THE FATE OF ANALYSIS, #28: Carnap-&-The-Vienna-Circle, The Elimination of Metaphysics, & the Fate of The Verifiability Principle.

By Robert Hanna

THE FATE OF ANALYSIS: Analytic Philosophy From Frege to The Ash-Heap of History



II. Classical Analytic Philosophy

II.1 What Classical Analytic Philosophy Is: Two Basic Theses

II.2 What Classical Analytic Philosophy Officially Isn’t: Its Conflicted Anti-Kantianism

II.3 Classical Analytic Philosophy Characterized in Simple, Subtler, and Subtlest Ways

II.4 Three Kinds of Analysis: Decompositional, Transformative, and Conceptual

II.5 Frege, The First Founding Father of Classical Analytic Philosophy

II.6 Frege’s Project of (Transformative or Reductive) Analysis

II.7 Frege’s Dead End

II.8 Frege’s Semantics of Sense and Reference, aka Meaning

II.9 Some Biggish Problems For Frege’s Semantics

II.10 Husserl, Logic, and Logical Psychologism, aka LP

II.11 What LP is, and its Three Cardinal Sins

II.12 Husserl’s Three Basic Arguments Against LP

II.13 Has Husserl Begged the Question Against LP? Enter The Logocentric Predicament, and a Husserlian Way Out

II. Moore, Brentano, Husserl, Judgment, Anti-Idealism, and Meinong’s World

III.1 G.E. Moore, the Second Founding Father of Classical Analytic Philosophy

III.2 Brentano on Phenomenology, Mental Phenomena, and Intentionality

III.3 Husserl on Phenomenology and Intentionality

III.4 Moore and the Nature of Judgment

III.5 Moore and the Refutation of Idealism

III.6 Meinong’s World

IV. Russell, Unlimited Logicism, Acquaintance, and Description

IV.1 Russell Beyond Brentano, Husserl, Moore, and Meinong

IV.2 Russell and Mathematical Logic versus Kant

IV.3 Russell’s Unlimited Logicist Project

IV.4 Pursued by Logical Furies: Russell’s Paradox Again

IV.5 Russell’s ‘Fido’-Fido Theory of Meaning

IV.6 Knowledge-by-Acquaintance and Knowledge-by-Description

IV.7 Russell’s Theory of Descriptions

IV.8 Russell’s Multiple-Relation Theory of Judgment

IV.9 Russellian Analysis, Early Wittgenstein, and Impredicativity Again

IV.10 Russell and The Philosophy of Logical Atomism

V. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 1: The Title, and Propositions 1–2.063

V.1 A Brief Synopsis of the Tractatus

V.2 The Tractatus in Context

V.3 The Basic Structure of the Tractatus: A Simple Picture

V.4 Tractarian Ontology

V.5 Reconstructing Wittgenstein’s Reasoning

V.6 What Are the Objects or Things?

V.7 The Role of Logic in Tractarian Ontology

V.8 Colorless Objects/Things

V.9 Tractarian Ontology, Necessity, and Contingency

V.10 Some Initial Worries, and Some Possible Wittgensteinian Counter-Moves

VI. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 2: Propositions 2.013–5.55

VI.1 What is Logical Space? What is Real Space?

VI.2 Atomic Facts Necessarily Are in Manifest or Phenomenal Space, But Objects or Things Themselves Necessarily Aren’t in Manifest or Phenomenal Space

VI.3 Logical Space is Essentially More Comprehensive than Manifest or Phenomenal Space

VI.4 Why There Can’t/Kant Be a Non-Logical World

VI.5 A Worry About Wittgenstein’s Conception of Logic: Non-Classical Logics

VI.6 What is a Tractarian Proposition?

VI.7 Naming Objects or Things, and Picturing Atomic Facts

VI.8 Signs, Symbols, Sense, Truth, and Judgment

VI.9 Propositions Again

VI.10 Language and Thought

VII. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 3: Propositions 4–5.61

VII.1 The Logocentric Predicament, Version 3.0: Justifying Deduction

VII.2 The Logical Form of Deduction

VII.3 Logic Must Take Care of Itself

VII.4 Tautologies and Contradictions

VII.5 What is Logic?

