Carnap’s Encounter with Pragmatism

  • Christoph Limbeck-Lilienau
Part of the Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook book series (VCIY, volume 16)


LLogical empiricism and pragmatism shared an empiricist orientation, a close interest in the sciences and their methods, and skepticism about propositions which cannot be empirically tested or verified. Both movements came into direct contact in the first half of the 1930s, shortly after the beginning of the so-called public phase of logical empiricism (after 1929). Around 1930, Schlick and Feigl went to the United States and philosophers in the pragmatist tradition began to pay attention to the new Viennese movement. Only with the rise of this mutual interest did Carnap become acquainted with pragmatism. Contrary to other logical empiricists (Schlick, Neurath, Ph. Frank), there are almost no traces in Carnap’s earlier philosophy of an interest for pragmatism. We will focus here on the historic episode of Carnap’s encounter with pragmatism. This will permit to clear more general claims about the relation of logical empiricism and pragmatism. We can find contradictory claims on this relation in the recent literature on the history of philosophy of science and of analytic philosophy. On the one hand the differences and conflicts between logical empiricism and pragmatism are emphasized and the progressive divergence between these two movements is pointed out.2 On the other hand the literature points out the pragmatic elements in Carnap’s philosophy which facilitated a convergence with pragmatism.3 First, we claim here that in the 1930s it is the convergence between pragmatism and logical empiricism that was prevailing and that it found its expression in Carnap’s support of a “scientific empiricism” as conceived by the pragmatist Charles Morris. The strong impetus for an internationalization of scientific philosophy in the Unity of Science movement placed the project of an alliance of different empiricist movements at the forefront. Secondly we claim that Carnap’s convergence with pragmatism is due to a liberalization of empiricism which took already place in the Vienna Circle, independently of any direct pragmatist influence. With this liberalization of empiricism the convergence with pragmatism became much easier than it would have been with an empiricism as defended in Carnap’s Aufbau. We will show in a first section that Carnap’s encounter with pragmatism was initiated by the pragmatist’s criticism of verificationism and of the empricism of the Aufbau. In a second section we will describe Carnap’s encounter with philosophers of the pragmatist tradition and his attempt to convince them that the pragmatist’s criticism did not apply any more to his new position of the early 1930s (as developed in the protocol sentence debate). As response some pragmatists (Morris, Nagel) proposed models for a convergence of logical empiricism with pragmatism.4 In a final section we will show that in Carnap’s response to the pragmatists, he supported such a convergence.


Analytic Philosophy Logical Empiricism Vienna Circle Empirical Meaning Logical Syntax 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut Wiener KreisWienAustria

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