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Carnap's Conventionalism

Author(s): Richard Creath


Source: Synthese, Vol. 93, No. 1/2, Carnap: A Centenary Reappraisal (Nov., 1992), pp. 141-165
Published by: Springer
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CREATH

RICHARD

CARNAP'S

CONVENTIONALISM

When Herbert Feigl spoke at the memorial


session for Rudolf Carnap
in 1970 he recalled an incident that was especially
revealing: he and
in a park in Vienna,
and Carnap described
the
Carnap were walking
first ideas that later became
The Logical
Syntax of Language.
Feigl
in a metalanguage,
that the syntax that Carnap "formulated
responded
a
to
of Principia Mathematica".
amounted
'Hilbertization'
Carnap
as essentially
correct (Feigl, 1975,
smiled and accepted this description
p.

xvi).

Feigl was right, of course, perhaps


righter than he knew. For the
form to Hil
Logical Syntax owed far more than its metamathematical
bert. The book's
idea is an epistemic
central
doctrine
that shaped
until the day he died. And
that central idea is a
Carnap's philosophy
of Hubert's work as well. Ironically this Hilbertization
of
development
content beyond
that of form probably did not occur until the syntax
project was well under way, and hence was probably not part of the
to Feigl. But who knows? Perhaps
sketch that Carnap presented
that
crucial epistemic doctrine was even then forming in the back of Carnap's
mind. Could that be why he smiled at Feigl's remark?
In any case what I want to do here is to explore that epistemology
in order to see what it was, why it was such a step forward
of Carnap
in the 1930s, and what it has to teach even now. To do that my remarks
new
will divide into three parts. In the first I shall sketch Carnap's
in the second I shall say something of its sources; and in
epistemology;
I shall try to
the third, after some brief remarks about methodology,
some
to
the
view
of observation.
apply
enduring problems

1.

CARNAP'S

EPISTEMOLOGY

as a well-known
to think of Carnap
figure, but if those
on
that are apparently
de rigueur in
logical empiricism
paragraphs
recent philosophy
of science books count as evidence
of the received
view of Carnap's
then most philosophers
have only a
epistemology,

One

tends

93: 141-165,
1992.
Synthese
1992 Kluwer Academic
Publishers.

Printed

in the Netherlands.

142

RICHARD

CREATH

are often directed


and their criticisms
idea of Carnap's work,
a
man.
straw
to
We
would
do
well
afresh.
against
begin
is to provide a theory of justifi
The chief business of epistemology
tell us what beliefs are justified, and in what manner
cation; it must
and to what degree they are so. Usually when we are asked to justify
our beliefs we do this by giving reasons: we bring forward one or more
other beliefs which
justified, and (2) stand in the
(1) are themselves

hazy

justification was sought.


right sort of relation to the belief for which
Both features are important. It is the special province of logic, deductive
to specify further the second requirement.
But it is the
and inductive,
that the justifying beliefs themselves be justified, that
first requirement,
concerns us at this moment.
that justification
is not to be circular, that first requirement
if it is not to be vicious, must
in a regress which,
stop
In
if
is to succeed in justifying
other words,
somewhere.
reason-giving
there must be some beliefs which are justified in some way
anything,
other than inference;
there must be some non-inferentially
warranted
beliefs. This fact is quite separate from any issue between
foundational
ist and coherentist
epistemologies.
that one such alternative mode of justification
It is generally conceded
one observes
of whether
We may set aside questions
is observation.
own
or
or
states
interior
both.
Whatever
one's
(mental)
physical objects
the content of observation might reasonably be taken to be, observation
cannot by itself be sufficient to generate either what we think we know
or even any useful body of justified belief at all. This is due chiefly to
the fact that we cannot observe the validity of any principle of inference,
and without
the observational
domain
inference even certainty within
will not carry us very far. There are also other reasons for doubting
In some cases, such as mathematics
and
the sufficiency of observation.
even
set theory, the objects are not of a sort to be observed. Moreover,
Assuming
involves us

where

the objects
be
such that
may
or else cannot be
that we generally

in question are observable,


the claims to be justified
on
cannot
the basis of observation
be
they
justified
to
the
i.e., to the degree
justified
requisite degree,
believe
that these beliefs are justified. In this latter

beliefs, but also beliefs about


category might fall, not only geometrical
and certain other 'fundamental'
the causal structure of the world,
be
is both red and green
liefs, such as that red is a color and that nothing
if not most of the claims of
all over at the same time. Indeed, many
a
fall into this category. Consider
interest to philosophers
especially

