Carnapian frameworks

Abstract

Carnap’s seminal ‘Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology’ makes important use of the notion of a framework and the related distinction between internal and external questions. But what exactly is a framework? And what role does the internal/external (I/E) distinction play in Carnap’s metaontology? In an influential series of papers, Matti Eklund has recently defended a bracingly straightforward interpretation: A Carnapian framework, Eklund says, is just a natural language. To ask an internal question, then, is just to ask a question in, say, English. To try to ask an external question is to try, absurdly, to ask a question in no language at all. Finding that so trivial an I/E distinction can’t help to explain Carnap’s deflationary metaontology, Eklund is led to attribute to Carnap a view he calls ontological pluralism. In this paper, I show that Eklund misreads Carnap, and I argue that this misreading obscures fundamental features of Carnap’s philosophy. I then defend an account of frameworks as what Carnap called semantical systems, and I place this account in the context of Carnap’s philosophical program of explication. Finally, I discuss the role that frameworks and the I/E distinction play in ESO, showing that ESO provides no reason to attribute the doctrine of ontological pluralism to Carnap.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Quine and Tarski had been pressing this sort of objection on Carnap in private for many years (e.g., Quine and Carnap 1990, pp. 241, 294–300; Frost-Arnold 2013, pp. 141, 143, 153).

  2. 2.

    Eklund occasionally attempts to downplay the extent to which ESO is concerned specifically with abstracta (e.g., Eklund 2013, p. 231). But Carnap’s focus is unmistakable. (The title of the introduction is ‘The Problem of Abstract Entities’!)

  3. 3.

    A quick note on ‘ontology’ and cognate expressions. Carnap himself took such expressions to suggest the sort of question that is supposed to be answerable only by means of a metaphysical, synthetic a priori insight (e.g., Quine and Carnap 1990, pp. 318, 385–386, 406; 1947, pp. 42–43). Accordingly, he took ontological questions to be confused pseudoquestions, and he distinguished these from the sorts of existence questions that he found respectable. Due in part to the influence of Quine, ‘ontology’ no longer has these connotations. In any case, though, for the purposes of this paper, ontological questions are just existence questions.

  4. 4.

    This quotation and the next reflect the revisions that Carnap made to ESO when he published it in a supplement to the second edition of Meaning and Necessity (1956a).

  5. 5.

    The terms ‘factual-external’ and ‘pragmatic-external’ are Eklund’s. Carnap probably would have objected to using ‘factual-external’ to refer to those external questions that he considered to be confused pseudoquestions, since, as Carnap used the term ‘factual’, this would have suggested that such questions could be settled by empirical evidence. The term that Carnap uses in ESO is not ‘factual’ but ‘theoretical’. What he meant was that such questions are supposed to be cognitive or descriptive. In any case, I have chosen to stick with Eklund’s terminology here. This should not cause any confusion, so long as we keep in mind that the term is not intended to suggest that the relevant questions are necessarily taken to be empirical. Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for raising this issue.

  6. 6.

    On this reading, Eklund’s phrase the language we actually employ amounts to something like the language we actually employ in ordinary life. There is, however, an alternative reading of the sentence, on which it says that internal questions concern what comes out true in the language we actually employ to ask them, whether or not this is the language that we use in ordinary life. If this second reading is correct, then this particular sentence does not cut one way or the other on the question whether Eklund takes frameworks to be natural languages or languages of some other sort.

  7. 7.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for raising the possibility of this sort of defense.

  8. 8.

    You might think that Eklund’s frequent suggestion that frameworks are fragments of natural languages is a sign that he’s thinking along the lines of (4.2). Again, I don’t think that this is right. But why, then, does Eklund bother mentioning fragments at all? Here’s what I think is going on. In ESO, Carnap says, very roughly, that to get an F-framework up and running, all you need is the means to talk about Fs. So if you’re inclined to think of frameworks in terms of natural languages, this suggests that a numbers-framework, for instance, does not need to include the entire English language. It just needs to include those parts of English that are necessary for talking about numbers. On the other hand, the entire English language would still qualify as a numbers-framework, since it obviously has the means to talk about numbers.

  9. 9.

    Unfortunately, this rebuttal remained unpublished for many years. Why didn’t Carnap publish the paper? Not because he had second thoughts about the point that I wish to emphasize here, since he went on to make this very same point in later correspondence and published work. Richard Creath (1990, p. 36) offers a plausible explanation. He suggests that Carnap didn’t publish the paper because he thought that he would soon have an opportunity to give a more comprehensive response to Quine in the volume The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap that P. A. Schilpp was then putting together. Unfortunately, publication of that volume ended up being significantly delayed.

