Anti-foundationalism and the Vienna Circle's revolution in philosophy.
The Vienna Circle claimed to have effected - or at least to have tried to do so - a radical reorientation of philosophy. If true, this claim is surely important. Yet nowadays there is a tendency to minimize the Circle's revolutionary rhetoric and regard it as a clever marketing ploy. I suspect there is more to the claim than is often realized. To start with, the Vienna Circle was not a monolithic movement of foundationalist philosophers, but rather a forum in which the proper nature of the philosophy or theory of science was the object of discussion. Spelt out, this thesis becomes three. The first is that the Vienna Circle was not a monolithic movement, but comprised quite different, even incompatible approaches to the philosophy of science. The second is that it is false that all these philosophies rehash traditionalist foundationalist epistemology. The third thesis is that in the Vienna Circle the very nature of philosophy was in question. With the latter thesis, of course, we touch on my leading theme. To appreciate the radical nature of the Circle's reorientation of philosophy, we do well to sharpen thesis two to the effect that none of three main protagonists Schlick, Carnap, and Neurath was foundationalist in anything like the traditional sense. Having argued that case, I will briefly compare the two types of revolution on offer and go on to explore Carnap's and Neurath's left-wing version.
2 Interpretative background
Before turning to the evidence for my claims, let me indicate what interpretations they rule out. Clearly, according to them, Vienna Circle philosophy turns out rather different from what it is commonly presumed to be.(1) Surprisingly enough, our theses contradict not only the simple-minded portrayals of the Vienna Circle current in the potted histories with which many writers nowadays tend to preface their own new work, but they also stand in considerable tension with previous sketches by more or less sympathetic contemporaries. Why that should be so is an interesting question all by itself; here it must suffice to note that both A.J. Ayer and W.v.O. Quine managed to muddle the already murky waters of the Circle's provenance - consider the nearly free-for-all genealogy presented in the 'manifesto' (Carnap, Hahn, and Neurath ) - by reading the background of their own tradition into the philosophies they encountered during their visits to Vienna. That the current image of the Circle amounts to little more than a version of British empiricism prettied up by the then new tools of formal logic is surely due not in the smallest part to the conceptions of epistemology conveyed in Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic () and combated in Quine's 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism'  and 'Epistemology Naturalized' . Both overlook the variety of approaches to the theory of science espoused by the Circle and wrongly attribute foundationalist intentions to the approach they present as the Circle's. It is no mere coincidence then that for both the Viennese revolution in philosophy amounted to little more than the pursuit of a particularly hard-headed, namely verificationist, version of reductionist empiricism.
I should note at once that I record this without indignation. For it is also a fact that philosophers much closer still to the Vienna Circle than its English and American visitors had difficulties in appreciating the distinctive perspective I wish to focus on. Thus in 1930 Carnap felt compelled to point out to Reichenbach in the course of their discussions of editorial policy for Erkenntnis (the journal about to be launched jointly by them as representatives of the Berlin Society for Empirical Philosophy and the Vienna Circle): 'All of us here are of the opinion that philosophy at present is at a decisive turning point, that it is not a matter to continue the philosophy done up to now in a somewhat improved, more careful fashion.'(2) Clearly, the nature of that turning point was a very subtle matter. Given that, in fact, not even the Circle's protagonists wholly saw eye to eye on this issue, which for ultimately political reasons was rarely addressed in publications, I should also add that my reconstruction aims to focus precisely on what they would have discussed on that 'free afternoon' during which philosophers commonly hope to sort out their most closely held theses. Theirs never came.
3 The problem of Vienna Circle anti-foundationalism
Let's begin our alternative picture by attending to the variety of Vienna Circle philosophy. One of the most striking examples of this variety is presented by the Circle's notorious protocol sentence debate. The leading question of that debate was: how should we conceptualize the empirical basis of science? Once we give a detailed analysis of that debate we find that the main protagonists Schlick, Carnap, and Neurath were at odds on quite a number of important issues. Not only did they have quite different ideas of the form, content, and status of the evidence statements of science, but they had quite different things in mind when it came to the project they all seemed to share, namely, to develop a 'scientific philosophy'.(3) As a result, we can now look back and savour the 'irony' that they ended up (at least temporarily) accusing each other of jeopardizing what they set out to defend: empiricism. The obvious examples here are Schlick's attack in 'The Foundation of Knowledge'  on the physicalists Carnap and Neurath, and Neurath's response 'Radical Physicalism and the "Real World"' . We may add that in their correspondence Neurath also did not shy from accusing Carnap of jettisoning empiricism.(4) Carnap in turn, of course, would not accuse anybody but merely claim to fail to understand what was being said due to his opponents' lack of clarity.(5) Such disagreements surely indicate that the Circle was anything but monolithic: even though the disputants were overreacting, they obviously had different ideas of the 'scientific philosophy' that was to replace traditional philosophy. (I will return to this point.)
This gives us reason to think that perhaps not all members of the Circle were foundationalists. But what grounds are there to argue that none of the Circle's main protagonists was foundationalist? There is, first of all, Neurath's broadly coherentist conception of justification - so well captured in his boat metaphor and so confusingly rendered in his own proposal for the form and content of protocols.(6) Then there is the later - i.e. the post-Syntax (c. 1935 onwards) - Carnap who assigned it to science to tell us what the set of observable predicates was to be with reference to which all theories and hypotheses were ultimately to be tested ([1936/37], p. 13). Similarly, the middle Carnap (of late 1932 to 1935) allowed, Popper-style, that just about any scientific statement could serve as the test-statement for theories and hypotheses - even statements about unobserved phenomena (, p. 467). Clearly, these two Carnaps can hardly be called foundationalist. Of course, these facts do not establish that none of the Circle's protagonists was foundationalist. There are the difficult cases of Schlick and the Carnap of the Aufbau. Their apparent foundationalism has prevented many readers from realizing the radicality of the Vienna Circle's challenge to traditional philosophy.
