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Philipp Frank’s decline and the crisis of logical empiricism

Abstract

The aim of the paper is to consider the narrative that Philipp Frank’s decline in the United States started in the 1940s and 1950s. Though this account captures a kernel of truth, it is not the whole story. After taking a closer look at Frank’s published writings and at his proposed book, one can see how he imagined the reunion of logical empiricism. His approach was centered on sociology and on the sociological aspects of science and knowledge. As I will argue, Frank’s longstanding interest in the reunion of the sciences and the humanities can be detected in his sociology and philosophy of science as well as in his reading of Carnap’s critique of metaphysics. But Frank’s intention was never fully recognized, partly due to the atmosphere of American philosophy and sociology in the second half of the twentieth century. As a result, his conception of unified science and logical empiricism died with him.

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Notes

  1. Neurath to Frank, November 18, 1944, ONN. On the Neurath-Carnap debate see (Reisch 2005: Ch. 10; Mormann 1999). ‘ONN’ refers to the Otto Neurath Nachlass (Wiener Kreis Archiv), Rijksarchief in Noord-Holland, Haarlem, The Netherlands. All rights reserved.

  2. Neurath to Frank, July 21, 1944, ONN.

  3. Carnap to Neurath, October 7, 1944, ASP RC 102-55-25.

  4. Nagel’s letter (November 16, 1944) to Morris is quoted by Reisch (2003: 208).

  5. Neurath to Frank, June 16, 1945, ONN.

  6. Frank to Neurath, December 15, 1945, ONN.

  7. Carnap called the group of Neurath, Frank, Hahn, and himself as “our quadruple” [“unsere Quadrupel”] in his diaries. See the entry from November 30, 1933, ASP RC 025-75-11.

  8. See further Howard (2003), Galison (1998). Alan Richardson (2012: 10–13) argued against the marginalization of Frank (especially in regard to George Reisch’s (2005) account). Cf. Richardson (2007). Though I do not want to state that Frank was not acknowledged and honored for some time in the U.S., there is really more to be said about him and his ‘marginalization’. I can just hope that what I offer here could serve as a starting point for what Richardson (2012) called ‘empirical history of philosophy of science’.

  9. Frank occupied, in fact, a notably good position to write about Marxism and official Soviet philosophy. With Richard von Mises and Max Born, he participated at the Congress of Russian Physicists in Moscow, August 1928. While there, he got to know Russian figures such as Abraham Ioffe, who was considered to be one of the most important Soviet physicists. Frank also maintained a good and close intellectual relationship with Soviet scientists: he wrote two articles (about hydromechanics and waves) for the Great Soviet Encyclopedia’s first edition (which he criticized highly in his book manuscript later). In 1960, his most important book, Philosophy of Science: the link between science and philosophy, was translated into Russian; 2 years later the Russian introductory essay was translated into English and published in Daedalus (see Kursanov 1962).

  10. Merton (1952: xviii) mentioned that sociology of science in the United States (during the Cold War era) was “tarnished for academy sociologists” perhaps because of its Marxists roots and linkage.

  11. See Mannheim’s various articles, such as “Competition as a Cultural Phenomenon” (page 194), “Historicism” (page 101), “The Problem of a Sociology of Knowledge” (page 177), all collected in Mannheim (1952).

  12. Nonetheless, as Bloor (2011b: 428) argued, even relativism was a common point for Frank (1951d) and the strong program. On Frank’s relativism see (Bloor 2011a; 2011b: Ch. 10).

  13. Frank was looking into textbooks and introductions to general science works in his earlier works too (Frank 1908: 394; 1946), and later he approved James Conant’s approach captured in Conant 1947/1951 and in the Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science. He (1951b: 41) wrote that “instead of a comprehensive history of science [Conant] suggested presenting typical examples of how scientific ideas and principles have originated and grown.”

