[hist-analytic] Carnap on Philosophy

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Sat Aug 22 12:31:04 EDT 2009

I asked Roger for an example of a philosophical problem Carnap solves, or attempts to solve. He says the problems I identify are not the problems that interest Carnap. Moreover, he appears to confirm my point that philosophical problems are pseudo-problems for Carnap. If this is so then Carnap is simply not a philosopher; the problems he raises may be interesting semantical problems related to formalizations of the language of science, but the judgment that they are philosophical is fiat, neither historical nor substantial. 

He points to the problem of the status of proposition as one problem Carnap resolved. The problem is that he didn’t resolve it. It remains a subject of considerable controversy. Why? Not because those pursuing the problem have read Carnap but because the method of intension and extension etc. simply assumes a solution by accepting Fregean arguments for senses. Indeed, senses are entities and they are strange one’s in my opinion. Where in a canonical language do we find them. Was Church, one of Carnap’s most effective critics wrong to posit a need for abstract entities in semantics? If so, what ARE these propositions? Call them properties if you will, but that just moves the problem in a different direction: the ontological status of abstract entities. Again, I have to emphasize that Carnap’s phases are more numerous than the moon’s. So when he speaks of Carnap’s “position” it’s unclear what Roger means. I think the Auf ba u is a grand work in metaphysical reconstruction. I think much of Carnap’s other work is vacuous, e.g. much of what is in Introduction to Semantics. 

The metaphilosphical question is: what are the aims of philosophy and what should be the methodology in achieving those objectives. Constructing formalized languages just doesn’t seem to be the way to go. Lots of superscripts that do no work, really; a lot of formalities that lend the appearance of precision to some more or less unimaginative proposals. That’s why I wanted some examples of successful or arguably viable solutions to problems, not the rejection of the problems couched in what is in fact a vacuous formalism. 

Now Roger says he’s not defending Carnap’s use of translations, but as long as the construction of canonical languages is his method and these languages are metalanguages you won’t be able to escape the role of translation in logical reconstruction. 

By the way, the best thing about Meaning and Necessity is his treatment of modality, in my opinion. It has nothing to do with science. In fact there is nothing much at all about science in Meaning and Necessity. It’s a fine little book. I won’t slight it; but it is a statement of one view of semantics, not really very philosophical unless you think of philosophy as a branch of, say, model theory. 

You mention Bergmann and how he would regard Carnap with respect to metaphysics. That would be a long story. It is told on a file on Hist-Analytic by Bergmann on “Reconstruction in Philosophy.” Bergmann was a member of the Vienna Circle , a mathematician, and a friend of Carnap’s until either Bergmann alleged a metaphysics of logical positivism or went nuts. Opinions vary. I like Bergmann; he was always nice to me and he was a genius, of that there can be no doubt. But I will enter one word. When the positivists like Neurath relied on “protocol sentences” as constituting the “atoms” of their epistemology they took the subject of such sentences as either sense-data or physical objects. There was no unanimity. The distinction is metaphysical. Since I no more believe in physical objects than the Greek gods, I’m inclined to side with the sense-data people, but I reject the methodology not only for philosophical reasons but for reasons having to do with the objectives of modern science, another topic. 

You pro ba bly don’t see muc similarity between Russell’s philosophy and Carnap’s because they are vastly different after about 1927; before that year they are pretty close. Tarski changed that by making philosophy a sort of boring subject. Russell was never boring. Actually, Carnap is never boring but less boring in the Auf ba u, a much maligned and brilliant work. Carnap followed Russell’s lead in his regard for the place of logic even though Carnap had been a student of Frege’s. 

I’m going to defer comments on Hume or his much celebrated fork. Much has to do with my rejection of his views on causation. The “partition” for Hume between causal relations and other relations is not “objective.” It is subjective. His ontology is essentially phenomenalist etc. which moves him closer to idealism than some would care to admit. If Carnap believes in physical objects, then he is a metaphysician in my opinion, but as Bergmann suggested he is on one prong of the phenomenalist/realist fork. Carnap is a pragmatist, but that is symptomatic of mere expedience in many cases. One can’t reject all pragmatism has to offer, but its use as a convenient tool in rejecting certain problems as relevant is an artless dodge. 

Kripke is a philosopher much in the Carnapian traidition. Before Kripke ceases doing philosophy, I would wager that he will publish something major on Carnap. I discuss Kripke to some extent in my forthcoming book. One metaphysical concern is his reliance on “epistemic counterparts.” I talk about these and will defer discussing them until the book’s out. 

You offer a challenge in your message at the very end. It’s the only ungrammatical sentence in seven pages! What da …? 

Let me put together an example not necessarily a counterexample of what I think you want. The problem with all such approaches as Carnap’s is that the philosophy, if there is any, comes before the methodology of logical reconstruction. There is a difference between reconstruction and the use of logic in solving philosophical problems. Too often the problems are forgotten or lost in a wad of lamda operators and other gizmos. 

Let me put together an example, intended mainly as illustrative of the right way of applying logic to a philosophical problem that does not depend on a priori arguments designed to reject rather than solve the problem. Rejecting the problem is indicative of the onset of a realization that one does not live forever. It is to be resisted. By the way, if anyone knows offhand where in PrincipiaRussell and Whitehead discuss the ancestral, please let me know. 