Before considering Schlick and the early Carnap, however, we must note that the situation is complicated by the fact that, of late, foundationalism comes in variants of different strength, two of which are of interest to us here. Foundationalism generally can be defined as the view that all knowledge claims can ultimately be decided by reference to statements belonging to a class the members of which can be decided on their own, that is, statements which are non-inferentially justified. There is the classical Cartesian version that demands that these foundations be certain and incorrigible and that our decisions about these statements and our resultant beliefs be infallible. Then there is the contemporary modest version which holds that the foundational statements need be only prima facie true, like our beliefs about them. (Fallibilism is no longer the exclusive province of anti-foundationalists.) The traditional interpretation of the Vienna Circle, of course, portrayed them as more or less classical foundationalists. Discussing the matter nowadays, however, we must also take account of the possibility that the Circle's members were modest foundationalists.
But that is not all. We must also draw yet another distinction between different senses of our key term. So far we have considered foundational-ism as a thesis of the structure of justification: foundational beliefs are non-inferentially justified. Different from this structural approach to epistemology is the view that assigns a foundational role for epistemology itself in the defence of our view of the world, in particular science, 'as a whole' against sceptical attack.(7) I will call them the 'plain' and the 'metatheoretical' senses of foundationalism. Like the first, this distinction is required by contemporary epistemology. For instance, there are contemporary positions such as naturalistic reliabilism which espouse plain foundationalism without hankering after the corresponding metatheoretical ambition to answer the sceptical challenge directly. The question thus also arises whether Schlick and Carnap were both plain and metatheoretical foundationalist or just one of the two or neither. Needless to say, the traditional interpretation does not draw this distinction and does not recognize mere 'plain foundationalism'. Yet the distinction must also be used with care: ascriptions of foundationalism in precisely these terms carry the burden of being able to prove that these writers made the distinctions presupposed by this contemporary taxonomy. These conditions are not met, as we shall see.
4 Schlick's theory of affirmations
As I already noted, Schlick wrote papers like 'The Foundation of Knowledge' - surely, one might think, a dead give-away. But matters are not so easy. In fact, it is not at all clear what function these 'foundations' had for Schlick. Consider his stance on the issue of the content, form, and status of scientific evidence statements. Instead of resting with fallible and hypothetical protocol statements, Schlick developed the concept of 'affirmations': they had the form 'Here now blue' and were accorded the status of certainty. What is puzzling about these affirmations is their problematic relation to the protocols: as Schlick himself conceded, they do not 'found' them by conferring their certainty on them. Of course, we could say that this simply means that in the course of the epistemic ascent noise enters and absolute certainty gets lost. But that is not the problem. Note that Schlick attributes to the affirmations a certain, as he puts it, 'characteristic of immediacy ... to which they owe ... the value of absolute validity and the disvalue of uselessness as an abiding foundation' (, p. 386). What kind of foundationalism, we are prompted to ask, is this?
One may be tempted here to save Schlick from himself by reading his affirmations as indexical statements.(8) The problem is that indexical beliefs are not necessarily true. Schlick's insistence on 'absolute validity' seems misplaced. On the other hand, one may be tempted to read affirmations as somewhat ill-chosen devices intended to represent foundations for knowledge that are not part of knowledge itself (perhaps in the form of information-carrying but non-cognizable states of the organism or of non-propositional states of acquaintance).(9) Here the problem is that it becomes mysterious why Schlick should have strained as he did to make their conceptual content intelligible (as rules of an alternative language). Moreover, it is not clear whether it makes sense to attribute 'absolute validity' to merely information carrying but non-cognized or outrightly non-propositional states of an organism. Both indexical and non-cognitive interpretations of affirmations would thus seem to conflict, despite their ingenuity and independent plausibility, with Schlick's credo in 'The Turning Point of Philosophy' that 'the concept of probability or uncertainty is simply inapplicable to the acts of giving meaning, in which philosophy consists' (, p. 159). Now this credo holds, I believe, the key to Schlick's theory of affirmations. Here Schlick not only indicates the task of philosophy after its 'turning point', but also suggests the point of the certainty which affirmations are said to possess. Affirmations are statements outside of the language game of science, they pursue a specifically philosophical intention - albeit not that of epistemically grounding scientific knowledge claims.
Yet another interpretation pursues this hint (though it also will not save his theory from ultimate incoherence). This interpretation reads Schlick's foundations not as epistemological but rather as semantic or meaning-theoretical ones. A first approximation of it would be that affirmations were to provide paradigmatic instances of language use for observational predicates.(10) This interpretation derives initial plausibility from Schlick's coda to the discussion with Hempel, 'On Affirmations' of 1935. There he wrote: 'Affirmations are verified in the true sense of the word - made true, that is - in that the correct signs (corresponding to the rules) are employed in them' (, p. 413, his italics(11)). According to the 'logical rule' applying to them, 'a false affirmation is always a lie' (ibid., p. 410). We must ask: what guarantees this infallibility? One way of achieving this would be by stressing the postulational nature of affirmations. Schlick's idea would then have been that affirmations serve to anchor the symbol system of science in experience by means of a private deixis: they provided foundations for the use of observational language with which the theoretical language was coordinated by convention. Of course, I need only recall Wittgenstein's considerations concerning the impossibility of a private deixis from only a few years later to indicate that, even on this interpretation, Schlick's position is highly problematic. Yet even if the difficulties arising from the implied reliance on the possibility of a private language are put aside, affirmations appear to be able to do only half the job required, since they are unable to ensure the continuity between foundationalist paradigm instances and ordinary language uses. Schlick freely admitted that the 'truth' of affirmations 'does not depend on how I have otherwise employed the words, but only on how I think at this moment that I have employed them ... I cannot be mistaken about that' (ibid., p. 412). This remark stresses, on the one hand, the non-inferential justification possessed by affirmations; on the other, this admission cuts the bond between the paradigm and the use it supposedly grounds. As characterized, the meaning-theoretical interpretation seems doomed as well. But perhaps we formulated its requirements too strictly: rather than fix language use, affirmations as semantic foundations may have a still more rarefied function to fulfil. What might that be?
