whose 

subject matter is properly mathematical and which have 

been proven by accepted methods. “ 

Well, I think there are mathematical propositions which have yet to be proven, and the question of “methods” is not beyond controversy, as historians of Cantor will recall from the reception of the diagonal argument. Nor is it very encouraging to be told that mathematical propositions are those whose subject matter is mathematical. So I can’t really buy in to this as clarifying matters. Roger brings up Ayer. 

I can’t help but recall Sellars’s criticism of Ayer’s use of Carnap in speaking of “sense-data languages.” Ayer, following Carnap, defends a form of logical reconstruction wherein one translates from one language to another. I’ve mentioned the pitfalls etc. of this, and I’m a little disappointed that Roger hasn’t addressed them because they are at the heart of the issue. One examines the object language and talks about it in the metalanguage. If one wishes to create a nominalistic metalanguage, well that’s fine; the philosophical commitment is made. Similarly, if you are Ayer you might try translating the language of physical objects into the language of sense data; or, alternatively, if you are a realist you go the other direction. But by the time you’ve set out on the reconstruction you have made the commitment because FIRST you have to arrive at a commitment on the kind of translation you WANT. The philosophy is over; the rest is fiddling with superscripts, etc. Big deal! 

The problem with the logical positivist approach, if you take Carnap as a model, circa 1939-47, is that philosophical problems ARE the pseudo-problems, so Carnap comes out looking, as Bruce’s characterization suggests, a rather dull version of Hume with a formalist twist. But here’s the big problem. No problems are solved, or illuminated by the methodology of translation into a “perspicuous logical language.” The problems have been solved by the time you get there, as reflected in the CHOICE of translation. 

So I have a challenge for Roger! Give me an example of a philosophical problem that can be solved using Carnap’s methods. I mean a philosophical problem such as the problem of the external world, the reality of the Self, the nature of choice, free-will, causation. Now clearly Carnap addresses some of these problems, but when he does his method of intension/extension or reconstruction into a logical “perspicuous” language simply plays no role. And if Carnap hasn’t done this who has? D. Lewis was a great philosopher. I didn’t realize this as clearly as I should have during his lifetime. I regret this. I am making up for lost time. But take a look at his best work, say on causation – say, “Postscript to ‘Causation’” There is nothing here on the order of what you find in Carnapian reconstructions. There is no “reduction” to logic. Similarly for most others, even those in Carnap’s orbit. There is some of this in Kaplan, but Kaplan’s work (except for his paper on Russell’s theory of descriptions, which is a logical issue) is semantical and I don’t believe that outside of semantics he has addressed a single philosophical issue! Montague was closer to what you might want, but it’s drab and inconsequential unless you buy in to the program. 

Roger in commenting says, 

“none of this consists in the enunciation of "propositions of philosophy" in the sense in which this phrase is used when these are” 

Well now, “propositions of philosophy,” (in quotes). All philosophical problems appear to be pseudo-problems! Can you give me an example of a philosophical problem, distinctively philosophical (to mimic Bruce) that is not a pseudo problem by Carnap’s lights? His conception of philosophy is an exercise in explicating the language of science. I don’t see any legitimate philosophical problems, really. Cite me an example of what YOU consider to be a philosophical problem! <G> 

Some of my reasoning here is ba sed on Bergmann’s _Metaphysics of Logical Positivism_ There are selections on Hist-Analytic that may interest you. For example, why prefer realism over phenomenalism? Say, in Carnap’s case. He looks like a phenomenalist to me in some places and not so much in others. How can logic cure us of this “pseudo” issue. I don’t see it. 

I see very little similarity between Russell and Carnap after 1927. Where do you see it? Even though they remained interested in similar things (Russell had focused on developments in the “new physics), they differed radically in approach. In Inquiry into Meaning and Truth, Russell even distances himself in stating his interests from Carnap. (p. 18) He even chides Carap: “in the beginning was the word.” (p. 23). He goes further, citing differences in the point at which they start in applying their respective methodologies. (p. 311). I could cite other sources as well. We cannot shoot from the hip here. There is an historical record and if we are talking Carnap THAT is what we have to look at. 


