LINGUIST List 15.2204

Tue Aug 3 2004

Review: Philosophy of Language: Bonk (2004)

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  1. Peter K�hnlein, Language, Truth and Knowledge

Message 1: Language, Truth and Knowledge

Date: Mon, 2 Aug 2004 17:20:14 -0400 (EDT)
From: Peter K�hnlein <puni-bielefeld.de>
Subject: Language, Truth and Knowledge

EDITOR: Bonk, Thomas 
TITLE: Language, Truth and Knowledge
SUBTITLE: Contributions to the Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap
SERIES: Vienna Circle Institute Library 2
PUBLISHER: Kluwer Academic Publishers
YEAR: 2004
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-140.html


Peter K�hnlein, SFB 360, Universit�t Bielefeld

The book is a collection of 11 papers, all of which except one were
presented as talks at a symposium on Rudolf Carnap's philosophy in
2001. It is thus apt for students and professionals who are
specialising in any of the topics Carnap has dealt with during his
philosophical life. The papers are of interest not only for those that
are historically minded; they shed light on a diversity of systematic
issues as well.

The preface written by the editor offers a very good overview of the
topics that are treated in the collection. It can be used as an
excellent aid to navigate through the book. Here are short
descriptions of the content of each of the papers (I use single quotes
to indicate either quotations within quotations or else quoted
italicised words which are names, e.g. of books):

Ilkka Niiniluoto, in ''Carnap on Truth'', describes Carnap's changing
views on truth. He follows the path from early non-semantic attempts
to define truth all the way until he reaches Carnap's part in the
foundation of logical semantics. For this purpose he first sketches
the influence of Carnap's education on his early thought. He points
out that Carnap in his early days confused provability in a logical
system with truth; he shares the critique of Coffa (1998) in this
respect. But he insists that this early attempt of Carnap's to define
truth can be re-stated in a set-theoretical framework and therefore
praises him for paving the way for model theory. Niiniluoto traces
Carnap's further way by pointing out the influence that developments
like Schlick's empiricist version of a correspondence theory of truth
and Tarksi's truth definition had on his own thought. And he also
highlights the consequences that Carnap's philosophizing on truth had
in diverse fields of philosophy. An example is the distinction Carnap
drew between truth and confirmation in the philosophy of science.

Jan Wolenski's paper ''Carnap's Metaphilosophy'' starts with a
discussion of the notion of metaphilosophy. Wolenski ends up with the
definition that philosophy includes answers to metaphilosophical
questions (i.e., those with regard to the nature of philosophy). After
claiming that metaphilosophical questions are characteristic of
analytic philosophy (this surely is debatable - remember Heidegger's
''Was ist das - die Philosophie?'' as an extreme counterexample) he
introduces his view of Wittgenstein's ''Tractatus'' as containing
large parts of metaphilosophy along with philosophy of
science. Wolenski discusses the influence of Wittgenstein on the
Vienna Circle and the differences between W.'s and Carnap's views on
syntax and philosophy of science. His explanation of the absence of
metaphilosophical reflections in Carnap's late publications are
internal difficulties on the one hand, and the introduction of formal
semantics on the other. The editor was well- advised to order the
papers of Niiniluoto and Wolenski in the way he did, as there is an
obvious connection between these contributions in the common topic of
influence of G�del and Tarski on Carnap.

The papers by Thomas Mormann, Ulrich Majer and C. Wade Savage can be
seen as forming one block within the book. All of them deal with the
relevance and justifiability of the role that the Gestalttheorie plays
in Carnap's ''Der logische Aufbau der Welt''. Mormann and Majer defend
partly opposing views: while Majer claims that this role is a central
one in Carnap's philosophy, Mormann rejects exactly this claim. He
holds that the Quasizerlegung Carnap uses in his ''Aufbau'' has its
roots in his earlier papers on (synthetic) geometry. Its application
to sense perception seems to be but one way of setting up the system
for Mormann. Savage seems to take an intermediate stance, siding with
Majer with regard to the relevance of perception; he appears to hold,
more like Mormann, that for different purposes a different application
of the Quasizerlegung would have been possible.