Ever since his General Theory of Knowledge of 1918, Schlick had been sensitive to the problem of how an abstract symbol system, whose terms are only defined implicitly, could be connected to experience ([1918/25], pp. 36ff.). It was, I believe, with implicit reference to this long-standing concern that he wrote in 1934:
If we turn our attention to the connection of science with reality, and see in the system of its propositions what it really is, namely a means of orienting oneself among the facts ... then the problem of the 'foundation' will automatically transform itself into that of the unshakable points of contact between knowledge and reality.
Significantly, Schlick went on to state of '[t]hese absolutely fixed points, the affirmations' that '[i]n no sense do they lie at the basis of science, but knowledge, as it were, flickers out to them, reaching each one for a moment only, and at once consuming it' (, pp. 386-7). The old problem apparently is here being viewed from a new perspective that requires a new solution. That solution was provided by affirmations.
For Schlick, affirmations were to function as 'bridges' in parallel to those that connect an abstract scientific symbol system to reality - bridges of which in 1918 he had said that they were 'down' ([1918/25], p. 38). Of course, the bridges were not really down even then, for there were the coordinating (partial) definitions of central theoretical terms (otherwise only implicitly defined) in observational terminology.(12) Thus implicitly defined terms gained at least some of their meaning from the intuitively understood observational language. After 1926, however, when he adopted (following Carnap and Wittgenstein) the structural conception of meaning, Schlick denied there to be any communicable meaning besides that expressing 'purely formal relations': 'everything qualitative or related to content in our experience must for ever remain private and can in no way be known in common to many individuals.'(13) The link of theory with experience had to be effected differently now that the common language of observation was viewed as equally owing its meaning only to its structural, not its qualitative properties. Schlick hoped it was by means of his affirmations. That they did not provide enduring foundations in either sense (they possessed no temporal duration and could not ensure constancy of language use) was just the price that had to be paid - indeed, it was to be expected that such price was incurred. Schlick's affirmations 'showed' what could not otherwise be specified: the relation and relatedness of our ideas to the world they are supposedly about.(14) Viewed in this quasi-Tractarian sense, affirmations may well be dubbed 'meaning-theoretical foundations', for they link up with the requirements of the correspondence theory of truth, which Schlick sought to defend against Neurath and Hempel. Affirmations afforded what any version of the correspondence theory of truth demands, but what notoriously cannot be recovered by talk of 'comparison' or in conceptual terms at all: the confrontation with unconceptualized reality. Affirmations provided the medium for the confrontation of proposition and fact.
Yet it may be wondered whether this semantic bridge-building is not after all also epistemologically important. Schlick's focus on the self-declaredly 'psychological issue concerning the foundation of all knowledge'(15) makes his affirmations rather unlikely candidates for metatheoretical epistemological foundations. Standing 'in time at the outset of the process of knowledge, they are logically of no use'; standing at the end as completing 'the act of verification (or falsification) ... [n]othing else is logically deduced from them' (, p. 382). In short, affirmations 'do not occur within science itself, and can neither be derived from scientific propositions, nor the latter from them' (, p. 407). Since they cannot serve as premisses in a deductive or inductive argument, they cannot serve in discursive justification, in argument. Thus they can hardly justify science and so provide metatheoretical justification.
Yet could affirmations nevertheless still function as 'plain' epistemological foundations? This possibility is ruled out when we think of justification as an essentially argumentative, discursive structure. But need one take this view? So-called 'externalist' theories of knowledge can be read as denying this view of justification, if it is understood to represent what is available to individual subjects. For Schlick, however, it was essential that affirmations are subjectively accessible. They cannot therefore be considered 'plain' epistemological foundations in the currently accepted sense, which abjures not only the certainty of justification, but also the necessary accessibility of whatever it is that makes them justifiers in the first place.
So the interpretation of Schlick as an epistemological foundationalist is by no means obligatory. Indeed, it would seem that there remains very little reason to read him so, be that of the traditionalist or the currently fashionable naturalistic varieties - were it not for his insistence that affirmations are involved in the processes of verification and falsification. But here we must remember that this involvement was not, as we saw, one of providing justification for scientific knowledge claims. Rather, it was their task to provide the medium of correspondence truth. Thus affirmations are indeed involved in verifications, but not in an epistemological but a semantic capacity, however peculiar. Rather than fix language use, they showed what could not be spoken of. Their certainty was not cognitive, but experiential: as meaning-theoretical foundations affirmations afforded tokens of the elusive confrontation of thought and reality - but that was their quasi-Tractarian point. (As Schlick had already indicated in 1930, the 'ultimate foundation of knowledge' was reached by 'the acts of giving meaning, in which philosophy consists' (, p. 159).) I conclude that, at a minimum, epistemological anti-foundationalism represents a viable interpretation of Schlick's theory of affirmations.
5 Carnap's methodological solipsism
Now consider Carnap's Aufbau. The Aufbau, you will recall, sought to develop a genealogy of empirical concepts that rooted them in the phenomenal given. Like Schlick's project, Carnap's sounds foundationalist. But Carnap himself, for instance, frankly admitted that he helped himself to the results of science in the course of his construction of the genealogy of empirical concepts and that his reconstruction of scientific knowledge claims does not therefore provide their non-circular justification (, Section 106). This suggests that he was not interested in providing epistemological foundations either. Rather, he was trying to make intelligible - or 'explicate', as he would later put matters - the idea of objectivity that underlies scientific practice. Scientific objectivity was reconstructed as intersubjective agreement rendered possible and systematic by the structure and logical form of the linguistic medium of knowledge claims.(16)
But what about the Aufbau's 'methodological solipsism', Carnap's choice of a phenomenalist base for his genealogy of concepts? Did he not hold that all scientific statements will in principle be decidable by reference to an individual's experiences (in so far as the individual has the relevant experience)? You may well say, if this isn't foundationalism, then nothing is. Fair enough: in some respects the Aufbau is compatible with foundationalism. Not only, however, did Carnap not provide for unconditional certainty - his conceptual reconstruction was contingent on the truth of the scientific theory he relied on (we might think of this as modest foundationalism) - but the question is whether foundationalism was of major concern to him at all.(17) In this respect we note first that Carnap himself stressed that a constructional system, a genealogy of concepts, could be built on different types of base, the phenomenal one being only one possibility. Of course, one could be a physicalist foundationalist. But notice that when Carnap dropped his 'methodological solipsism', he dropped all seemingly foundationalist ambitions. As we saw earlier, after 1932 observation statements no longer formed a class of statements decidable on their own: whether a statement was to count as a protocol itself depended on scientific considerations. Was this just an (over-) reaction prompted by the frustration of foundationalist designs? When Carnap did drop methodological solipsism as his preferred exposition of the method of rational reconstruction, he nevertheless expressly reserved the right to design logico-linguistic frameworks in any way he pleased by invoking the principle of 'logical tolerance'. Carnap never regarded methodological solipsism as refuted in principle, he simply no longer worked with it. This would be a surprising reaction for a frustrated foundationalist and is more consistent with 'explicationism' as the operative motive already in the Aufbau. We need not postulate a sharp break in Carnap's thinking.
