Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Date: Mon, 02 Aug 2004 14:55:02 +0200 From: Peter Kühnlein
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
Peter Kühnlein, SFB 360, Universität 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 Gödel 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 Übernahme 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:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Peter Kühnlein 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.