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Roger Bishop Jones" <rbj at rbjones.com> 
To: hist-analytic at simplelists.com 
Sent: Saturday, August 8, 2009 12:09:25 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern 
Subject: Re: Carnap on Philosophy 

Steve's recent message raised a number of points in relation to 
Carnap and Russell, particularly in relation to their 
conception of philosophy as logic. 

I'm going to mount a defence of this conception of philosophy 
(though my own conception is very much wider than that). 

First a few words about the phrase "the propositions of 

This should be thought of along the same lines as the 
phrase "the propositions of mathematics" when thinking 
of the logicist thesis in relations to mathematics. 
The phrase is not intended to refer every proposition 
asserted by a mathematician, not even those which he 
asserts "qua mathematician". Nor is it to be presumed 
that the enunciation of "the propositions of mathematics" 
is the only or even the most important contribution 
which mathematicians make to our knowledge. 
Mathematicians propose definitions, describe methods, 
talk about the work of previous mathematicians, about 
the value of different parts of mathematics, sometimes 
address philosophical matters, and engage in politics 
and polemics. Some or all of these may be considered 
genuinely mathematical and important, but they do not 
consist in the discovery or enunciation of 
"the propositions of mathematics". 
The propositions of mathematics are those whose 
subject matter is properly mathematical and which have 
been proven by accepted methods. This is a crude 
characterisation, but probably good enough for 
present purposes. A more concise and precise modern 
approximation is: those mathematical propositions 
which can be rendered and proven in first order set theory. 

The phrase "the propositions of philosophy", when used 
by Russell, Carnap and Ayer should be understood in 
an analogous way. 
It may be, and in fact it probably is, that in Carnap's 
conception of philosophy the principle task of the 
philosopher is to make proposals about languages, 
about analytic methods, about conceptual schemes, or 
even about ostensibly metaphysical matters such 
as "what exists", but none of this consists in the 
enunciation of "propositions of philosophy" in the 
sense in which this phrase is used when these are 
asserted to be analytic. 
Most importantly one must be aware of the distinction 
between making a proposal, and making a claim, for 
so much of Carnap's philosophy must be understood 
as the former rather than the latter, even though 
in his youthful enthusiasm, like Ayer, he often uses 
language which sounds much more assertive and dogmatic 
than one would expect from someone merely 
making a proposal. 
This is particularly relevant to ontology and metaphysics. 
Carnap was happy to propose languages in which abstract 
entities can be proven to exist, but not happy to 
assert, except as propositions internal to such a 
language (and in that case analytic) that abstract 
entities exist. This extends arbitrarily to any 
apparently metaphysical claims which Carnap might 
consider of practical utility, e.g. talk about 

It might be useful to state my own position, which 
I intend to articulate in my volume on Metaphysical 
Positivism, since that is what I advocate, and my 
defence of Russell and Carnap is based on my belief 
that their position was similar in the most important 

Metaphysical Positivism is a variety of analytic 
philosophy based around a method of logical analysis, 
the intention of which is to make deductive arguments 
in philosophy as reliable as they are in mathematics. 
The method is illustrated by my document on Aristotle 
in which I have used formal modelling with ProofPower 
in an attempt to analyse the logic and metaphysics 
of Aristotle. 
This document contains two parts, an informal part 
and a formal part, of which the latter consists in 
large part of definitions of various kinds, and of 
theorems proven in the context of those definitions. 