Still, you will rightly object that I have not yet explained why in this book Carnap declared 'natural' the assumption of the epistemic priority of the autopsychological (, Section 66). All the statements an individual can decide can be decided on the basis of whether there obtains a specified relation of recollected similarity between certain experiences. Since these matters are decidable on their own (without reference to yet further beliefs), was it not precisely the foundationalist idea that Carnap declared 'natural'? Here we must consider what Carnap means by 'natural' and what he took himself to be doing. If we grant, as I think we should, that explication was already Carnap's game in the Aufbau, then Carnap's choice of the phenomenalist base can be explained from his dialectical situation. If explication and logico-linguistic construction are to replace traditional philosophy, then one way to start this reorientation is by showing what would become of epistemology in this new perspective. The more of traditional epistemology that can be so recast, the better: Carnap thus accepted the 'natural' assumption of traditional epistemology simply in order to ply his new explicationist trade in a setting that would allow fellow philosophers to appreciate more clearly - so he thought - what was at issue in the reorientation of philosophy which the Vienna Circle urged. According to this reading, then, Carnap was a foundationalist neither in the classical nor in the contemporary sense, for while his construction was in some sense compatible with foundationalism, his point lay elsewhere.(18) To put it briskly: an explicationist does not seek to show that science is up to philosophical conceptions of knowledge, but rather what scientific knowledge claims come to on their own terms (and what other forms of expression might be available).
Again, however, we must ask in what sense the Aufbau is anti-foundationalist. Clearly, Carnap's admission that he did not provide a non-circular justification of science shows that he was not a metatheoretical foundationalist. But why should that rule out his being a plain foundationalist? Indeed, it might be argued that distinguishing between plain and metatheoretical foundationalism we can give Carnap the very freedom I argue he claimed, namely to explicate the logical structure of justification in any way he pleased - unfettered by concerns to justify science as a whole. We may even add that, unlike Schlick, Carnap even accommodated one version of externalism, since no claim to psychological reality attaches to his phenomenalist reconstruction of the context of justification. This would suggest that the Aufbau could be viewed as plain foundationalist in this particular externalist sense (internalism being characterized by the access condition, here violated). But is this description really appropriate? As in the case of Schlick, my resistance to the ascription of plain epistemological foundationalism to Carnap likewise is predicated on the demand that this ascription must be compatible with his own meta-epistemology.
We turn again to consider the conditions of plain foundationalism. How plausible would it be to divorce even this minimal foundationalism from what Michael Williams has called 'epistemological realism' (, Ch. 3)? Put very roughly, this is the view that, in so far as they succeed rationally, our justificatory ascriptions and practices recapitulate an objective order of reasons, an order that exists independently of our ascriptions and practices. (This view is opposed by contextualism.) Discussing this matter fully is out of the question here; it must suffice to note that I follow Williams in viewing 'substantive' foundationalist theories of justification as epistemologically realist. Unlike contextualist theories, which also decree that chains of justifications must come to an end, they postulate pre-existent, context-invariant orders of reasons. Since epistemological foundationalism does entail epistemological realism, it follows that a position that entails epistemological non-realism is incompatible with epistemological foundationalism. My argument against the ascription of plain epistemological foundationalism to the Carnap of the Aufbau exploits this thought.
Consider that Carnap's rational reconstruction of the conceptual edifice of science crucially relies on conventions at several junctures of his reconstruction.(19) These conventions play a part in the construction of the world of physics as well as in the construction of everyday visual things. They are not merely terminological, but constitutive for there being a unique external world (given the Aufbau's phenomenal base). They can be so without threatening idealism precisely because they are devices of rational reconstruction. Moreover, these conventions do not recapitulate a pre-existing order of reasons but rather create the context of justification for claims about that external world. I conclude that Carnap's conventionalism as evident already in the Aufbau undercuts the claim to epistemological realism. It follows that, once the commitment of plain foundationalism to epistemological realism is to be taken account of, attributions of plain foundationalism to the early Carnap miss the mark. (Correlatively, we begin to see the radicalism implicit in his 'explicationism'.) I conclude as in the case of Schlick that, at a minimum, Carnap's Aufbau to can be given a viable epistemologically anti-foundationalist interpretation.
6 Two types of philosophical revolution
This brings me to the third thesis. As I put it earlier, for the Vienna Circle the very nature of philosophy of science was in question. Here we must first note, in line with the thesis of the variety of Vienna Circle doctrines, that there is discernible not just one revolutionary impulse but several. We already saw that for Schlick philosophy became the 'determination of meaning' and of the connection between symbol systems and experiential reality, whereas for Carnap philosophy became 'explication' and the construction of logico-linguistic frameworks. As is well known, both Schlick and Carnap rejected the idea of philosophy as a 'supra-scientific' discipline that investigated the 'real nature' of things and determined the 'essence' of the phenomena that science merely ordered and catalogued. They rejected metaphysics for epistemological reasons as cognitively meaningless. But they also did not leave epistemology in its traditional setting. They operated from inside of science without pretence to answer the sceptic - as evidenced by their anti-foundationalism. Yet clearly, their new philosophies also differed from each other.