----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Roger Bishop Jones" <rbj at rbjones.com> 
To: hist-analytic at simplelists.com 
Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2009 4:53:47 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern 
Subject: Re: Carnap on Philosophy 

This is a rather selective response to Steve's last 
rather challenging message on Carnap. 

First I must clarify a little the extent to which I 
am defending Carnap's philosophy. 

I have asserted in the first instance that Carnap "was clear" 
that the propositions of philosophy are analytic, and in 
response to Steve's scepticism on this I supplied some 
I hope that I have satisfied Steve on that point. 

In response, Steve has expressed doubts about the consistency 
of that claim of Carnap's with Carnap's own philosophical writings. 

On that point I have disagreed with Steve (and continue to do so). 

I propose for the time being to stick at that, i.e. 
to stick to the defence of Carnap against the claim that 
his philosophy was inconsistent with his claim that the 
propositions of philosophy are analytic. 

I do not intend to offer any general defence of his philosophy. 
For example, his methodological position in 
"Philosophy and Logical Syntax" is more specific than that, 
it describes how one should go about formally establishing 
such propositions, and, though he does do a considerable 
amount of technical work which is clearly intended to 
facilitate that kind of demonstration, it is not the case 
that he proves all his philosophical propositions in the 
manner which he recommends. 
Further to my accepting that Carnap falls short of his own 
ideals in that respect, I would not myself recommend the 
methods he proposes. 

Now, on the point which I am still prepared to defend, 
viz. that the philosophical propositions which Carnap 
asserts either are or are believed by him to be 
(usually the former) analytic, I have a couple of further 
points of clarification to offer before responding in 
detail to some of Steve's points. 

First I must clarify the purpose of the analogy I drew 
between mathematics and philosophy. 
The point of this was simply that many things that 
mathematicians and philosophers assert are not properly 
construed as "propositions of" mathematics and philosophy 
So I am not claiming that every assertion which Carnap 
makes is analytic, and I am asserting that when Carnap 
says that the propositions of philosophy are analytic 
he is not saying that everything which he asserts is 
Obvious examples of propositions which he asserts but 
would not claim in the required sense to be propositions 
of philosophy, are his claims about the views of 
other philosophers. 

Further to this, a great deal of what Carnap writes 
are not "propositions" at all, they are definitions 
or proposals, either of for languages or concepts. 
This is a large part of what he conceives of as the 
purpose of philosophy when he describes philosophy 
as "the logical syntax of science". 
The use of the term "logical" in this phrase is intended 
to exclude the descriptive analysis of existing scientific 
language (let alone "ordinary" language), which he does not 
see as falling under his method, and does not see as 
properly philosophical (he would classify this as empirical 
science, possibly linguistics). 
He sees philosophy as proposing languages for use in the 
empirical science, in the same way as he sees Principia 
Mathematica as offering and demonstrating the use of 
a language for mathematics. 

In this context, it would be consistent with Carnap's 
philosophy if Carnap asserted no philosophical propositions 
whatever, but exclusively concerned himself with the 
construction of formal languages for various branches of 
science and the discussion of the pragmatic considerations 
which are relevant to the adoption of such languages. 

I don't believe he does this, I think he does actually 
assert propositions which he believes to be both philosophical 
and analytic, though from my limited reading of Carnap 
I am not actually aware of cases where he has demonstrated 
such propositions in a manner consistent with his syntactic 
method (I would however be rather surprised if there were 
no examples in "Logical Syntax of Language"). 

It is worth noting here, that for Carnap to be consistent 
on this point, his assertions only have to be analytic according 
to his own conception of analyticity, they need not be 
analytic in Kant's or in Kripke's usage of that term. 
Furthermore, insofar as Carnap condemns metaphysics, 
for consistency he has only to avoid asserting propositions 
which comply with his own description of proscribed 
metaphysics, and this is greatly different from Kripke's 
conception of metaphysics (and I would say almost everyone 
This is particularly relevant for those many people who 
look at Carnap's writing and immediately see lots of 
metaphysics, most especially if they see this in a volume 
like "Meaning and Necessity" which benefits from the very 
considerable widening in Carnap's conception of acceptable 
(not metaphysical in the proscribed sense) language. 
In particular, any apparently metaphysical language can 
be rendered acceptable to Carnap once it is incorporated 
into the definition of a language, for then the apparently 
metaphysical claims are given meaning by the language, 
the internal questions become respectable, and the external 
questions can be passed over so long as the language passes 
some pragmatic criteria. 

On Tuesday 11 August 2009 17:21:04 Baynesr at comcast.net wrote: 
>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. 
> 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. 

The kind of problem you are looking for here seems to me not to be 
characteristic of Carnap's philosophy, for two reasons, one positive 
and one negative. 

On the positive side, the kind of problem which interested Carnap 
was typically one of devising the best language for some scientific 
purpose, or of devising the best method for the conduct of science 
or philosophy. The result of solving such problems are not 

On the negative side, very many of the "traditional problems" 
of philosophy are in Carnap's scheme of things trivialised by 
Carnap's method. 