VII.6 Logic is the A Priori Essence of Language

VII.7 Logic is the A Priori Essence of Thought

VII.8 Logic is the A Priori Essence of the World

VIII. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 4: Propositions 5.62–7

VIII.1 Tractarian Solipsism and Tractarian Realism

VIII.2 Tractarian Solipsism

VIII.3 Tractarian Realism

VIII.4 Is the Tractatus’s Point an Ethical One?

VIII.5 The Meaning of Life

VIII.6 Three Basic Worries About the Tractatus

VIII.7 Natural Science and the Worry About the Simplicity of the Objects or Things

VIII.8 Natural Science and the Worry About the Logical Independence of Atomic Facts

VIII.9 Tractarian Mysticism and the Worry About Metaphilosophy

IX. Carnap, The Vienna Circle, Logical Empiricism, and The Great Divide

IX.1 Carnap Before and After the Tractatus

IX.2 Carnap, The Vienna Circle, and The Elimination of Metaphysics

IX.3 The Verifiability Principle and Its Fate

IX.4 The Davos Conference and The Great Divide

X. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 1: Preface, and §§1–27

X.1 From the Tractatus to the Investigations

X.2 The Thesis That Meaning Is Use

X.3 A Map of the Investigations

X.4 The Critique of Pure Reference: What the Builders Did

XI. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 2: §§28–242

XI.1 The Picture Theory and the Vices of Simplicity

XI.2 Wittgenstein’s Argument Against The Picture Theory: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.3 Understanding and Rule-Following

XI.4 Wittgenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: The Basic Rationale

XI.5 Wittgenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.6 Kripkenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: Why Read Kripke Too?

XI.7 Kripkenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.8 How to Solve The Paradox: Wittgenstein’s Way and Kripkenstein’s Way

XI.8.1 Wittgenstein and The Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.8.2 Kripkenstein and The Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XII. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 3: §§242–315

XII.1 What is a Private Language?

XII.2 The Private Language Argument: A Rational Reconstruction

XII.3 Is Wittgenstein a Behaviorist? No.

XII.4 Wittgenstein on Meanings, Sensations, and Human Mindedness: A Rational Reconstruction

XIII. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 4: §§316–693 & 174e-232e

XIII.1 Linguistic Phenomenology

XIII.2 Two Kinds of Seeing

XIII.3 Experiencing the Meaning of a Word

XIII.4 The Critique of Logical Analysis, and Logic-As-Grammar

XIV. Coda: Wittgenstein and Kantianism

XIV.1 World-Conformity 1: Kant, Transcendental Idealism, and Empirical Realism

XIV.2 World-Conformity 2: Wittgenstein, Transcendental Solipsism, and Pure Realism

XIV.3 World-Conformity 3: To Forms of Life

XIV.4 The Critique of Self-Alienated Philosophy 1: Kant’s Critical Metaphilosophy

XIV.5 The Critique of Self-Alienated Philosophy 2: Wittgensteinian Analysis as Critique

XV. From Quine to Kripke and Analytic Metaphysics: The Adventures of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

XV.1 Two Urban Legends of Post-Empiricism

XV.2 A Very Brief History of The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

XV.3 Why the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction Really Matters

XV.4 Quine’s Critique of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction, and a Meta-Critique

XV.5 Three Dogmas of Post-Quineanism

XVI. Analytic Philosophy and The Ash-Heap of History

XVI.1 Husserl’s Crisis and Our Crisis

XVI.2 Why Hasn’t Post-Classical Analytic Philosophy Produced Any Important Ideas in the Last Thirty-Five Years?

XVI.3 On Irad Kimhi’s Thinking and Being, Or, It’s The End Of Analytic Philosophy As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

XVI.4 Thinking Inside and Outside the Fly-Bottle: The New Poverty of Philosophy and Its Second Copernican Revolution


But you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete book HERE.


IX.2 Carnap, The Vienna Circle, and The Elimination of Metaphysics

The political leanings of the inner circle of the Circle were anti-fascist, universalist, egalitarian, radical socialist, and indeed Communist.

So staying in Austro-Germany would have most certainly meant their cultural and intellectual deaths, and very probably their actual deaths too.

The Circle philosophically professed logical empiricism, aka logical positivism, which is essentially the fusion of Carnap‘s constructive empiricism and logical conventionalism, plus the explicit rejection of Kant‘s notion of the synthetic a priori.

According to Carnap,

(i) synthetic a priori propositions are meaningless, and

(ii) all and only analytic propositions and empirical propositions are meaningful.