With Schlick and Carnap philosophy had taken the so-called 'linguistic turn'. In place of the mental processes of cognition - or some obscure real objects of scientific discourse - it was the forms of scientific representation that now stood in the centre of the philosopher's interest. Everybody in the Circle agreed that cognitive meaning is in some sense a matter of the logical form of the linguistic medium. The conflict between Schlick and Carnap may best be viewed as springing from their different attitudes to the Wittgensteinian thesis of the ineffability of logical form. As is well known, Schlick's thinking from 1925 onwards was deeply influenced by Wittgenstein (though he never became the expositor that Waismann became for a while and he retained a great many of his earlier views). Schlick accepted Wittgenstein's thesis that, given that meaning consisted in the sharing of logical form between sign and signified, logical form could not itself be represented - on pain of a never-ending regress. As a result, the new philosophy could not concern itself straightforwardly with the logical form of representations, but had to proceed more circuitously. To elucidate the meaningfulness of a symbol system, one had to turn to the very acts by which a symbol system was linked to the world of experience. Thus Schlick's conception of the new philosophy as experiential meaning determination ultimately brought forth his theory of affirmation.
Carnap, by contrast, was very unhappy with the metalogical conclusion which brought the paradoxical ending of the Tractatus in its train. Ever since the Aufbau - which itself emerged from a project begun before his association with the Circle and which, in his own estimation betrayed a merely superficial familiarity with Tractarian thought - Carnap sought to find ways of making logical form effable (a question the Aufbau had not asked).(20) He first thought he had reached this goal with his Godel-inspired Logical Syntax but following Tarski's work he turned to devising a succession of semantical systems, ultimately ending in the famous debate with Quine over, once more, the principle of logical tolerance. Unlike Schlick's, Carnap's new philosophy was strictly formalist.
What, by comparison, was Neurath's idea of the new 'scientific philosophy'? Neurath, of course, is famous for his militant 'anti-metaphysics' directed against 'school philosophy' and he is also known to have long been critical of Wittgenstein's 'obscurantism'. I have already noted his opposition to Schlick's affirmations (that it sprang from misunderstanding Schlick as an epistemological foundationalist is coincidental: he would have opposed it equally had he realized its Wittgensteinian inspiration). Yet as is also known, Neurath strenuously argued against Carnap's methodological solipsism, indeed did so with a private language argument of his own throughout 1931 and 1932.(21) For Neurath, methodological solipsism was still too 'philosophical'. He wanted to replace traditional philosophy at one stroke with what we nowadays would call a 'naturalistic' theory of science, a multi-disciplinary undertaking that encompassed logic and linguistics as much as it did history and sociology (and so went beyond's Quine's version of naturalism). Obviously then it was possible for Neurath's naturalism and Carnap's rational reconstructionism to conflict, as over the issue of the wisdom of producing methodologically solipsist reconstructions of scientific knowledge. But how deep was their conflict really?
Having strained in previous work(22) to differentiate the positions of Neurath and Carnap (too often conflated), I'd like to suggest here that Neurath's naturalistic position is best understood as a metaphilosophical relative of Carnap's explicationism. Like Carnap, Neurath believed in explicating scientific rationality from within. Where they differed was in the focus of their explicatory work and in the constraints they took themselves to be working under. Carnap focused on the logic of science, Neurath on the wider socio-historical theory of science. Whereas Carnap reserved the right to create whatever frameworks that were logically possible and investigate their potential to reconstruct the concepts of scientific discourse, Neurath sought to reign in this reconstructive freedom to the development of frameworks that were 'realizable'(23) in human behaviour and responded more directly to the exigencies experienced by the scientific community. Clearly, Carnap and Neurath would end with quite different theories, but their affinity should also be apparent.
We find then that there were two broad ways in which philosophy was called into question by the Vienna Circle's linguistic turn: there was Schlick's conception of philosophy as the activity of determining the meaning of symbol systems by exhibiting the vehicle or process by which such systems connect with experience and there was Carnap's and Neurath's conception of explicating logico-linguistic frameworks and their application in practical contexts. Either way, the linguistic turn was understood not merely as marking the use of new and fruitful tools and a correlated change in the objects of inquiry, but as part of the decisive reorientation of philosophy itself. I made such heavy weather of their anti-foundationalism in order to underscore that a number of facts assume greater significance it its light. Among these is the fact that their linguistic turn was more than an anti-psychologistic technicality but signalled a radical change of focus, in Dummettian terms, the ascendance of the theory of meaning over epistemology.
7 Vienna Circle constructivism
What then was so revolutionary about the Vienna Circle's anti-foundationalism? There was first their refusal to 'lord it' over science, to grant philosophy autonomous and privileged insight into the conditions of scientific discourse so as to adjudicate its knowledge claim by independent standards. (While the Circle were not the first to do so, they surely did so in the most spectacular manner.) Of course, this stance is hardly still revolutionary but, even so, it is nevertheless still controversial amongst philosophers at large (even among analytical ones). Whatever we may think of its novelty value today, in its own day the Circle by no means carried on business as usual. Despite superficial appearances the Circle did not engage in traditional epistemology.
But was that all? From what I said so far it follows that much of contemporary post-positivist philosophy of science has less cause to differentiate itself from its positivist pioneers than is commonly believed.(24) Both reject metatheoretical foundationalism. Yet there is also, I argued, the Circle's rejection of plain foundationalism. Schlick, we saw, turned to the quasi-existential quest of meaning determination, while Carnap and Neurath, each in their own characteristic ways, pursued the explication of linguistic frameworks and their application. The problem is that even if Schlick's efforts are viewed as here recommended we must conclude he failed, indeed had to, given his lingering Cartesianism and his acceptance of the Tractarian conception of philosophy as elucidation. Neurath and Carnap, increasingly so, did better on both counts. There is a sense in which they did not engage in epistemology at all - if by that we mean uncovering the pre-given justificatory structure of our belief system. (Schlick may well have tolerated such structures though he was no longer exercised by them.) To explore the Circle's revolutionary potential, I will thus focus on Carnap and Neurath, the Circle's left wing. Their rejection of traditional epistemology did not, however, entail a wholesale dismissal of concern with the conditions of scientific objectivity and knowledge claim acceptance. Rather, while they did not undertake to tell us what the true nature of justification was, they instead put forward proposals for how we might usefully could conceive of our justificatory practices concerning beliefs of knowledge claims.
