[hist-analytic] Carnap and Grice and Absolutism

Roger Bishop Jones rbj at rbjones.com
Sun Feb 28 16:10:37 EST 2010

JL liked my introduction of "absolute" instead of the 
previous "dogmatic" as a label for the kinds of "minimalism" 
which we imagine Grice in opposition to, by contrast with 
Carnap's pluralistic ontological pragmatism, in which some 
minimalisation is undertaken without prejudice, as a matter 
of convenience for some purpose in hand.

However, since Speranza also spoke of "objective" I have to 
say that I think that a better term for the purpose, and am 
inclined to hold back "absolute" for some other more exotic 
purpose not yet exposed.

It is the hallmark of the kind of metaphysical ontology from 
which Carnap abstains that it claims that certain 
ontological principles are "objective" rather than 
"conventional".  i.e. in Carnap's language, that these 
truths are not internal to some "linguistic framework" but 
are in his term external.

Passing to the matter of "Extensionalism", Google seems to 
think the term scarcely used, by contrast with  
"Extensional", which has quite a complex variety of uses.

Three possible senses occur to me.

The first is the creed that we can do without any kinds of 
entity which are not extensional.  One might easily suppose 
from reading Grice that this was what he had in mind.  
However, I have to say that for my part I find this so 
implausible that I find it hard to believe that there ever 
have been such extensionalists, and am therefore lead to 
doubt that this could have been what Grice had in mind.

The second is the creed that we can do without primitives 
which are not extensional, i.e. that such intensional 
objects as we require are reducible to extensional objects 
in some way.

The third is the creed that in fact there are only 
extensional objects, together with what Russell would have 
called "logical fictions" constructed from extensional 
entities but having the characteristics of intensional 

I think it probable that the second thesis is true, but I do 
not know how this can be demonstrated conclusively.
It is not difficult to show how certain kinds of intensional 
objects can be defined in extensional languages, and I know 
of none which could not be so defined.  But I don't know how 
one could formulate and demonstrate a general thesis to the 
effect that intensional objects always are definable in terms 
of extensional objects.

Carnap argued in Meaning and Necessity that an extensional 
metalanguage would suffice for the intensional object 
languages which he deals with in that book, but I'm not 
aware of him having offered a more general argument.

So I think Carnap and I would are probably inclined to 
accept the second thesis, but not dogmatic, whereas Grice 
might be disinclined, but possibly also not dogmatic.

The third thesis is for Carnap and I in the domain of 
doubtful meaning.
This is the strongest contender for an interpretation of 
Extensionalism as one of Grice's demons, but there is no 
conflct with Carnap here.
It looks like Grice is not here intent on demonising any 
doctrine of Carnap, though there might still be a less 
demonic disagreement about whether a certain kind of 
pragmatic reduction is technically feasible.


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