CARNAP'S

CONVENTIONALISM

143

is to be trusted. How could this be justified on


belief that observation
alone without begging
the question at issue?
the basis of observation
to initiate a suitable body of
If observation
is not enough
alone
answer is straightfor
justified belief, where else can we turn? Russell's
ward: we can and must rely on direct metaphysical
intuition,
though
he tends to call it direct acquaintance
1912, p. 105). Axiomat
(Russell,
it reveals which beliefs rely (for
izing a body of belief is useful because
on which other beliefs. But axiomatization
their justification)
does not
tell us how the axioms are justified; at best it reveals which beliefs are
our beliefs concern
in need of a special mode of justification. Where
or
more
of
universals
inference, mathematics,
gen
logic,
principles
cannot sufficiently warrant
the axioms and hence
erally, observation
cannot warrant
the rest of our beliefs which depend on those axioms.
so it must rely on intuition - there is no
We do have such knowledge,
alternative.

This Russellian
is worse
than a crime, it is a blunder.
epistemology
There is, for example, wide disagreement
among intuitions concerning
no
the existence
and character of universals.
There
is, unfortunately,
some
to
resolve
such
and
such
intuitions,
plausible way
disagreements,
as those underlying naive set theory, are flatly contradictory.
Even when
intuitions coincide,
such as in mathematicians'
intuitions
concerning
this coincidence
is more
readily explained
by similarity of
are
than
intuitions
which
reliable.
In this
training
by
independently
on the
matter
the
is
like
the
coincidence
of
beliefs
respect,
explaining
the
best
among Anglican
Trinity
bishops:
presumably
explanation
would stress the efficiency of the seminaries
rather than a happy reiter
no less than in religion,
In mathematics,
ation of divine revelation.
in time, training, and culture, as well
intuitions diverge with differences
as in more
idiosyncratic ways.
The situation
if intuitions agree,
is actually worse
than this. Even
not
even
some
are right, then in
need
be
and
if
of
them
they
right,
nor
an
there
neither
would
be
could
be
of this
general
explanation
see
case
contrast
To
the
of
with
intuition
why,
phenomenon.
ordinary
arithmetic,

story that observation


supports includes an explana
a certain paper's
it is, say, that in certain circumstances
can bring about a belief
that that paper is white.
Such
are
are
stories
still
rather
explanatory
sketchy
(though
they
being
fleshed out more and more)
and even if complete would not prove the
truth of our observational
But our stories of the world
judgments.
observation.

tion of how
being white

The

144

RICHARD

CREATH

be poorer without
such explanations,
and Russell
has no even
account
of
to
correct.
intuitions
would
be
be
Nor,
sketchy
why
likely
of course, does anyone else. Where
the intuitions concern objects,
such
as numbers, which are said not to be in the causal order (or alternatively
not in space and time), it is difficult to imagine how there even could
for intuitions corresponding
to our explanations
be an explanation
of
the reliability of ordinary perceptual
This
be
judgments.
dissimilarity
tween so-called mathematical
intuition and ordinary perception
is one
in the way of such writers as G?del, who would
of the chief roadblocks

would

In
intuition to homely observation.
attempt to assimilate mathematical
the face of all these difficulties
the only defense
for metaphysical
in
tuition is precisely
the one that Russell
offers: metaphysical
intuition
must be a source of justification
because
there is simply nothing else
that can provide
the required warrant. Russell
is driven to intuition by
a
the lack of
alternative.
satisfactory
to the idea that intuition could be a
Carnap was militantly
opposed
source of justification,
as a rejec
though this opposition was expressed
a suppos
was
to
tion of metaphysics.
according
Metaphysics,
Carnap,
access

to a domain

of supposititious
entities or
features beyond
the reach
objects,
of justification based
pp. 76-77;
(Carnap, [1932a]/1959,
is well known.
1935, p. 15). Carnap's
rejection of metaphysics
Carnap,
Less widely
is the fact that the elimination
discussed
of metaphysics
the elimination
of the direct metaphysical
includes
in
specifically
of why Carnap was
tuitionism
that Russell
embraced. An explanation
so indirect in his rejection of Russell's
intuitionism would
call for a
edly "trans-empirical"
to mysterious
features

of ordinary
on observation

rather than the scientific relations between


these
study of the personal
solution is not open to Carnap.
men.1 At any rate, Russell's
a refreshing
and welcome
this background
Against
Carnap made
as
can
be
the
axioms
construed
definitions
suggestion:
(implicit defi
a
as
to
and
commitment
the
their
assertion
language containing
nitions)
need no further epistemic
The axioms or postulates
a
nor false, and one is free
true
is
neither
justification
language
to choose a language
in any convenient
else should
way. If someone
there is in fact no dis
choose other apparently
conflicting postulates,
set is constitutive
of the concepts
it
because each postulate
agreement
is not denying what the
and hence the one body of postulates
employs,
are not even intended
In this manner
the postulates
other is asserting.
terms

so defined.