  14. Frank actually showed in manuscript (SFV, 1.1.10) that the Soviets and Nazis supported the theory of relativity because of its usefulness for building bombs. Note also that in late 1945 he explained the reasons behind the delay of his Encyclopedia monograph to Neurath as follows: “[the delay was] caused by the explosion of the atomic bomb. I had to add to the galley proofs a new chapter on the ‘atomic power’ without which no American would have ever bought this pamphlet.” Frank to Neurath, December 15, 1945, ONN. See (Frank 1946: Ch. VIII). This might have been motivated by Conant (1947/1951: xii) who said in his very popular On Understanding Science that “[t]o write a book about science in the year 1946 without some consideration of the atomic bomb may seem the academic equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.”

  15. On December 2, 1952 Frank sent an invitation to Thomas Kuhn to participate in the organizing committee of a new research project on the “Sociology of Science” under the aegis of the Institute for the Unity of Science. Frank sent also an outline drawn up together with Ernest Nagel and Robert Merton. Kuhn started to write a response which, at first, was quite approving but in the course of time, after some drafts, become rather critical; in the end the letter remained unsent. The letters and the proposal are discussed in Reisch (2014 and forthcoming). This quite interesting piece of evidence and material for the relation of Kuhn and Frank escaped the attention of the secondary literature on Kuhn. The only exceptions (varying in their degree of elaboration) are the works of George Reisch and Wray (2015: 171), Fuller (2003: 210), and Isaac (2012: 220).

  16. See the advertisement of the Institute for the Unity of Science at the end of “The Variety of Reasons…” article, (Frank 1954: 145). Cf. Frank (1938: 391).

  17. Similar ideas were formulated by Frank (1956a/1958a: 17–18) later: “We all have noticed that the merely logical analysis fizzles out eventually and leads us to a point where we cannot even formulate satisfactorily the empirical criterion of meaning or the distinction between science and metaphysics. We have to take up with renewed energy the combination of the logical analysis with the study of science as an enterprise which is to serve a human and social goal.” (Emphasis added)

  18. A few years after the first edition of Suppe’s collection (1973) a long-running debate about the relation of history and philosophy of science began. See Giere (1973), McMullin (1974).

  19. See also Anne Siegetsleitner’s recent book (2014), cf. Nemeth (2003).

  20. For more on the moral attacks against Frank’s relativist claims and the debate between Horace Kallen and Otto Neurath in which logical empiricists were accused of being sympathetic to communism, see Reisch (2005: 310–312 and Ch. 9).

  21. On that see Reisch (2005: 324–329).

  22. Putnam was actually a student of Hans Reichenbach, who was considered to be a leading figure of the technical approach of analytic philosophy (even though he was also a leading figure in the socialist wing of the German Youth Movement in the early 1910s back in Germany). On Putnam’s (changing) relation to Reichenbach, Carnap, and logical empiricism see Putnam (2015).

  23. See the 1941–1945 letters between Frank and Neurath in the Neurath archive under the number “237”.

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Acknowledgements

Many thanks for the helpful comments, questions and papers to David Bloor, Hans-Joachim Dahms, Christian Damböck, Tamás Demeter, Gerald Holton, George Reisch, Ákos Sivadó, Friedrich Stadler, Thomas Uebel, Deodáth Zuh, K. Brad Wray, and especially to Amy Wuest. I am indebted to the Carnap Archive at Pittsburgh (Rudolf Carnap Papers, 1905–1970, ASP.1974.01, Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh) and to the Wiener Kreis Archiv (Rijksarchief in Noord-Holland, Haarlem, The Netherlands) for the permission to quote the archive materials. All rights reserved. My research was supported by the ÚNKP-16-4-II New National Excellence Program of the Ministry of Human Capacities and the MTA BTK Lendület Morals and Science Research Group.

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Tuboly, A.T. Philipp Frank’s decline and the crisis of logical empiricism. Stud East Eur Thought 69, 257–276 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11212-017-9292-y

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Keywords

  • Philipp Frank
  • Sociology of knowledge
  • Sociology of science
  • Logical empiricism
  • Philosophy of science