There is a clear distinction in this paper between 
propositions which have been formally proven and 
everything else. 
The former are marked by the turnstile symbol "|-", 
and are also listed separately in the appendices. 
In the appendices are theory listings which contain 
all the formal definitions and the theorems proven 
from them. These theorems are known to be necessary 
with a very high level of confidence, it is improbable 
that they will ever be refuted. 
Everything else in the document, including the 
question of whether the formal models have any relevance 
to the work of Aristotle, is highly speculative. 

The idea of the method is to ensure the rigour 
of deductive reasoning in philosophy, in a way which 
does not constrain the scope of philosophy. 

Now, I believe that Russell and Carnap sought by similar 
means (though lacking the technology) to establish 
philosophical reasoning on a similarly solid footing. 
They diverge from the neutrality of my method 
(which says nothing about scope of philosophy), 
in the addition of either or both of: 

1. Claims about what philosophy is. 
2. Claims about what philosophy should be. 

I don't in fact believe that either philosopher 
could credible be said to believe, despite their 
explicit statements appearing to assert it, that 
philosophy IS logic, and we can see when we read 
them that they are rather advocating that it should 
In this they are also to be understood in the manner 
suggested above, as talking only of a rather select 
number of the things which philosophers assert, 
and with that caveat I think we can say that there 
is very little between their position and my 
advocacy of formal methods. 

Let me now pass to some detailed responses on how 
I believe these philosophers should be understood. 

On Saturday 01 August 2009 12:45:42 Baynesr at comcast.net wrote: 
>"Among the valid sentences some are analytic, namely 
>those which are valid on the basis of the L-rules alone" 
>Now if philosophy is the search for analytical sentences then it is the 
> search for L-rules, 

I don't believe that Carnap would agree here, 
and nor do I. 
The L-rules constitute the definition of a language, 
and they are thus proposals rather than results. 

Insofar as philosophy is "the search for analytic truths" 
(I would not put it that way myself), these analytic 
truths are not the L-rules, which are implicit definitions 
rather than propositions, but in those sentences whose 
truth can be established by the use of the L-rules. 

> and if Carnap can be said to follow Russell remarks: 
>"Philosophy, if what has been said is correct, becomes indistinguishable 
> from logic as that word has now come to be used," 
>the actual record of his work should show it. It does not. 

Yes, "indistinguishable from logic" is a bit strong, especially 
as that phrase might today be understood 
(given that logic is now largely meta-theoretic, and "logical 
truth" tends to be narrowly construed). 
However, I will try to defend Carnap's claim about the propositions 
of philosophy being analytic (in the context of his demarcation 
of philosophy). 

>I won't repeat what I've already said about Carnap's methodology. That 
> methodolgy consists in the construction of formal metalanguages that 
> translate from an object language into the "syntax language." The 
> "analyticity" of the analytical propositions is not in the sentences 
> translated into. The "analyticity" resides in translatability from one 
> language to another, that is capturing the meaning in the syntax language 
> that remains once the "dross" is removed from object language. But there is 
> a problem for Carnap's methodology. 

I'm afraid I don't accept this account of Carnap's philosophy. 
Semantic ascent does, unfortunately and unnecessarily, play a 
role in his method of logical syntax, but to say that his method 
consists in the construction of formal metalanguages to effect 
the translation seems to me incorrect. 
As far as his statement of method in "Philosophy and Logical Syntax" 
is concerned, he does not to my recollection even mention 
such formal languages, and it might be reasonable to criticise 
the method he describes in that book because it lacks 
any account of how this translation is to be effected. 

The languages which he talks about defining there are, I think, 
intended to be various languages for use in science. 