  10. 10.

    We need not be nervous about relying for this point on a paper that Carnap never attempted to publish. Again, Carnap maintained this same position in later correspondence (e.g., Quine and Carnap 1990, p. 435) and published work (e.g., Carnap 1963b, p. 918). See also Carnap (1955, 1952).

  11. 11.

    For an illuminating discussion of Frege’s universalist conception of logic, see Goldfarb (2010).

  12. 12.

    Of course, we do not usually expect there to be one uniquely correct model of a phenomenon, since models abstract away from some features and emphasize others in order to serve particular purposes, and different models may better serve different purposes. For more on this perspective, see Shapiro (2014, pp. 43–44; 1991, chp. 1).

  13. 13.

    The notion of explication has actually received a great deal of attention in the recent literature. See, e.g., Brun (2020), Dutilh Novaes (2020), Pinder (2020), Dutilh Novaes and Reck (2017), Wagner (2012).

  14. 14.

    On the centrality of explication to Carnap’s philosophy, see generally Carus (2007).

  15. 15.

    Perhaps the strongest evidence that Carnap did not require explications to be given in semantical systems comes from Carnap’s response to P.F. Strawson in the 1963 Schilpp volume (Carnap 1963b), in which he suggests that, although “[t]he use of symbolic logic and of a constructed language system with explicit syntactical and semantical rules is the most elaborate and most efficient method” for developing explications, “[t]he only essential requirement is that the explicatum be more precise than the explicandum” (p. 936). This leaves no doubt that, by the time he was drafting this reply, Carnap allowed explications to be given in an “improved version of natural language” (p. 934). But it’s not obvious what this reveals about his understanding of explication at the time of ESO, since his views may have evolved over the intervening years. At the very least, the Strawson reply sits poorly with a number of Carnap’s remarks about explication from the time of ESO, for instance his insistence in The Logical Foundations of Probability (1950b) that an explicatum must be given by “explicit rules for its use” (p. 3), and that these rules must be in an “exact form” (p. 7). As I said, the evidence is equivocal.

  16. 16.

    Actually, Carnap was using sentences of natural languages for didactic purposes as very rough “translations” of formal sentences as far back as the Aufbau (see, e.g., §98).

  17. 17.

    Since, at various points in his career, Carnap took the acceptability (meaningfulness, intelligibility, etc.) of \(\phi \) to depend on its translatability into a favored language, (R2) does not strike me as an ad hoc move. See, e.g., Carnap (1934a, §81) (“Translatability into the formal mode of speech constitutes the touchstone for all philosophical sentences...”).

  18. 18.

    For an illuminating discussion of Frege’s views on this point, see Weiner (2010).

  19. 19.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for raising this issue.

  20. 20.

    To be sure, I have occasionally spoken in this section of questions being posed in a given framework. But this was only a convenient shorthand.

  21. 21.

    It’s perhaps worth noting that even Eklund, with the resources of natural languages to hand, sometimes characterizes internal questions in terms of the truth or falsity of declarative sentences (see, e.g., Eklund 2009, p. 134).

  22. 22.

    Of course, this translation into English can only be a kind of rough approximation, given that English is messy and the numbers framework is precise. The basic idea is just that (7) plays a role in the numbers framework that is sufficiently analogous to the role that “There are numbers” plays in English to make it reasonable to think of (7) as one plausible way of spelling out and making more precise the meaning, such as it is, of “There are numbers.”

  23. 23.

    See also Carnap (1934a, p. 41): “[A]n analytic sentence is absolutely true whatever the empirical facts may be. Hence, it does not state anything about facts...Synthetic statements are the genuine statements about reality.”

  24. 24.

    This point is emphasized by Alspector-Kelly (2001).

  25. 25.

    Notably, however, Quine makes no mention of this sort of intuition when he considers how ontological questions are to be settled in ‘On What There Is’ (1948).

  26. 26.

    Carnap’s vehement rejection of intuition as a source of justification is rightly emphasized by, e.g., Creath (1992, p. 144).

  27. 27.

    I include (i) not because I think that it is an intuitively plausible requirement on deep questions but because Eklund clearly takes himself to be dealing with exclusively cognitive questions, so that to show that a question is non-cognitive is to show that it is shallow in his sense.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to Alexia Brancato, Gideon Rosen, and two anonymous reviewers.

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Correspondence to Gabriel L. Broughton.

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Broughton, G.L. Carnapian frameworks. Synthese (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-020-02971-y

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Keywords

  • Carnap
  • Explication
  • Ontology
  • Metaontology
  • Analyticity