Mormann, in ''Synthetic Geometry and Aufbau'', traces the core ideas
of Carnap's ''Aufbau'' back to his early writings on synthetic
geometry. To substantiate his claim he first gives an overview of
basic notions of synthetic geometry, then identifies the roots of
constitution theory in ''Der Raum'', and places the Quasizerlegung
within the framework of synthetic geometry. He finally defends the
''Aufbau'' against a couple of attacks.

Majer's paper has the complicated title ''Carnap's �bernahme der
Gestalttheorie in den 'Aufbau' im Lichte heutiger, vor allem
computationaler Theorien des Sehens'', i.e. ''Carnap's Inclusion of
the Gestalttheorie into the 'Aufbau' in the Light of Recent,
especially Computational, Theories of Vision''. It starts off with a
short reflection about the central claims and the fate of the
Gestalttheorie, but postpones pondering whether that fate infected
Carnap's Aufbauprogramm. Instead, he elaborates on the questions (a)
which main intentions led Carnap in the construction of the
''Aufbau'', and (b) which were the alternatives available as basic
elements for that program. He quotes Carnap from the preface of the
second edition of the ''Aufbau'' in order to answer the first question
(Carnap wrote that he actually wanted to construct a conceptual system
in the well-known way). This included the construction of higher-order
concepts from the immediately given. Majer argues that there simply
were no alternatives for the Gestalttheorie as a choice for the way
Carnap set up his ''Aufbau''. He ends up discussing a difficulties
that arose from this choice.

Savage's paper is simply called ''Carnap's 'Aufbau' rehabilitated''
and turns to Carnap's solution of the problem of (intersubjective)
language in the face of the Aufbauprogram that grounds all concepts in
subjective experience. He gives an admittedly fragmentary account in
the spirit of the ''Aufbau'', claiming that it is structural
properties of the way subjective experiences are related to each other
that are constant and that make the content of language
intersubjectively available. It is this feature of Carnap's program
that shows Carnap's Kantian ambitions to answer the question of the
possibility of objective knowledge. In defense of Carnap's choice of
the Gestalttheorie as a basis for the ''Aufbau'' (instead of a
physicalist inventory), he stresses that a phenomenalist account has
epistemic primacy. It hence is the sound basis for Carnaps program.

Chris Pincock's paper ''Carnap and the Unity of Science'' has some
relation to Wolenski's and Niiniluoto's papers in that Pincock
discusses Carnap's philosophy of science against the background of the
Vienna Circle. He does so after having worked out the distinction
between construction theory and special construction systems the are
proprietary to the individual sciences. I take Pincock as saying that
Carnap saw the unity of science as residing in the use of construction
theory without demanding anything stronger, i.e. without demanding the
use of a common construction system. Pincock seems to say that the
example given in the ''Aufbau'' is chosen by Carnap to construct
ordinary language, while other bases would have to be chosen to
construct the languages of sciences.

While the first papers more or less focus on the ''Aufbau'', Graham H.
Bird in his bipartite ''Carnap's Internal and External Questions'' is
primarily concerned with ''Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology'' (ESO)
and the various criticisms that have been launched against it. He
starts (in the first part) with an explanation of a fourfold
distinction between the internal and external Questions. Thereby Bird
shows that the critique raised by Stroud, who distinguishes only two
types of questions, is inadequate. He then turns to the famous
criticism by Quine. Bird sets out to show that Quine grossly
misinterpreted Carnap's position; he does so by showing that for
Carnap the internal/external distinction does not coincide with the
distinctions Quine shows to be untenable. He points out some subtle
positions in Carnap's ESO which, following him, Quine (and Hookway)
misunderstood. The second part is mainly devoted to the criticism that
is raised by Haack in ''Some Problems of Ontology''. Bird reconstructs
three arguments which Haack claims to find in Carnap's ESO (the
''category argument'', the ''criterion argument'' and the ''pragmatic
argument'') and sets out to defend the first of these arguments in
turn, while deying the ascription of the last to Carnap.