More specifically, here’s how Carnap argues for this two-part thesis, step-by-step, in his enormously influential 1932 essay, “The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language.”[ii]

Step 1. Carnap’s basic claim is that every statement of metaphysics is entirely meaningless or nonsensical; indeed, every metaphysical statement is a pseudo-statement.

Step 2. There are two kinds of pseudo-statements; more specifically, a sentence is a pseudo-statement if and only if

either (2.i) it contains meaningless words,

or (2.ii) it violates rules of syntax.

Step 3. A word W is meaningful if and only if W is applicable to “the given” in sense experience, and has a set of determinate conditions under which it is thereby applicable, which in turn is necessarily equivalent with saying that the whole sentence S which contains W is itself meaningful.

Step 4. A non-logical sentence S is meaningful if and only if

(4i) S has well-formed grammatical syntax,

(4ii) S has well-formed logical or semantic syntax, which is the same as to say it’s sortally correct,[ii] and

(4iii) S is verifiable, which is the same as to say that it’s made true or false by application to the given in sense experience, which in turn implies that its component words have determinate application-conditions.

Step 5. Metaphysical words — e.g., ‘God’ or ‘Being’— are meaningless because

either (5i) they have no determinate application-conditions,

or (5ii) the whole sentence which contains it is meaningless.

Step 6. Metaphysical statements generally violate rules of either grammatical or logical/semantic syntax — e.g., Heidegger’s notorious statement, “The nothing itself nihilates,” in his equally notorious 1929 essay, “What is Metaphysics?”[iv]

Step 7. Heidegger explicitly rejects logic and natural science as sources of fundamental philosophical insight.

Step 8. All metaphysics, especially Heidegger’s, is meaningless by one or another, or all, of the three criteria of meaningfulness, i.e.,

(8i) grammatical well-formedness of sentences,

(8ii) sortal correctness of sentences, and

(8iii) verifiability, which entails determinate application-conditions for component words.

Step 9. Descartes’s famous Cogito argument is logically invalid: “I think” entails only “Something exists.”

(Here’s an instructive critical side-comment.

Carnap claims that the logical form of The Cogito is as follows —

(i) ‘a’ means me, myself, I (by definition)

(ii) ‘Fx’ means “x thinks” (by definition)

(iii) Fa (premise)

(iv) (Эx) Fx (by existential generalization)

(v) Therefore, (Эx) Fx, which means “something exists as a thinker,” is a logical consequence of ‘Fa’, which means “I think”

But I think that it’s more plausibly arguable that, on the contrary, the correct logical form of The Cogito is as follows —

(i) ‘a’ means me, myself, I (by definition)

(ii) ‘Fx’ mean “x thinks” (by definition)

(iii) Fa (premise)

(iv) ‘x=x’ means “x is identical to itself” (by definition)

(v) Every substitution instance of ‘x=x’ is necessarily true (principle of identity)

(vi) Therefore, ‘a=a’ is necessarily true (by substitution)

(vii) (Эx) x=a (by existential generalization)

(viii) A necessary truth is a logical consequence of every set of premises, including the empty set, because

(viiia) necessary truths are true in every set of circumstances, hence

(viiib) no matter what the set of premises, there’s no possible set of circumstances such that the premises are true and the conclusion false (by the definitions of “logical consequence” and “necessary truth”)

(ix) Therefore, ‘(Эx) x=a’, which means, “I exist” is a logical consequence of ‘Fa’, which means “I think”

And this argument is logically valid and sound.

Moreover, it also shows us that for Carnap and all the other classical Analytic philosophers who subscribe to Principia Mathematica-style logic, the astounding ontological fact of something’s existing, instead of there being nothing at all, is a truth of predicate logic with identity — which seems highly questionable. One instructive conclusion to draw from this, is that correct insight into the underlying logical form of propositions and arguments expressed in natural language, and into their ontological implications, is not immediately self-evident, even to those leading classical Analytic philosophers, like Carnap and the other logical empiricists/positivists, who self-consciously undertake the destruction of metaphysics via “the logical analysis of language.”

’Nuff said: now back to Carnap’s overall argument.)

Step 10. Leaving aside Descartes, a great many pseudo-statements are encountered in the writings of Heidegger and Hegel.