This is, I believe, the most radical aspect of the left Vienna Circle's reorientation of philosophy. Whereas Wittgensteinians pride themselves on leaving 'everything as it is' and merely aim to show the way 'out of the fly-bottle' - and even though Schlick got stuck his project may also be so described - the Circle's left wing was activist. Neurath, Carnap, Hahn, and Frank were activist not merely in a political sense through their well-documented association with Red Vienna,(25) but they were activist also in a conceptual sense. Carnap and Neurath were not disingenuous when they spoke of their theoretical sketches as proposals. As one reinterpreter of Carnap put it succinctly, explications provide 'proposals for the refinement of language, not mirrors of the way it actually is' (Creath , p. 366). A student and collaborator of Carnap's puts it even stronger: 'For Carnap, deliberate choice of the syntax and semantics of our language was more than a possibility - it was a duty we owe ourselves as a corollary of freedom' (Jeffrey , p. 847). What I want to point to particularly is a thought hereby presupposed, and, I claim, shared by Neurath, a thought that seems often overlooked or merely taken for granted, but is worthy of attention in its own right. It is that, in a certain sense still to be made precise, our concepts are of our own making.
By saying that our concepts are of our own making I do not mean to deny that most of the concepts, maybe nearly all of them, are 'given' to us in that they are part of the language we have learnt (be it the natural language of everyday communication or specialized scientific sub-languages). But it is to insist that this inevitable embedding in tradition does not absolve us of what Neurath called the 'responsibility' for the concepts we use.(26) Conceptual change is in principle open to us. Moreover, inasmuch the use of concepts is embedded in practices, it is also the change of such practices that is in principle open to us. It is in the perception of the plasticity of the human world and of the role philosophy may play in such a setting that the activist vision consists which lies behind the Vienna Circle's challenge to the traditional philosophical super-science of essences. Note that this Vienna Circle constructivism takes us beyond historicism as commonly understood and that it takes seriously the voluntarist idea behind conventionalism. Note also that this constructivism does not aim to reduce scientific rationality to a play of external forces. Note finally that such a constructivism gives much-needed body to the idea that science and its philosophy is a productive force that can change the world we live in. For implicit in this vision is the view that our very ideas of knowledge, our epistemological concepts, have a history, that they have changed and can change again. (It is not just that our stock of knowledge claims changes.)
Consider some examples. Why did the later Carnap develop intensional languages? Because, he tells us, the sciences might find such types of linguistic frameworks useful . (We may note in passing that Quine again obscured matters by suggesting that his own canonical regimentation of the language of science differs from Carnap's project of explication on account of its pragmatic flexibility (, Section 33).) Consider next the reconstruction of objectivity as agreement in the light of intersubjectively available evidence. Did Carnap claim that this is what objectivity is (in and of itself)? Quite characteristically, Carnap does not lose a word in switching from talk of objectivity to (re)constructing the conditions of intersubjective agreement. That too may be understood as a proposal: let's think of scientific objectivity in this way and see whether anything else is missing! Finally, recall Neurath's own notorious suggestion for how to think of protocols. Neurath's protocols specified different sets of conditions on the acceptance of a statement as a scientific evidence statement and their interrelations (symbolized and hermetically encoded by the multiple embeddings of a simple observational statement).(27) Again, we may read Neurath here as making a proposal for reconceptualizing the idea of scientific evidence: let's think of the empirical base of science in this way and see how far we get. In all three examples then we have before us proposals: for concrete logico-linguistic tools and for understanding fundamental methodological concepts and for understanding their related practices. The assumption throughout is that it is our responsibility which tools we are using and how we understand our methodology - and that we may do well to effect some changes here and there.
What are we to make of this talk of 'epistemic responsibility'? Epistemic voluntarism has had a bad press for a good reason, but the fact that in the fewest cases we actually decide what to believe does not indicate that we never do so. Moreover, deciding or willing to believe is not at issue here. Rather, the question is of the categories in which we choose to think. Here, for instance, there is more room for decision and for considerations of whether given ways of thinking are, in a certain sense, appropriate. Given the Circle's rejection of supra-scientific philosophy, reasoned judgements about the appropriateness of concepts and cognitive procedures became part and parcel of the scientific work itself. Perhaps some readers may say: that's trivial - but it has been observed that 'philosophy consists in taking truisms seriously and squeezing depth out of them' (Bromberger , p. 116). Squeezing this one we very soon find ourselves knee-deep in the sociology of science, on the one hand, and something one might call the 'ethics of inquiry', on the other - as Neurath did . This suggests that we should view the proximity of the concept of epistemic responsibility to aspects of scientific practice and its commonsensicality in a positive light. Neurath's and Carnap's constructivist conception of philosophy of science was more closely related to scientific practice than is first apparent, partly because they themselves said little about it. (To take that relative silence at face value, however, would be to overlook that Neurath, for one, actively engaged in the organization of scientific networks: just think of the Unity of Science movement.) The left Circle's constructivist conception of philosophy of science thus tried to help account for and make intelligible - or at least make space for such accounts - not only the objectivity of scientific knowledge but also the attitudes, rules and institutions of scientific practice.
8 Applications and caveats
The new philosophy then consisted, by division of labour, in the forward-looking explication of formal logico-linguistic frameworks and of their application in practical contexts by a multi-disciplinary undertaking that encompassed logic and linguistics as well as history and sociology. Here the question arises: is this not simply to give up philosophy? Why should we consider this a reorientation of the philosophical enterprise, where is the continuity? This question can be answered exemplarily by showing how Vienna Circle constructivism is positioned on the issue of scepticism. One may of course ask what scepticism has to do with the philosophy of science - and I share this suspicion: I don't want to bring back the epistemological monkey we got rid of by deciding to explicate scientific rationality from within. The point is rather to try to show how the Circle's explicationism - and particularly the appeal to epistemic responsibility - can be related to what I think is a very fruitful way of understanding epistemological scepticism. This will not make explicationism into a straightforward answer to scepticism - luckily we need not square this circle - but it will show the continuity which critics of naturalistic epistemologies and, most likely, of constructivist explicationism allege is lost by straying from tradition.