The analyticity of the analytic propositions does not reside 
in their translatability. This is simply the method proposed 
for demonstrating their analyticity. 
We take a sentence in some formally defined language which 
mentions "pseudo-object" and we demonstrate the analyticity 
of that sentence via translation into some sentence about 

However, if we look at the more precise statements in 
LSL about the translation we find, to my relief, that its 
role is largely one of explication. 
Carnap does not tell us, even in LSL, how the translation 
is to be accomplished, but he is quite precise about what 
it must deliver. It must deliver something which is 
"equipollent" with the original. 
So the method says, to prove a pseudo-object sentence, 
take the sentence and translate it into some equipollent 
sentence which is L-true, and then prove the translation 
using the L-rules. 
But "equipollence" is L-equivalence I believe, and in any 
reasonable logical system, all L-true sentences will be 
equipollent, and any sentence equipollent with an L-true 
sentence will be provable using the L-rules whether or 
not one proves it via an equivalence with some sentence 
which is about syntax. 

Carnap's stuff about translation is therefore inessential. 
You have to supply a complete set of L-rules in the definition 
of the language to fully capture the intended semantics, 
and if you do that then all the analytic sentences will 
be L-true, whether or not they mention objects. 
Carnap's talk about analytic sentences being "about syntax" 
(which I deprecate) can be seen to be a very minor defect, 
since the methods proposed work just as well if you 
delete all talk of semantic ascent. 
It is only Carnap's explanations which are damaged by the 

>It is not always clear what kind of translation you want and what and why 
> you omit certain concepts is, also, subject to debate. Logic cannot resolve 
> these questions, even for Carnap. 

I hope I have now covered this. 

> The Schilpp is fine for an idea of 
> Carnap's final position on issues, but it is no substitute for approaching 
> the original sources if your interest is understanding where is coming 
> from. 

Yes, but if his final position is more tenable than the earlier ones, 
then a critique based too closely on the earlier work may not 
be a sound critique of the overall conception. 

> The problem for Carnap's methodology is that there are always 
> sentences that logic simply cannot resolve. If I am right these are the 
> philosophical questions. Let me give you an example. Carnap in Meaning and 
> Necessity says, 
>"Some remarks may help toclarify the sensein which we intend to us theterm 
> 'proposition'. Like the term 'property', it is used neither for a 
> linguistic expression nor for a subjective mental occurrence, but rather 
> for something objective that may or may not be explemfied in nature." (MN. 
> p. 27) 
>Lest there be any doubt that Carnap is talking about the world and not 
> logic, consider what he says just a bit later (after expressing 
> disagreement with Russell), 
>"Any proposition must be regarded as a complex entity, consisting of 
> component entities, which, in their turn may be simple or again complex." 
> (MN. p. 30) 
>These are not analytic statement! 

They probably are. 
Even for Russell, who understood a proposition as a logical fiction 
with real constituents, it is analytic that a proposition is complex. 
Carnap might well have taken the position that propositions are 
completely abstract, in which case any truth about them is going 
to be analytic. 

> They do not follow from logic alone; they 
> are not empirical claims. They are metaphysical CONCLUSIONS! 

But for Carnap any true claim which is not contingent is 
analytic and logical. 
L-true, Analytic, Logical, Necessary all mean the same thing. 
And you can't argue this, it is a proposal for use of language, 
and the entire philosophy has to be understood in relation 
to this proposal. 
You can reject then proposal if you like, but you can't 
adopt some other usage and then criticise Carnap's claims 
about analyticity of philosophy as if he meant by that term 
something other than he actually did mean. 

> The problem 
> for Carnap is that he must at some point exorcise these ontogical 
> commitments. 

Carnap has a well articulated position in relation to such 
things, both I think in relation to his syntactic and his 
semantic phases, though I think the latter stronger. 
This later one is of course that in 
"Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology". 

>Take Russell. The guy quoted above identify logic with philosophy. NONE of 
> Russell's philosophical work of significance is pure logic. Take The 
> Analysis of Matter or even Our Knowledge of the External World or many of 
> those essays in Mysticism and Logic. Very little logic in these works. In 
> fact the best logic in the second cited is on continuity and I don't think 
> continuity is a logical notion as such. 