because

CARNAP'S

CONVENTIONALISM

145

and independently
to reflect an antecedently
existing reality, but rather
to
create
claims
the
they express.
literally
sets are better than others. But the
It may be that some postulate
some are
concerns
their practical usefulness:
in question
'betterness'
use
or
terms
more
to
In
of
than
others.
easier
epistemic
powerful
are
justification or cognitive warrant they are all on a par. Indeed, they
of anything else. Epistemically
the 'meter sticks' for the justification
the choice among them is conventional,
though the constraints
imposed
an inconsistent
can
For example,
be
utility
significant.
by pragmatic
set is not very useful. For most logicians of the period, includ
postulate
ing Carnap, every sentence as well as its negation would trivially follow
set would therefore fail
An inconsistent postulate
from a contradiction.
or
sentences
distinctions
to draw any cognitively
among
interesting
is treated as a
for consistent
the preference
systems
Though
are
indeed.
considerations
powerful
pragmatic one, the pragmatic
as
some
a
set
includes
because
Even so, just
consequences
postulate
a
not
set
is
sentence
the
sentence and that
'-i',
by
postulate
preceded
as
at
would
later
would
The "sin",
Quine
put it,
thereby inconsistent.
use
'?i'.
The
of
the
most be against the ordinary
(logicians')
postulates
of the symbols involved, but the
would constitute
implicit definitions
sense thus constituted
for the '-i' would not be that of negation
(Quine,
beliefs.

1936, p. 90).
sets can
This suggests another sense in which alternative
postulate
some
of
will
be compared:
ordinary concepts while
provide explications
a
not
of the
enter
here
discussion
not.
I
shall
into
technical
will
others
on an adequate
but
demands
1950, pp. 5-8),
(Carnap,
explication
as
definitions
suffice it to say that if the postulates
(construed
implicit
which are sufficiently close
of the terms they contain) assign meanings
to the meanings
that these terms ordinarily
enjoy, then the postulates
can be thought of as providing a clarification of and hence an explication
reasons of intellectual
of those ordinary concepts. There are sometimes
familiar
of
for
notions, but the failure to
economy
wanting explications
a
not
After
itself
be
defect.
such
would
all, the novel
by
provide
or
even
be
in
of
superior to
concepts may
equal
point
practical utility
the ordinary ones.
This discussion
obscure,
among

however,
alternative

usefulness
and
of pragmatic
core of Carnap's
the epistemic
sets is epistemically
postulate

must not
explication
doctrine. The choice
arbitrary; the choice

146

RICHARD

CREATH

are the
is a matter of convention. Moreover,
the postulates
themselves
even
fundamental
doctrine.
This
fact
is
obscured
easily
by
epistemic
own way of putting his view. Carnap did not like the word
Carnap's
- it smacked of
it.2Writers,
So, he avoided
'epistemology'
psychology.
then as now, often ran such empirical topics as the qualitative
character
or habits of their association
of inner experiences
together with the
more properly philosophic
that
to
wanted
questions
Carnap
specifically
isolate. Instead of 'epistemology',
the
word
Carnap preferred
'logic'.
This break with tradition is important, and it is signalled by a termino
to be made
in calling the
logical change. But there is still a point
Remember
that this logic was to replace
logic epistemological.
It was to tell us what
within philosophy.
is
traditional
epistemology
be
and what may
inferred from what. This is the pure
observable
structure of an epistemology,
and it is the purely structural character
new

that Carnap highlights with the word


of the enterprise
'logic'. Indeed,
to include inductive
when Carnap's
logic is generalized
logic, the re
a
relation which
is transparently
lation sought is that of confirmation,
to
if we are ever to give empirical meaning
Finally,
epistemological.
the notions

this logic, we must


look to community
of
practices
we
reasons
must recognize
the enterprise
For all of these
of