So how may we see it as continuous? Let's first see how one might usefully look at philosophical scepticism. Viewed as a theoretical position, however low-level, scepticism can be uprooted by rejecting epistemological realism (Williams ). (As it happens, this rejection is implicit in Vienna Circle constructivism.) Following the Pyrrhonists' lead, however, we may also place the sceptical challenge in a pragmatic context. Once we do - and so enter the 'ethics of inquiry' (in Hookway's sense ) - we see that 'scepticism challenges the possibility of our participating in an activity', in particular, that 'sceptical arguments challenge our ability to preserve our rational autonomy while participating in enquiry' (Hookway , pp. 137, 144). Focusing on the requirements of responsible enquiry as the central concern rather than on justified beliefs has many advantages, but the question of the justification of beliefs is by no means irrelevant. This comes out strikingly with respect to cooperative enquiries. 'Unless I am confident that I am capable of knowledge, I cannot participate in cooperative enquiries in which others depend on my testimony' (ibid., p. 207). The response, common to several recent critics of scepticism, is to argue that we should resist the sceptics' globalism. All enquiry takes place in a context and with this context come presuppositions without which making that enquiry would make no sense. We cannot therefore be expected to justify everything at once. Moreover, once we view the sceptical challenge as one to our ability 'to feel that our inquiries are subject to rational self-control, that they are things that we can take responsibility for' (ibid., p. 237), we are free to count and build on the instrumental success of everyday projects and work outwards from there to assure us of the reasonableness of the presuppositions of certain enquiries. Significantly, the metaphor which Hookway invokes is Neurath's Boat: 'we have no positive reason for mistrust of our hope that progress in inquiry can continue; but we also have no conclusive or positive grounds which support it ... In that case, we might decide to orientate our inquiries towards local questions against the background of the ship which, so to speak, floats firm' (ibid., p. 239).
It won't surprise readers to be told at this juncture that I believe that the Vienna Circle's philosophy of science fits rather well into this picture. Their refusal to engage with traditional scepticism (and thus their disdain for the realism issue - notably while engaging with the question of the empirical basis of science) was complemented by a differently situated sceptical heuristic. They did not call the world into question so as to assure themselves of its existence after all or bemoan its loss, but they held it proper to question the appropriateness of our cognitive practices in this world. The Circle's 'response' to scepticism, if you like, was not limited, as often intimated, to its verificationist refutation as meaningless. The response of its left wing is profitably read as an original exploration of the Peircean idea of a theory of enquiry.
Before closing I should also stress, perhaps, that none of this is to argue that all is well with the received view or that its detractors can be neglected. (Once again, the Circle's anti-foundationalism becomes very important, for typically the received view wholly discarded the pragmatic dimension of constructivism and slipped back into traditionalist epistemology.) Nor need we be back, despite all the reconstructionism, with the analytic-synthetic distinction in the sense attacked by Quine. For all we have to do is to discard the attempt to see analyticity as epistemologically foundational. Neurath urged this against Schlick (, p. 104), and Carnap, released from foundationalism, was no doubt happy to agree with him there. For him, analyticity was primarily part of the technology of logico-linguistic reconstruction. Much of what's held fixed in any one activity could be thus formalized as analytic. But just as what's held fixed there can be scrutinized in another enquiry, so what's held to be analytic in one need no longer be so in another framework. Carnap's unperturbed response to Quine's challenge points strongly in this direction. Except for the extensionalist strictures Quine sought to impose on the canonical language of science, Carnap was happy to agree with many aspects of the former's empiricism without dogmas.(28)
Here we may note also what Philipp Frank - another left-winger - once remarked about analyticity:
Tautological sentences do not say anything about the world of experience, but only about the manner in which we designate experiences; they concern the relations between different designations of the same experience. But there can be no doubt that the designation of an experience is a process in the real world and that one cannot rule out from the start that the way of designation has an influence on the process in the real world (, p. 28, my translation).
Again, this points us to the pragmatic dimension of constructivism - indeed, its political dimension. This dimension is of great importance also for the controversial distinction between internal and external questions.
Carnap considered questions concerning the framework itself as external questions whose answers were not factual but depended on pragmatic considerations. Too often, this reference to the pragmatic dimension is discounted, received-view style, as pointing to their non-cognitive nature, placing the considerations entered into in the vicinity of poetry and metaphysics. What is overlooked is that 'pragmatic' for Carnap means simply that questions of which reconstructions to adopt fall outside of the logic of science strictly speaking. But this does not mean that there is no reasoning going into them. As Neurath put it in his characteristic way: 'That reason changes its a prioris, belongs to the history of science, not the logic of science' (, p. 657, my translation). It thus becomes, in part (without reducing it thereto), a matter of sociology. Again, it is of great importance to see that Vienna Circle constructivism need not limit itself to the Carnapian logic of science. That science is a social practice is precisely the basic idea Neurath sought to convey, and he first shifted the explicatory concerns to public entities like explicit observational knowledge claims of science. To delimit this practice - and consciously to shape it - was very much the task of the 'new' philosophy of science.
Confronted with the Circle's manifesto, Wittgenstein is reported to have remarked that its proclamation to have overcome metaphysics was hardly new and moreover needed to be executed to be taken seriously. What I've tried to show is that behind that proclamation - and attempted execution - stood a less clearly stated, yet equally important project of overcoming, namely, of overcoming epistemology as traditionally understood, and that, on this count too, the implementation of the programme had indeed begun. On my reading, the left Vienna Circle may be seen as having started a distinctively constructivist project.(29) I do not claim that they completed it, nor even that they assembled all the conceptual tools required to encompass what we nowadays call the 'material culture' of science. Nevertheless, to recognize that what prima facie appears as desperate framework-mongering on Carnap's part is really an admittedly remote, but still ultimately practically oriented pursuit - to provide 'tools for the workshop of life' as one might say with Neurathian pathos - is to place in a much widened context, not only Carnap's efforts, but also Neurath's more expansive comments. (For instance, Carnap's Aufbau not only provides a fascinating case study for the history of the development of the concept of objectivity, but can be viewed as a self-conscious making of that history.)(30) For the left Vienna Circle, science was part of the conscious Lebensgestaltung, the spirit to which Carnap paid personal allegiance in the Preface to his otherwise extremely impersonal Aufbau. For them, science was part of the construction of such forms of life in a double sense. Not only did one proceed scientifically, but science itself required conscious construction. A practice, once formed, must be reproduced. The left Vienna Circle sought to make a creative contribution to the reproduction of science. This was their alternative to the 'spectator view' of knowledge presented by traditional philosophy. Read aright, their project is still very much alive.