Russell, it seems to me, made less serious attempts to carry through 
his logicist conception of philosophy, partly I think because 
his appetite for formalism had been quenched by Principia. 
Also I think he actually had a rather less formal conception 
of the key features of Principia Mathematica (than Carnap). 

Russell had a conception of analysis. He begins with 
a kind of analysis which he inherited from Leibniz, 
in which complex predicates are analysable into 
simple predicates (which I think is questionable). 
His more original contribution is that of logical construction. 
In the Principia mathematical objects were logical constructions 
from individuals. 
Russell following ideas of Whitehead, wanted to show that 
mind and matter, and hence all else, could both be construed 
as logical constructions from individuals (events? sense data?). 

Now if talk about mind and matter is talk about logical 
constructions of this kind, then claims to that effect 
will be analytic elucidations of the meaning of the concepts 
and of conclusions inferred from those meanings. 

So I think there is a rationale here which might explain 
how Russell could conceive of at least some of his 
post Principia philosophy as logic (if not formal). 

I would draw an analogy here with theoretical physics. 
Theoretical physics might seem to be about material 
objects and hence to be making contingent claims. 
But a theoretical physicist is likely to be doing 
just mathematics. He makes no empirical claims, 
he simply takes some theory as given, e.g. 
general relativity, and works out the logical 
consequences of the theory (the mathematical 
consequences, which for logicists are logical). 

Russell's "analysis" of mind and matter is not intended 
to make contingent claims about mind and matter, 
it is intended to draw conclusions from the concepts. 
Possibly to be drawing conclusions from proposals about 
what the concepts should mean, but possibly not 
for Russell seemed to have a natural metaphysical 
dogmatism, which I agree is a bit at odds with 
his logicist conception of philosophy. 
Carnap seems to start out with that same conflict, 
but as he matures he realises that he must present 
himself as making proposals about languages and methods 
if his philosophy is to be self-consistent. 

>So my polint is: Carnap makes a lot of metaphysical claims; the metaphysical 
> work is done before constructing canonical languages. As Bergmann said: 
> there is a metaphysics to positivism! Carnap was such a metaphysician 
> during his most productive years. 

Carnap has to be construed as proposing or adopting a particular 
usage of "metaphysical" as well as of concepts like "analytic". 
In "Philosophy and Logical Syntax" he does explicitly exclude 
certain kinds of metaphysics from the scope of his critique. 
His account is on p15, he has a paragraph beginning: 

"I will call metaphysical..." 

and says: 

"I do not include in metaphysics those theories -- sometimes 
called metaphysical -- 
whose object is to arrange the most general propositions 
of the various regions of scientific knowledge in 
a well-ordered system." 

These he regards as empirical. 
To this one may add, certain non empirical claims about 
abstract objects, e.g. those of mathematics, which he 
regarded as analytic. 

When we progress to the later philosophy, when he 
adopts the principle of tolerance and writes about 
ontology in "Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology", 
we find an enormous range of what might have been 
thought of as metaphysics, has now been slotted into 
Carnap's scheme of legitimacy. 

So to condemn Carnap of inconsistency it does not suffice 
to establish some proposition of metaphysics which he 
asserts. Usually when he does this he should be 
construed either as putting forward a proposal for 
usage, or as elaborating the consequences of such 
proposals. (I don't think he engages in the synthetic 
metaphysics which he finds acceptable, because that 
would not be philosophy). 

Too many words I'm afraid, but I have tried to explain 
why I do not myself think, on the basis of my rather 
limited reading of Carnap that his properly 
philosophical assertions violated his conception of 
philosophy as analytic. 
I do accept however, that there probably were such 
things, I think it would be a great achievement 
if he had been consistent about this in the course 
of trying to put together this conception of philosophy, 
it is normal for philosophers not to comply with their 
own conception of philosophy, but I think Carnap came 
closer than most, and that a similar conception 
of philosophy could be consistently adopted. 
i.e. whatever other faults it has, I don't think 
it is an incoherent conception of philosophy. 

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