justification.
as epistemological.3
sets is a matter
of convention
is
That the choice among postulate
terms
define
the
made plausible by saying that the postulates
implicitly
in modern
that they contain. The definitions
are, of course, partial;
of
models
while
reduce
the
family
terminology
they
imposing only very
of the terms involved. But even such
loose restrictions on the extensions
are sufficient to guarantee
that all of the theorems are
partial definitions
true in each of the models.
of calling the conventions
There is also a further consequence
linguis
we refer to someone's
is forested,
belief that Finland
the
tic. When
the belief in terms of a certain sentential structure.
that-clause describes
endow the sentences with
Thus, when Carnap says that the conventions
for what
is expressed
the identity conditions
and provide
provide the
thereby, he could likewise have said that those conventions
a
is to be justified in such
belief
for beliefs. That
identity conditions
it the belief that it is. If the system of
and such ways is what makes
justification were altered it would no longer be the same belief. Thus
when we refer to a specific belief, we implicitly refer to the system of

meaning

justification

which

constitutes

it. Carnap's

approach

here

is in marked

carnap's

conventionalism

147

to
contrast to those who would
identify a belief simply as a disposition
utter a certain sequence of words,
how
of
those
beliefs
independently
are to be justified. Obviously,
this feature of the view will have impor
tant consequences
of
for the issues of skepticism and of the objectivity
belief.
At this point it would be well to say a bit more about convention,
is a
for it is not always clear what is at stake in saying that something
matter of convention
when
(Quine,
1936). Plainly,
Carnap
speaks of
features of our language as conventional,
the semantic and epistemic
to suggest that they are the products of some actual
in antiquity. But shorn of such unhelpful
legislative assembly convened
come to? The answer, in essence,
what
does
conventionality
metaphor,
is to adopt a certain scheme
is that to lay down a linguistic convention
of justification. This scheme involves two specific features: first, there
are alternatives
to certain aspects of the justificatory
system; and, sec
is
choice
these
alternatives
the
ond,
among
arbitrary in the sense that
no justification
to say that
In particular,
for the choice.
is required
are
one
to
down
commits
the
idea that
laid
convention
by
postulates
were
that
have
but
there are alternative
could
been
chosen,
postulates
he does not mean

one likewise
to the idea that no further epistemic
It commits
are
is required. Conventions
for
the
choice
of
justification
postulates
were
not designed
to reflect antecedent
if
and independent
facts;
they
thus designed one would have to show that they had done so. Rather,
create the truths
the postulates
(together with the other conventions)
that they, the postulates,
express.
also reminds us that they are r?vis
Calling the choices conventional
to say that something
able. Again,
is conventional
is to say that there
are alternatives.
can be required for the
That no further justification
should not be taken to suggest either that they are unrevis
postulates
to revise them. We can
able or that as a matter of fact we are unlikely
our
and do constantly
system in order to maximize
adjust
conceptual
a
not be cases where
its usefulness.
Such revisions,
would
however,

not.

a
In abandoning
first believed
and later disbelieved.
of
is
revised
and
therewith
the
the
system
justification
identity
postulate
conditions
for the belief. The words may not have changed between
the postulate
and its apparent denial, but their significance has.
given

claim was

embraced various conventionalist


views from his earliest writ
it was not until The Logical Syntax of Language
that the full
to
then
he
Until
seemed
be
for
the correct
looking
appeared.

Carnap
ings, but
theory

148

RICHARD

CREATH

of the world.
in
Indeed,
logical system or the correct construction
an early version of Logical
case.
was
this
still
the
The
Syntax
fully
above and hereafter
conventionalist
theory described
appeared with
the
Principle
of
conventions.

It

Tolerance:
. . .

is not

our

business

In logic, there are no morals.


Everyone
as he wishes.
All
form of language,

own

discuss
sophical

it, he must
arguments.

state

his methods

(Carnap,

to set up prohibitions,

but

to arrive

at

is at liberty to build up his own logic, i.e., his


to
is required
of him is that, if he wishes
and give syntactical
rules instead of philo
clearly,

[1934J/1937,

that

pp.

