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Faced with anti-foundationalist revisionism on part of recent Vienna Circle scholarship, veterans of the struggle against the so-called dogmas of logical empiricism could be forgiven were they to fail to recognize their old adversaries. Clearly everything depends on how the logical empiricists are read: their record does not speak for itself. That already in their day the logical empiricists faced the declaredly friendly fire that nearly sealed their fate suggests, however, that the reconstructive explication and contextualization required be exceedingly subtle. For if that fire really missed its target, then what was missed was something that escaped notice from close quarter. Perhaps no one of the logical empiricists places more challenging demands of this sort on their historiographers than the longest-surviving senior member of the Vienna Circle, Rudolf Carnap.

Alan Richardson's study of the philosophy of Rudolf Carnap faces these challenges head-on and wisely limits the scope of the analysis. The Carnap he reconstitutes is the Central European philosopher up to his maturity in the mid-1930s. The more than suggestive light that his analysis casts on the famous dispute between Carnap and Quine in the 40s and 50s is explored in the final chapter 9, but no adjudication is attempted. Richardson realizes that to extend the results of his study without further detailed analyses of the ramifications that Carnap's exile in America, with its switch of disciplinary contexts, had on his philosophy would be to commit in reverse the very mistake his own study seeks to combat: the neglect of the specific conditions of intellectual productions. It is not inconceivable, for instance, that Carnap's Problemstellung became once more ambiguous in the American context. Richardson rather concentrates on the context of Carnap's work that is most opaque to his Anglo-American readers, that of his early work The Logical Structure of the World or Aufbau (1928). This book was produced in an intellectual context different not only from that within which we tend to read it today, but also different from that with which Carnap's contemporary American critics read him.

Richardson begins by arguing convincingly that in the reading of Carnap familiar to us from Quine, an epistemologically foundationalist program is foisted on him that sits very badly with the actual text of the Aufbau. Carnap was worried about how something like an objective science could emerge from the experiences of individual subjects. His point was not simply to ground objective claims in experiences but rather to consider the objectivity of science as a distinctive cognitive achievement and to highlight the role logic plays in this. For Richardson, Carnap's early understanding of the problem of epistemology "has greater affinity to the Kantian critical philosophy than it does to foundationalisms of either the traditional empiricist or rationalist camp" (28). The differences of Carnap's from Kant's own program, especially as regards pure intuition, are, of course, "not trivial" but, Richardson notes, these are differences Carnap shared with "the most important" neo-Kantian approaches of the early twentieth century--commonalities easily lost on Carnap's foreign or later readers.

The problem the Aufbau set itself is, in short, to account for the concept of objectivity--not, that is, to presuppose such an account and see to it that its conditions are justified. Central to Carnap's account are the structures which the new logic makes available. Richardson gives a searching account of their intricacies by the means of which Carnap wishes to explicate the notion of objectivity, in chapters 2 and 3. He lays out the Kantian background for Carnap's project clearly in chapters 4 and 5 and Carnap's work up to the Aufbau in chapters 6 and 7. These complicated matters are rendered perspicuous by a combination of subtle analysis, judicious summary, and terse wit that builds an impressive narrative of Carnap's early development as outgrowing the neo-Kantian paradigm.

Importantly, Richardson's study investigates not only the rise but also the fall, namely Carnap's abandonment, of the program and model of the Aufbau. That fall had little to do with the failings rightly criticized by Quine. In the Aufbau, Carnap gave two accounts of objectivity as structure, and it was the tension between the conceptions of objectivity as the constructability of an intersubjective world of physics on the one hand and of "pure logical structure" on the other that ultimately led to Carnap's abandonment of the project. This tension was inherited from the neo-Kantians: already Cassirer's work, Richardson argues, was marred by the inability to decide between the conception of the synthetic a priori as the relative conventionalist a priori determinations that allow for the formulation of various theories and that of the synthetic a priori as a preformation of any rational thought. The critical point was that the former, non-apodictic, conception of the a priori appeared most responsive to modern theorizing, but no longer responded to the task of bridging the gap between the subject and the objective that the latter conception answered to. In the Aufbau, so Richardson, Carnap "maintained the neo-Kantian understanding of the general epistemological project but has lost the neo-Kantian transcendental perspective that motivates the project" (182).

The denoument follows in chapter 8. By the mid-30s Carnap gave up the attempt to answer questions concerning the conditions of the possibility of objective, empirical truth and no longer conceived of epistemology as having to account for the movement from subjective to objective. "If objectifying structure is logical structure, then presumably epistemology can fall in as a branch of metalogic dealing with empirical languages. But [Carnap's] Kantian question cannot be given an empirical answer" (204). Carnap's response was to stop asking that question, and epistemology become the purely formally oriented "logic of science"--bereft of precisely the foundationalist ambitions the ascription of which many of Quine's criticisms turned upon (as chapter 9 suggests)!

Richardson's book is rich in telling detail that will no doubt be debated in scholarly articles but must remain unreflected here where room remains only for one criticism and one warning. As told, Carnap's development appears to follow too exclusively an inner logic of its own; the critical input of his Vienna Circle colleagues is not sufficiently acknowledged as important. This is not to deny this inner logic altogether but to stress that its working itself out was substantially mediated by the discussions with colleagues and adversaries. The warning is that the importance that neo-Kantianism possessed for Carnap must not be taken to be typical for early logical empiricsts in general, especially not the members of the Vienna Circle (not that Richardson claims this). In fact, Carnap's ultimate rejection of the demands of that tradition may also be read as a convergence on his part with the partially distinct and pronouncedly anti-Kantian Austrian tradition of philosophy reaching back to Bolzano that informed the thought of his colleagues Hahn, Frank, and Neurath.

Is there a need for the explication of the advances and the contextualization of the failures of logical empiricism? That the point of such an endeavour need not be to excuse the latter, but to further reflection on the long shadow that logical empiricism has cast over analytical philosophy--and reflection on whether that is really as bad as sometimes suggested--that is shown by this book in exemplary fashion. It is but an added bonus that Richardson provides good reasons for optimism


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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:The Philosophical Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2000

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