This entry is installment #2 in a Carnap versus Heidegger series. Here is the first in the series. It couldn't hurt to at least skim through it. Part of what I am up to is an exploration of the origin and nature of the analytic-Continental split. To quote from the first installment:
If I were were to select two writings that best epitomize the depth of the Continental-analytic clash near the time of its outbreak, they would be Heidegger's 1929 What is Metaphysics? and Carnap's 1932 response, "On the Overcoming of Metaphysics Through the Logical Analysis of Language." (In fairness to Carnap, let us note that his Erkenntnis piece is more than a response to Heidegger inasmuch as it calls into question the meaningfulness of all metaphysics. And in fairness to Heidegger, we should note that he thinks he is doing something more radical than metaphysics. Metaphysics for Heidegger is onto-theology. Metaphysics thinks Being (das Sein) but always in reference to beings (das Seiende); it does not think Being in its difference from beings. Perhaps in a later post I will venture to explain what that means.)
Analytic philosophers prize clarity. And rightly so. For one thing, "clarity is courtesy," as Ortega y Gasset once said. (The Spaniard counts as Continental, and not just geographically.) One more parenthetical remark before getting down to business: I wish Erich Pryzwara had received the message that clarity is courtesy. Then perhaps he would not have written anything as unreadable as his Analogia Entis. Even the charitable German Thomist Josef Pieper so characterized it.
I need waste no words defending the thesis that clarity in thought and expression are to be preferred to obscurity. Avoidable obscurity must be avoided. But there is an empty and trivial clarity. A clarity worth pursuing is a clarity with content. Clarity ought not be pursued as an end in itself or as a cognitive value that trumps every other cognitive value. While avoidable obscurity must be avoided, some obscurity is bound to be unavoidable if our inquiries are serious, sustained, and worth pursuing. Such obscurity must be tolerated.
One day in class I was praising clarity and its importance. A student responded that reality is messy. My counter-response was that, while reality is messy, it does not follow that our thinking about it should also be. On the contrary! The present point, however, is that thinking worth doing ought to penetrate as far as it can into reality, as rich, dark, and messy as it is, and if some obscurity proves unavoidable, then so be it.
Rudolf Carnap's brand of clarity is sterile, arbitrary and as artificial as fluorescent light. What he does is enforce or impose an arbitrary standard of clarity across the board without regard to differences in subject matter. We ought to say about clarity what Aristotle said about precision near the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics: "it cannot be expected in the treatment of all subjects alike . . . ." (1094b10-15) Ethics, the Philosopher said, cannot be treated with mathematical precision. The same goes for metaphysics.
"Many words of metaphysics," Carnap tells us, are "devoid of meaning." ("The Elimination of Metaphysics Through Logical Analysis of Language" in A. J. Ayer, ed., Logical Positivism, The Free Press, 1959, p. 65.) He chooses as his first example 'principle' "in the sense of principle of being, not principle of knowledge or axiom." (65) But since 'principle' in the ontological sense is not much used these days outside of scholastic circles, let me substitute 'ground' used ontologically. Thus there is a large body of literature in which truth-makers are described as the 'ontological grounds' of truths. It is clear that Carnap's accusations of (cognitive) meaninglessness apply as much to grounds as to principles. They also apply to other words and phrases in the vocabulary of truth-maker theorists such as 'makes true' and 'in virtue of.' For example, 'Peter is smoking' is true in virtue of Peter's smoking, or the fact of Peter's smoking makes true 'Peter is smoking.' Apart from truth-maker theory, 'in virtue of' has long been a favorite of philosophers. Some think it a 'weasel phrase' best banished from the vocabulary of philosophy. I disagree.
"But these words are ambiguous and vague." (65) Thus Carnap. Insofar as they have a clear meaning, their meaning is empirical, not metaphysical; insofar as they are metaphysical, they are meaningless. I would put the Carnapian argument as follows in terms of the following dilemma:
Either metaphysical grounding (as it occurs in the putative relation between a truth-maker and a truth-bearer) is a causal relation or it is a logical relation. But it is neither. It is not a relation of empirical causation. Truth-maker theorists insist on this themselves. Nor is it a logical relation such as entailment. Logical relations hold between and among truth-bearers; a truth-maker, however, though proposition-like on some theories, is not a truth-bearer. 'Truth-making,' then has neither the meaning of 'causing' nor the meaning of 'entailing.'
Yet, no criterion is specified for any other meaning. Consequently, the alleged 'metaphysical' meaning which the word is supposed to have here in contrast to the mentioned empirical meaning, does not exist. [. . .] The word is explicitly deprived of its original meaning . . . . (65)
The word 'making' is stripped of its empirical meaning, but no new meaning is supplied. The word becomes an "empty shell." (66) The associations and feelings attached to the word used in the old empirical way remain in play. But these do not give meaning to the word used in the new 'metaphysical' way: "it remains meaningless as long as no method of verification can be described." (66)
The same holds for all specifically metaphysical terms. There are one and all "devoid of meaning." (67) Carnap mentions the following: the Idea, the Absolute, the Unconditioned, the Infinite, and "the being of being," which I take to be a reference to Heidegger's das Sein des Seienden, which is better translated as 'the Being of beings.' But also: non-being, thing-in-itself, absolute spirit, objective spirit, essence, being-in-itself, being-in-and-for-itself, the Non-Ego.
These terms are meaningless because empirical truth-conditions of their use cannot be supplied. Hence the alleged statements of metaphysics which contain them are one and all pseudo-statements that are bare of sense and assert nothing. (67)
Perhaps the best response to Carnap and those of his ilk is brutal contradiction: "You're just wrong!" The words you would dismiss as meaningless just obviously have meaning and you're just obviously wrong to think otherwise.
For example, it is clear enough what it means to say that some truth-bearers need truth-makers, that a sentence such as 'Peter is smoking' cannot just be true but is true because of something external to the sentence, something external on the side of the object, not on the side of the subject, i.e., on the side of the one who assertively utters the sentence. And it is clear enough that this use of 'because' is not an empirical-causal use of the term. It is also clear enough what 'in virtue of' and 'making' mean in this context.
Another devastating response to Carnap is the obvious point that his Verifiability Criterion of Cognitive Significance cannot satisfy its own demand. "Every cognitively meaningful statement is either empirically verifiable in principle or a logical/analytic truth" is neither empirically verifiable in principle nor a logical/analytic truth. Therefore, the Verifiability Criterion is cognitively meaningless. So does it then have a merely emotive meaning? Is is a mere suggestion as to what to allow as meaningful? If the latter, then no thank you!
It's an easy rebuttal, but none the worse for that. Sometimes, simplex sigillum veri.
Carnap is to philosophy what a philistine is to the arts: just crude and ignorant . So I dismiss him as a philosophistine. I coined this word ten years or so ago in a polemic against David Stove another philosophistine whose crudity is on shameful display in his The Plato Cult.
My rule is: no polemics in philosophy. But if the other guy starts it . . . . Or the shade of the other guy . . . .