Step 11. By sharp contrast, there are two and only two kinds of meaningful statement:

(11i) logical truths (analytic statements), and

(11ii) verifiable statements.

Step 12. Therefore, a sentence S is meaningful if and only if S is either analytic or verifiable.

Step 13. By this criterion of meaningfulness, all metaphysics is meaningless: so what were all those metaphysicians really doing, and what were all those treatises in metaphysics really about?

Step 14. The answer is that they were simply expressions of attitudes towards life, but this sort of activity is done much more effectively by artists (especially musicians and poets, hence metaphysicians are merely failed artists.

Step 15. Moreover, by this criterion of meaningfulness, all normative-claims and value-claims more generally (especially including ethical claims) are also meaningless.

Step 16. What, then, is left over for philosophy to do if metaphysics and all normative-claims and value-claims more generally (especially including ethical claims) are meaningless?

Step 17. The answer to this burning question is that philosophers can engage in either logical analysis (meta-logic) or scientific philosophy/philosophy of science, and that’s it: in short, henceforth philosophy is nothing but an underlaborer of the formal and exact sciences.

IX.3 The Verifiability Principle and Its Fate

The Carnap-Schlick attack on the synthetic a priori, plus constructive empiricism, plus logico-linguistic conventionalism, plus the general semantic thesis that all and only meaningful propositions are either analytic propositions or else verifiable empirical propositions (The Verifiability Principle, aka The VP), were all crisply formulated and beautifully written up for English-speaking philosophers in A.J. Ayer‘s Language, Truth, and Logic (1936).

It’s a notorious and serious problem for Ayer in particular, however, and for The Vienna Circle more generally, that The VP itself is neither an analytic proposition nor a factual proposition.

Looked at with a wide lens, the problem of the logico-semantic status of The VP is merely a special case of Wittgenstein‘s earlier worry about the logico-semantic status of his Tractarian logico-philosophical propositions.

The standard purported solution to this problem is to say that The VP is a meta-linguistic or meta-logical proposition, hence The VP is nothing but a further bit of language and logic that also happens to be about language and logic.

Unfortunately, however that in turn only invokes an even more general and intractable worry, which we have already encountered in Husserl’s critique of psychologism, the Tractatus, and elsewhere, about the logico-semantic status of meta-languages and meta-logics: the logocentric predicament, which says that since any attempt to explain or justify logic must itself already presuppose and use some or all of the very logical principles and concepts that it aims to explain or justify, then logic is inexplicable and unjustifiable, i.e., rationally groundless.

The obvious way out of the problem about the status of The VP would be to return to Kantian modal dualism and say that The VP is non-logically necessary and a priori, i.e., synthetic a priori.

And of course this violates the official logical empiricist/positivist ban on the synthetic a priori.

So the problem of the status of The Verifiability Principle leaves logical empiricism/positivism between a rock (a close encounter with the seemingly insoluble logocentric predicament) and a hard place (being forced to accept the already-rejected Kantian notion of the synthetic a priori).

That’s bad enough.

But as I’ve already anticipated, and as we’ll see in loving critical detail in chapter XV, the ultimate death-blow to logical empiricism/positivism came from inside The Vienna Circle — from Carnap’s protégé W.V.O. Quine, himself a member of the Circle in the early 30s — and his ruthless logical destruction of the analytic-synthetic distinction.


[ii] In A.J. Ayer (ed.), Logical Positivism (New York: Free Press, 1959), pp. 60–81.

[iii] In view of Husserl’s commitment to the existence and meaningfulness of synthetic a priori propositions, it’s ironic (i) that Carnap studied briefly with Husserl, (ii) that the theory of sortal correctness conditions was created or discovered by Husserl in Logical Investigations, so in all likelihood Carnap learned about it from Husserl, and (iii) that the axioms of that theory are synthetic a priori. See R. Hanna, “The Relation of Form and ‘Stuff’ in Husserl’s Grammar of Pure Logic,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 44 (1984): 323–341.

[iv] In Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, trans. D.F. Krell (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 95–112, at p. 105.

[v] See, e.g., M. Schlick, “Is There a Factual A Priori?,” in H. Feigl and W. Sellars (eds.), Readings in Philosophical Analysis (New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1949), pp. 277–285. The Feigl-Sellars collection was the Bible of Analytic philosophers trained in the 1950s.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, 30 November 2020

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