Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 43, 2008

Philosophy of Natural Sciences

Robert G. Hudson
Pages 81-88

Carnap's Empiricism, Lost and Found

Recent scholarship (by mainly Michael Friedman, but also by Thomas Uebel) on the philosophy of Rudolf Carnap covering the period from the publication of Carnap’s’ 1928 book Der Logische Aufbau der Welt through to the mid to late 1930’s has tended to view Carnap as espousing a form of conventionalism (epitomized by his adoption of the principle of tolerance) and not a form of empirical foundationalism. On this view, it follows that Carnap’s 1934 The Logical Syntax of Language is the pinnacle of his work during this era, this book having developed in its most complete form the conventionalist approach to dissolving the pseudoproblems that often attend philosophical investigation. My task in this paper, in opposition to this trend, is to resuscitate the empiricist interpretation of Carnap’s work during this time period. The crux of my argument is that Carnap’s 1934 book, by eschewing for the most part the empiricism he espouses in the Aufbau and in his 1932 The Unity of Science, is led to a form of conventionalism that faces the serious hazard of collapsing into epistemological relativism. My speculation is that Carnap came to recognize this deficiency in his 1934 book, and in subsequent work (“Testability and Meaning”, published in 1936/37) felt the need to re-instate his empiricist agenda. This subsequent work provides a much improved empiricist epistemology from Carnap’s previous efforts and, as history informs us, sets the standard for future research in the theory of confirmation.