Philosophy | Seminar Topics in History of Philosophy
P710 | 15120 | Ebbs


Topic: Rudolph Carnap and W.V. Quine

Rudolf Carnap was the greatest and most influential of the logical
positivists. His systematic rejection of traditional metaphysics had
a deep influence on the practice of analytical philosophy in the
1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s.  In 1934, using terms that W. V. Quine would
later appropriate, Carnap boldly asserted that “our own discipline,
logic or the logic of science, is in the process of cutting itself
loose from philosophy and becoming a properly scientific field, where
all work is done according to strict scientific methods and not by
means of ‘higher’ or ‘firmer’ insights.”  (Carnap, “The Task of the
Logic of Science”, p. 47)  Quine embraced the scientific spirit of
Carnap’s philosophy but rejected Carnap’s idea that logical truths
are analytic, or true in virtue of meaning alone. Quine’s deep and
systematic criticisms of Carnap’s attempts to clarify this idea
persuaded many analytical philosophers in the 1960s and 1970s to
embrace scientific naturalism, which still shapes some of the best
work in metaphystics and epistemology.  The debate between Carnap and
Quine is fascinating and well worth studying, thanks to the high
quality of the arguments on both sides, the intrinsic interest of the
issues at stake, and the light the debate sheds on many issues that
are still central to analytic philosophy today.  The goal of this
seminar is to get to the heart of the deepest issues at stake between
Carnap and Quine, by comparing and evaluating their views of the task
and methods of philosophy, paying special attention to their
different views of (a) the sense in which philosophy should be “done
according to strict scientific methods and not by means of ‘higher’
or ‘firmer’ insights,” (b) the idea that a statement can be true in
virtue of meaning alone, and (c) the role of convention in
mathematics, logic, and scientific inquiry more generally.