Thomas Bonk, in ''Scepticism Under New Colors? Strouds's Criticism of
Carnap'', again refers to ESO and Stroud's position towards it. Bonk
draws a picture of the latter that is a little darker than that given
by Bird in the first part of his paper. According to Bonk, Stroud
argued wrongly against Carnap's two strategies against scepticism in
ESO; he reconstructs Carnap's verificationism as being of a variety
that is immune against Stroud's attacks. The author then broadens the
perspective somewhat and another line of attack comes into sight: The
dependence (compare Bird's paper again) of the choice of a linguistic
framework on pragmatic reasons is itself taken to be a variety of
scepticism. As Bonk, of course, offers an interpretation of Carnap's
stance towards truth, it is worthwhile to read the paper of Niiniluoto
once again in this context. Again, the placement of this paper in the
volume proves to be well chosen.

The next papers, written by Jaakko Hintikka and Wolfgang Spohn, are
mainly concerned with the relation between Logical Empiricism and New
Philosophy of Science. Both papers aim at clarifying the relation
between both positions, identified by the names of Vienna Circle and
Quine, respectively. And both contain interesting assessments of that
systematic controversy that now seems to have turned into a historic
one. It seems the controversy becomes a systematic one again, if these
papers are right.

Jaakko Hintikka sets out to an enterprise of ''Squaring the Vienna
Circle with Up-to-date Logic and Epistemology''. Hintikka's idea is
that post-logical empiricist philosophy of science might to some
extent be mistaken in its foundations. He shows how Carnap (and the
other Vienneses) can be defended against the attacks by Quine and his
fellows. His main strand of arguments seems to be that with refined
logical tools many of the core ideas of the Vienneses could be recast
today, making them immune against the critique by Quine. Particularly
provoking and intriguing in the light of the previous two papers of
this volume is the claim that the argument for conflating analytic and
synthetic statements that was given by Quine was mistaken. A
characteristic quotation from the discussion is that ''[w]hat is
needed [...] is not distinction, but two distinctions instead of a
single one''. Hintikka merely sketches his ideas in this paper, but,
as can be expected by a paper from this author, already the sketches
are interesting to read.

Wolfgang Spohn in his contribution ''Carnap versus Quine, or
Aprioristic versus Naturalized Epistemology, or a Lesson from two
Dispositions'' continues the defense of Carnap against Quine. Spohn
begins with introducing his view of epistemology as the theory of
doxastic states and a distinction between what he calls ''unrevisably
a priori'' states and ''defeasibly a priori'' states. His argument is
that Quine's attack on Carnap works only with the former, but not the
latter type of a prioricity. Spohn concludes that the position he
defends is not exactly Carnap's own, but that it is not psychology nor
naturalized epistemology, and hence a defeat of Quine's attack that is
in Carnap's spirit.

The influence of Husserl on Carnap is the subject matter of Sahotra
Sarkar's ''Husserl's Role in Carnap's 'Der Raum'''. Insofar this paper
complements both that of Niiniluoto that focuses on the (Neo-)Kantian
background and that of Wolenski with its preoccupation with ''Der
Raum''. On the other hand it is in a line with Hintikka's and Spohn's
papers: the thesis ascribed to Carnap that is under discussion is that
''intuition [...] can be a source of synthetic 'a priori' knowledge.
Sarkar suggests that Husserl, not Kant, is the primary epistemological
basis for Carnap's early program (with a focal stress on
''epistemological'').

This should suffice as a sketch of the content of the book. Here is a
word on the editing: papers of such a high quality would have earned
more diligent proofreading. This does not reduce the importance of the
contributions; just the fun in reading them is a bit hampered. It
would also be preferable to have all the papers in English - although,
of course, a book on Carnap and the Vienna Circle can almost surely be
assumed to be read by a public with sufficient capabilities in reading
German. The arrangement of the papers is very thoughtful and gives a
proof of the editor's skills and insight into the connections between
the topics that are treated: it is easy for a reader to find these
connections once the arrangement is done, but difficult for an editor
to find an arrangement that allows for finding them.

In toto, the book is a must-have for anyone who is interested in (some
of) the topics mentioned in the description. And surely every library
of a philosophical or linguistic department that strives for
completeness not only in history of philosophy but also in systematic
questions should offer this volume for its clients.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 

Peter K�hnlein is a PhD student at the University of Bielefeld. His
main interests are philosophy of language and philosophy of science as
well as theories of reference and multi-modal dialog. He is research
assistant at the collaborative research center SFB 360.
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