51-52)

in saying that in logic there are no morals Carnap


is not
course,
force
is
normative
of
he
that
the
logic. Rather,
denying
emphasizing
to
there is no one uniquely correct normative
be
told.
story
an artificial
one begins as above by
When
language,
constructing
how
conventions
which
determine
various claims may be
down
laying
we
the
When
natural
connection
goes in the
justified.
study
languages
are lies in how
other direction:
evidence
about what the conventions
it is no
various beliefs are justified (Carnap,
1950, p. 37). Of course,
are
to
to
learn
what
claims
taken
what
claims
task
other
easy
justify
and thereby to discover what the principles
of inference are and what
if any, need no further justification.
too, the claim of
claims,
Here,
are alternatives,
in
dual
that
there
consists
the
thesis
conventionality
con
have
been
otherwise
that
the
of
i.e.,
system
justification might
no
that
the
chosen
alternative
needs
further
and
structed,
justification.
are at
the system of justification
That the conventions
constituting
no
to
the
of
the
threat
whatever
bottom
objectivity
arbitrary poses
was
concern
to
of
This
their
and
consequences.
particular
postulates

Of

insofar
Carnap because he thought that all of logic and mathematics,
as the claims thereof can be assessed
at all, is to be justified as are
a system of justification
Once
is
and their consequences.
postulates
are
a
once
terms
the
various
of
the
definite
chosen,
i.e.,
language
given
sense, it is a completely
objective matter whether B is a consequence
It in no way depends on what any person may happen to imagine,
or know about these sentences
1950, p. 38).
think, believe,
(Carnap,
It is likewise a completely
objective matter whether or not a given claim
than
These
needs further justification.
subjective
things are no more

of A.

the truth value of the claim "All swans are white",


the meanings
of the terms are fixed. If the word

given of course that


'white' has a sense

CARNAP'S

149

CONVENTIONALISM

than it in fact does, then the truth value of the claim might
different
be different, but this in no way impugns the objectivity of "All swans are
it
white". Whatever
its truth value, it does not depend on our believing
to be

so.

as I have presented
it so far has a number of
Carnap's epistemology
a
It
of
de
way
significant advantages.
resolving foundational
provides
to worry
bates
in logic and mathematics.
It is no longer necessary
or classical mathematics
intuitionism
is the
whether,
say, Brouwer's
can
correct mathematical
Each
system (Carnap,
[1934J/1937, p. 305).
as a separate proposal
in
be construed
for structuring
short
language,
as a system of implicit definition.
Each can be understood
and its
noted. The proposals
do not conflict with one
practical consequences
another so the foundational
debate can end. It is similarly an advantage
an epistemology
which ac
that the system provides
for mathematics
cords well with our ordinary convictions
about how to justify mathema
tical claims: the justification of theorems
involves deriving them from
is
their
of
and not subject
axioms;
justification
independent
experience
are
to experimental
true.
and
the
theorems
disconfirmation;
objectively
is able to achieve
all this without
into the
Carnap
venturing
a
of
intuitions
tremendous
advance
represents
quagmire
metaphysical
over the previously
at
described
view of Russell.
The conventionality
a
one
turns
out
to
stake in Carnap's
be
and
it
is
virtue,
epistemology
to which we shall have reason to return a little later in this paper. In

That

the meantime
let us look more closely at the historical
and pragmatist
this conventionalist
theory of knowledge.

2.

carnap's

antecedents

of

SOURCES

comes directly from


The prevailing
view is that Carnap's
philosophy
the work of Frege and Russell.
If I am right that conventionalism
and
are
at
the
heart
of
from
about
1932
pragmatism
Carnap's philosophy
then that prevailing view is very misleading.
To be sure, Car
onward,
came
at
not
studied
Jena
with
and
he
nap
away
only with a love
Frege,
intense anti-psychologistic
convictions.
logic but also with Frege's
as we shall see in a moment
was
an
hardly
Frege
epistemologist,
and the views he did hold were the exact antithesis of Carnap's. Russell
but he was also an out-and
by contrast did care about epistemology,
of

But

out metaphysician

(even

if Carnap

could

never

quite

admit

the fact).

150

RICHARD

CREATH

was
As we have already seen, the whole point of Carnap's philosophy
to reject intuition of a Russellian
sort.
come from? The
So, where does the core of Carnap's
epistemology
kernel of the idea of implicit definition
has been around for a long
at the beginning
time. It goes back at least to the work of Gergonne
of the nineteenth
At
the end of that
1936, p. 81n.).
century (Quine,
was
vs.
two
the
of
definition
famous
debates:
Russell
century
subject
vs.
In
and
Hilbert.
Poincar?
and
Hilbert
had
Poincar?,
these,
Frege
forms of implicit definition,
while Russell
and Frege had
defended
the latter of the two debates. There
attacked it. Here I want to examine
are two chief reasons for this. First, it shows how enormously
difficult
someone
even
to
it sometimes
for
of
is,
grasp the
Frege's perspicacity,
idea of a set of axioms defining
the terms they contain and thus in a
a review of this earlier
sense creating the truths they express. Second,
will
the
the
shift
that
show
of
magnitude
episode
Carnap is undertaking,
not only from Frege and Russell but as we shall see even from Hilbert.
of Hubert's.
But it is also much more;
view is a descendent
Carnap's
to cover all of philos
for the notion of implicit definition
is expanded
source
to
in
and
the
of
life
meaning
ophy
physics and ordinary
provide
as well as geometry
and mathematics.
be
appears in their correspondence
controversy
Frege-Hilbert
1895 and 1903 (Frege, 1980, pp. 31-52). The tone of their letters
is quite remarkable.
The usual stock phrases of academic
politeness
are
not
aside, they
friendly letters. It is worth noting that while Frege
was the older man he held a lesser position
at a lesser university.
In
wrote
in
Edmund
Husserl
1936:
fact,
The
tween