Versions of this paper were presented at the 1994 Annual Conference of the British Society for Philosophy of Science in London, at a conference on Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle in Toledo, Spain, at the 10th International Congress on Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science in Florence, and at colloquia at the University of Durham and University College London. I wish to thank all discussants, especially Christopher Hookway for his sympathetic criticism at the London conference, Barry Gower for his suggestive questions in Durham, and Colin Howson for comments early on.
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method London School of Economics Houghton Street London WC2A 2AE UK
1 That the conceptions of Vienna Circle philosophy current since the 'received view' was overthrown are less than faithful to the original is the common complaint of writers working on the rediscovery of the Vienna Circle that has burgeoned in recent years. (Note that it is specifically the Vienna Circle that I am concerned with, not early Logical Positivism in general which would include Reichenbach and the Berlin group.) For important articles in English see, for instance, the following collections: Rescher ; Wessels ; Fine, Forbes, and Wessels [1990/91]; Spohn ; Uebel ; Sarkar ; Bell and Vossenkuhl ; Stadler ; Salmon and Wolters ; Giere and Richardson [forthcoming]. Many more articles also appeared in regular journal issues and other collections. For recent book-length studies on various aspects of the Circle in English, see, for example, Rungaldier ; Proust ; Coffa ; Uebel [1992a]; Oberdan [1993a]; Cirera ; Cartwright, Cat, Fleck, Uebel ; Richardson [forthcoming]. The only reliable comprehensive monograph on the Circle is still only available in German: Haller .
2 Carnap to Reichenbach, 12 May 1930 [HR 013-41-64, Archives of Scientific Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh], my translation.
3 The analysis of the protocol sentence debate here relied on is that of Uebel [1992a].
4 Neurath to Carnap, 30 April 1934 [RC 029-10-71, Archives of Scientific Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh].
5 Carnap to Neurath, 2 March 1932, and Carnap to Schlick, 17 July 1932 [RC 029-12-60 and 029-29-09, Archives of Scientific Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh].
6 See Neurath  and, for interpretation, Uebel ([1992a], Ch. 11) and .
7 The phrase is Christopher Hookway's (, p. 466).
8 See Oberdan [1993a] and [forthcoming].
9 For the former version, see Lewis  and [forthcoming]; for the latter, see Gower .
10 See Uebel [1992a], Ch. 9.
11 Compare: 'The moment I so choose the rules [of my language] that they turn my statement into an affirmation, there ceases to be any possibility of regarding it as the expression of a hypothesis' (ibid., p. 412).
12 Ibid., pp. 78-9. On the changes between the first and second editions of General Theory, glossed over here, see Friedman , Howard , and Oberdan [1993b].
13 Schlick (, p. 102). Schlick cites Carnap and Wittgenstein in support in fn. 2 of this paper.
14 On this interpretation, P. Heath's translation of Schlick's formulation concerning the 'satisfaction of a genuine acquaintance with reality' (, p. 385, italics added) which affirmations provide for us, while literally disputable (the original 'Befriedigung echter Wirklichkeitserkenntnis' speaks of the satisfaction gained by 'genuine cognition of reality'), is most suggestive concerning the larger picture.
15 Schlick (, p. 407). Schlick noted that affirmations provide the 'occasion' for formulating scientific statements and provide their end in as much as they find their 'true mission' in the 'sense of fulfilment' they give (, pp. 381-2).
16 Ibid., Sections 15-16. This point has been made by several authors, most forcefully perhaps by Friedman  and .
17 Hamilton rightly calls the Aufbau 'a work of transition' (, p. 134), but its peculiar melange of 'empirio-critical positivism' and 'linguistic relativism' is already, I shall argue, divested of the philosophical ambitions of both plain and metatheoretical foundationalism. For a list of the divergent influences upon the Aufbau which have inspired reinterpretations of the work in their image see Moulines .
18 For a detailed refutation of a recent attempt to rebut anti-foundationalist readings of Carnap see Uebel [forthcoming].
19 This point is stressed by Ryckman , Friedman , Richardson , and Uebel ([1992a], Ch. 2).
20 This is a theme extensively explored in Coffa's work, e.g. .
21 See Uebel ([1992a], Chs 6-7 and 9-10), and, with a wider purview, .
22 Most explicitly so in [1992b] and [1992c].
23 Neurath , p. 3 ('unrealizable' ('nicht vollziehbar')).
24 There are more polemical ways of putting the same point, of course. Thus we may note (not without a certain 'reverse irony') that the rediscovery challenges the current orthodoxy of self-declared 'post-positivism' or even 'post-empiricism' at the core of its all too easy progressivist self-image.
25 See, e.g., Stadler , Dvorak , and Nemeth .
26 'It is, to start with, a nice result that scholars who are considering the fundamental concepts of their science do not seek the assistance of philosophers, but consider themselves competent and even personally obligated to engage in the clarification of these concepts and themselves to take responsibility for them' (Neurath , p. 699, my translation).
27 See fn. 6.
28 See Carnap  and (, pp. 915-22). The interpretative line adopted has been explored by Creath  and . The incongruities of Quine's seemingly anti-Carnapian campaign are discussed in Stein .
29 How this reading bears on the left Circle's standing vis-a-vis modernism and postmodernism - a theme raised by Putnam  and explored by Galison  and Rosen  - must be left open here.
30 For studies of earlier aspects of this history see Daston  and Daston and Galison .
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Uebel, T. E. [forthcoming]: 'Conventions in the Aufbau', British Journal for the History of Philosophy.
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Williams, M. : Unnatural Doubts, Oxford, Blackwell.
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|Author:||Uebel, Thomas E.|
|Publication:||The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1996|
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