Posts Tagged ‘Carnap’

Deflationism 101

December 17, 2007

In Kronecker we find the famous claim:

“God created the natural numbers (integers); fractions and real numbers, on the other hand, are the work of man.”

which Carnap translates as follows:

“The natural-number symbols are primitive symbols; the fractional expressions and the real-number expressions are introduced by definition.” (The Logical Syntax of Language, p. 305)

Maybe Carnap’s greatest achievement as a philosopher was his ability to remain totally unimpressed.

Biking philosophies

December 13, 2007

If Carnap and Quine had been the sorts of people to compete in various bike races, what gear would they have chosen?

Quine would have brought his dad’s bike to every single race, whether road or dirt, hill or track. Sure, he would have modified it every time, changed the handlebar here, the tires there. In fact, he would have even been willing to exchange the frame, in case he encountered a particularly recalcitrant route.

Carnap, on the other hand, wouldn’t even have owned a bike. He would have rented the latest specialty just fit for the particular route. He wouldn’t have minded that others made other choices – everybody gets to choose whatever suits them, as long as they don’t cheat. Of course, like Quine, he would have hoped that one day there would be a bike which worked best for all routes, but in the meantime he wouldn’t have settled for any one bike in particular. Different routes require different bikes.

The interesting question of course is this: who would have won more races?

Radical Freedom

December 2, 2007

Carnap is unlikely to be identified as an existentialist philosopher. In being a Logical Positivist, he clearly belongs to the “analytic philosophy camp”, even if most contemporary “analytic philosophers” do not show a great deal of respect for Carnap and certainly wouldn’t characterize themselves as logical positivists.

Existentialism, on the other hand, is clearly “continental philosophy”. So Carnap cannot be an Existentialist. But this is of course a classical case of forgetting what made philosophy in the first half of the past century an exciting activity, which it since has ceased to be. For back in the day, when you identified as an “analytic” philosopher, you were primarily talking to those philosophers you suspected not to be on your team. Today, when you say you are an analytic philosopher, what you mean is: let’s not even bother to read those other dudes.

So, non-rhetorically speaking: is Carnap an existentialist philosopher? Well, there are important existentialist themes in Carnap’s philosophy. Like the idea of radical freedom, which finds its expression in Carnap in the idea of Tolerance when it comes to adopting ways of speaking. Carnap understood that the search (in particular) for THE TRUE LOGIC was a hopeless endeavor, not because we are too dumb, but because there is no such thing as THE TRUE LOGIC. In fact, we are free to adopt whichever logic serves our purposes, provided we are clear about it.

But the point actually goes beyond that. Carnap strongly distinguished between theoretical questions and practical decisions. While theoretical knowledge can help you in your decision making process, no amount of theoretical knowledge can do the job of making a practical decision. That decision is still and forever up to you! Now, if that doesn’t sound existentialist…

Isolation never comes alone

November 14, 2007

“In our “Vienna Circle”, as well as in kindred groups (in Poland, France, England, U.S.A, and, among individuals, even in Germany) the conviction has grown, and is steadily increasing, that metaphysics can make no claim to possessing a scientific character.” (From the Foreword to Carnap’s Logical Syntax of Language, 1934).

This statement is of course philosophical, but also, crucially, political. Already in 1934, while still in Prague, Carnap is no longer looking for philosophical allies in Germany: if there are any, they are marginalized by the predominant metaphysical schools, in particular Heidegger’s (who had been the target of an extended polemic by Carnap a few years earlier). It is noteworthy that Carnap decides to list the countries where he hopes to find allies for his philosophical projects, rather than the groups themselves (such as the Lwow-Warsaw school of logic).

But just as Germany has isolated herself philosophically, as Carnap clearly wants to imply, Germany has also isolated herself politically.

dislike of

November 8, 2007

As previously noted on this blog, the index tends to be a good place to turn to when looking for unexpected sources of amusement in a book. This is from “Dear Carnap, Dear Van — The Quine-Carnap correspondence and related works”:

Hitler, Adolf: Carnap’s dislike of, 241; Quine’s dislike of, 260

Somehow this entry seems strangely redundant…