Take for example, the question, "Are there numbers?" which is 
discussed by Carnap who make this point about it. 
Carnap's recommended method for doing arithmetic proceeds as follows. 
First you devise a language for talking about numbers and define 
its semantics, for this purpose simply assuming the existence 
of numbers (though taking reasonable steps to ensure 
that the assumptions on which the semantics is based 
are logically consistent). 
Questions about the existence of numbers are then expressible 
in this new language for arithmetic, and will often be settled 
be demonstration using the inference rules of the language. 
However, the general question "are there numbers" is in this 
context a trivial problem. 
There remains a question about the legitimacy of the language, 
and this might be thought to involve the "external question" 
of the existence of numbers. 
This external question Carnap regards as meaningless and therefore 
as irrelevant to the acceptability of the language, which is 
to be determined by pragmatic considerations. 

Many of the traditional questions are philosophy are resolved 
by Carnap's philosophical methods by proposals about the use 
of language. 
Thus, the question "What is a proposition" will be resolved by 
Carnap (if at all), by a proposed usage for the term proposition, 
together with any theoretical claims about propositions which 
follow from the proposed usage (which will be analytic). 

I appreciate that I have not answered your question. 

>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. 

Carnap's position is specifically about the kind of philosophy 
which he recommends, not a claim about the propositions affirmed 
by other philosophers. 
He does not say that philosophy is a set of analytic propositions. 

>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, 

I don't understand what you mean here by "the metaphilosophical question", 
and I doubt that my analogy between maths and philosophy is intended 
to address it. 

>“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. 

It was not my aim to give in a sentence a watertight definition 
of the propositions of mathematics. 
Merely to point out that very many propositions truthfully uttered 
by mathematicians in the course of doing mathematics are not properly 
considered among "the propositions of mathematics". 
This is not just for certain philosophers, there is a distinction here 
which is a part of the culture of mathematics. 

>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. 

I am not defending Carnap's use of translations. 

>So I have a challenge for Roger! Give me an example of a philosophical 
> problem that can be solved using Carnap’s methods. 

Carnap is primarily concerned with the problems of science. 
So he is aiming to provide languages for use in science. 
The methods he describes in "Meaning and Necessity" are for defining 
the semantics of such languages. 
The philosophical problem then is "how to define a language" and 
the result is a description of methods, not one or more propositions. 

> 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. 

Does he? 
If you have among them a counterexample to his assertion that 
philosophical propositions are analytic then I would be happy 
to discuss it. 

>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> 

It is entirely possible that there might be a complete disjunction 
between what you count as a proposition of philosophy and what 
Carnap counted as one. 
But that in itself would not render Carnap inconsistent in the sense 
we are considering. 

Let me give you 

>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. 

Well of course Carnap's position did change quite a lot over his 
But he is immediately misrepresented if he is held to be denying realism, 
for I don't think he ever did that, and once we get through his 
"liberalisation of empiricism" he embraces "theoretical languages" 
which are just the same as a realistic physicist might use. 

Does Bergman argue that the points which he considers metaphysical 
would be so regarded by Carnap? 

>I see very little similarity between Russell and Carnap after 1927. Where do 
> you see it? 

I don't see much similarity between Carnap's philosophy and Russell's. 
Carnap explicitly describes the way in which his own conception of 
philosophy is based on Russell's and his program consists (in my words) 
in doing for science what Russell had done for mathematics. 
This kind of high level influence is in my opinion enormously 
important, and my support for Carnap's position is at a similar 
level. I applaud aspects of the general thrust of Carnap's philosophy 
but am inclined to retain very little of the detail. 

I have not found a nice example of a "proposition of philosophy". 
perhaps one will come to me. 
If you have counterexamples I would be happy to consider them. 

I will mention two little points. 

Firstly, it does seem to me that the claim that Hume's fork 
identifies a fundamental and objective partition of some kind 
is one which I would count as metaphysical. 
I don't think Carnap did, and in his scheme of things, this 
is just an aspect of his conceptual scheme which he can 
reasonably consider to be justified by pragmatic considerations. 
When stated in an appropriate language, Hume's fork is analytic. 

Secondly the question whether there are necessary synthetic 
truths is often considered to be a metaphysical question closely 
related to metaphysics. 
For Carnap its denial is analytic, and is trivially so. 
In some places Carnap defines both "analytic" and "necessary" 
as "L-true", in others he defines necessity in terms of analyticity. 
Probably there are other variations with similar effects, 
viz the analyticity of there being no necessary synthetic truths. 

The supposed refutation of Carnap by Kripke is pure equivocation. 
Perhaps Kripke's conceptions of analyticity and necessity are 
better than Carnap's, but they cannot serve to refute Carnap 
in this matter. 

I appreciate that I probably have not met your challenge. 
However, technically, it is not necessary for me to do so 
to sustain my support of Carnap in the matter on which I 
am supporting him. 
For you to refute this position, you must offer a counterexample, 
for Carnap's position would be consistent if he had never 
tabled a proposition of philosophy. 

You talk as if this were easy, lets just take one example. 

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