[hist-analytic] Metaphysical Positivism v. Critical Rationalism (Jones v. Frederick)

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Sat Sep 19 09:49:11 EDT 2009

"It would be interesting to know which of Carnap's theories he was 
talking about. The Aufbau?" 


In all likelihood, Reichenbach was talking about Carnap's view that the protocol language consisted of statements about sense-data and that these sense-data are immediately given and, so, in some sense incorrigible. This incorrigibility throughout the history of philosophy has been compared to Descartes's grounding science in the incorrigibility deriving from "I think therefore I am." Historically, I don't believe there can be any question about this. Reichenbach by contrast with the logical positivists averred that instead of talking about truth we talk about probability. This would rule out certainty with respect to the protocol language, whence the need to revise the doctrine. 

Interestingly, Reichenbach notes that it was the issue of probability that distanced the Berlin logical positivists from the Viennese logical positivists. The Berlin people thought that *prediction* could not be addressed within the framework of a logic that reduced to tautologies. What Reichenbach did not appreciate, in my opinion, was that not only are statements of the future at issue, but so are statements about the past; and once you attempt to deal philosophically with the study of history you are no longer in the realm of strict causation. There are symptoms of that  which the positivists glided over. 

One symptom is that contexts of discovery and contexts of justification were sharply distinguihed. The former became a purely psychological matter. Discoveries could not in principle be predicted and might be arrived at in dreams etc. But I think this is symptomatic of a weakness in positivism as providing us with a world view. When we construct a theory we give reasons for making certain moves. This is particularly evident in "miniature" when an investigator constructs a theory as to how a crime occurred. He gives reason for why a person MIGHT have done such and such. Coming up with a prediction of the investrigator's inferences does not fall within the purview of physical science, whence the need for the positivists to jettison the signficance of the context of discovery. Herein lies the real substance of what I am after; it cannot be artlessly dismissed without great loss. 

According to Reichenbach, Carnap accepted the criticisms of the protocol language and made it a subdomain of the physical language; "logical positivism" became "logical materialism," just another variant of an old idea. I don't think Carnap was "eager" to do this; he was just being honest. In their later years, I think both Russell's and Carnap's philosophies became a wee bit sterile owing to their faith in materialism. 

I'm going to defer comment on the synthetic/analytic distinction. I'm not sure how important it actually is. What is important to philosophy is the alleged nonexistence of the synthetic a priori. Retaining or rejecting the synthetic/analytic distinction is not as important as, say, definining numbers in terms of classes etc. inmy opinion. 


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Roger Bishop Jones" <rbj at rbjones.com> 
To: Baynesr at comcast.net 
Cc: hist-analytic at simplelists.com 
Sent: Friday, September 18, 2009 4:36:00 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern 
Subject: Re: Metaphysical Positivism v. Critical Rationalism (Jones v. Frederick) 

On Friday 18 September 2009 12:50:46 Baynesr at comcast.net wrote: 

> I thought that in view of 
> the fact that the topic is rationalism, of a sort, you might be amused by 
> the following quote. 
>"It may be regarded, afdter a fashion, as a modern fulfillment of Descartes' 
> quest for an absolutely certain basis of science; and indeed Carnap's 
> theory is reminiscent of Descartes' rationalism in more wayst than one. 
> Reichenbach ("Linguistic Empiricism in Germany and the Present State of the 
> Problems" in JP. xxxiii, no. 6. March 1936, p.149." 

It would be interesting to know which of Carnap's theories he was 
talking about.  The Aufbau? 

>There was no one who displayed more logical or mathematical rigour at 
> philosophy than Reichenbach. No one supported Reichenbach more strongly 
> than Reichenbach. In fact, Carnap had to modify some of his views owing to 
> Reichenbach just as he had to modify his views in light of Neurath's 
> criticisms regarding "protocol" sentences. 

Your phrase "had to modify" suggests that he did so reluctantly, 
but reverting to a previous topic, it seems to me that he was 
always eager to adapt his philosophy as a result of what he 
learned from others. 

>Just thought you might be amused: Carnap and Descartes; two peas in a pod? 
> So much for Hume! 

Personally I would not liken Carnap to Descartes, because Carnap, 
like Hume and even like Plato, had a better grip on the scope of reason. 
If you want an interesting comparison between Carnap and rationalist, 
then the comparison with Plato works much better, but I think the 
parallel is clearer still between Hume and Plato, and of course, 
though Carnap made little of it, Wittgenstein I believe observed 
that the things which Carnap thought he had takem from the Tractatus 
he could have found in Hume. 

Hume's fork, which is "essentially" the same as the analytic/synthetic 
which was very important to Carnap, was pretty much the same distinction 
as that in Plato between the "real" word of Platonic forms and the 
shadowy world of appearances.  They disagree about which of these two 
is "real" (or for Hume, factual), but they agree first in drawing a 
fundamental distinction on the basis of the subject matter, and 
secondly that knowledge is confined to that of platonic forms 
(relations between ideas), and that our beliefs about matters of 
fact (the world of appearances) are mere opinion 
(epistemically unjustified habits for Hume). 

So Hume had this extremely positive opinion of deductive methods, 
and negative view of induction (or any other way of obtaining 
factual conclusions), which seems odd for an empiricist. 
With not quite the same scepticism this is echoed in Carnap. 
This is why I view Hume and positivism as having been a first 
attempt at a synthesis between rationalism and empiricism 
(even though one can also see positivism as a specially radical 
form of empiricism). 
Logical Positivism is another attempt at such a synthesis, 
in which necessary/analytic judgements have a greater role 
than in Hume as a result of the advances in logic. 
The shift from Hume to Carnap is also one from a philosopher 
who (despite his scepticism) modelled philosophy on the empirical 
(natiural) sciences, to one who modelled philosophy on 
demonstrative science, so from this point of view it is a 
second attempt at sythesis between rationalism and empiricism. 

Metaphysical Positivism is another attempt at finding the 
right analysis of the respective roles of deduction and of 
empirical observation in the establishment of knowledge. 

So far as I understand it, Critical Rationalism, seems to me 
a regression to the kind of rationalism of which Descartes is 
an example, in which there is no clear conception of the scope 
of reason, and hence a tendency to approach by deductive 
arguments conclusions which cannot properly be demonstrated. 

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://rbjones.com/pipermail/hist-analytic_rbjones.com/attachments/20090919/6e6553b3/attachment-0002.html>

More information about the hist-analytic mailing list