I never
our

got

to know

G.
At

correspondence.
but produced
sharp mind
in
1980,
(Husserl,
Frege,

and I no longer remember


the occasion
for
Frege personally,
as
an
a
the time he was generally
outsider
who
had
regarded
or in philosophy.
in mathematics
little or nothing,
whether
p. 61)

or at least the
with Frege,
the time of Husserl's
correspondence
in
second part of it, Husserl was Hubert's
and had
G?ttingen
colleague
seen the Frege-Hilbert
contrast
with
By
Frege, Hil
correspondence.
bert was at the peak of his career, and he could legitimately
claim,
to be one of the two greatest mathematicians
in
along with Poincar?,
the world.
It was not until the 1940s that Frege's
among
reputation
among mathematicians.
logicians rose to the level of Hubert's
his view on some
the correspondence
by explaining
Frege began

At

CARNAP'S

151

CONVENTIONALISM

issues from a previous conversation with Hilbert. Hilbert politely


of opinion between
them. A few
replied that there was no difference
wrote
later
that
Hilbert's
Foundations
years
Frege
of
again, claiming
Geometry was unclear in crucial respects:

minor

are made
to carry a burden
to definitions.
that belongs
this
To me
the dividing
and axioms
in a dubious manner,
line between
definitions
the old meaning
of the word
that
'axiom', which comes out in the proposition

the axioms

Here
seems

to obliterate

and beside
the axioms
one which

fundamental
facts of intuition,
there emerges
express
I no longer quite grasp.
1980,
pp.
35-36)
(Frege,

the axioms express


Note
that for Frege
he does not quite grasp was, of course,

intuitions.
the whole

another

What
point

meaning

but

says
Frege
of Hilbert's

enterprise.

To Frege the problem was worse


than the lack of complete
clarity.
For him, one must understand
the concepts completely
before one can
or consider any as axioms. Only after we
entertain
any propositions
can we ask of a given proposi
understand
the concepts and propositions
tion whether
its truth depends on the truth of any other proposition.
In this way we trace that truth dependence
back to those propositions
on
rest
not
which
do
others.
any
(the axioms)
are merely devices
is permissible;
definition
but definitions
Naturally,
of abbreviation.
that some
definition,
however,
presumes
Abbreviatory
terms

therefore, Frege
(the primitives)
already have meaning.
Oddly,
on to insist that all terms in our propositions
be fully defined,
in this abbreviatory way. That is just not possible. On Fre
apparently
terms must
of the primitive
ge's account how one learns the meanings
remain forever an utter mystery. Once we do learn the meanings,
how
are true? Our knowledge
do we learn which propositions
of the theor
ems flows through inference
from our knowledge
of the axioms. But
our knowledge
is quite different
of the axioms
(and I might add also

went

In speaking

mysterious).
I call axioms
them
be

flows

called

contradict

from

propositions
a source

of geometry

Frege

says:

our knowledge
that are true but are not proved
of
because
a source which might
from the logical source,
very different
From
the truth of the axioms
it follows
that they do not

intuition.
spatial
one another.
There

is therefore

no need

for a further

proof.

(Frege,

1980,

p.

37)
Hilbert's whole program, or at least the central part of it, had been
to prove the consistency
of various groups of axioms or as a part of
this the independence
of various axioms (i.e., the consistency
of a given

152

RICHARD

CREATH

as well as of its negation with a given group of other axioms).


was
that this main body of Hilbert's
here suggesting
work was
Frege
the
of
the
axioms
be
because
truth
could
determined
quite unnecessary
of the various
consistency
directly by intuition and thereby the mutual
was
not
If
axioms could be established
Hilbert
annoyed by
effortlessly.
tone toward the end of the letter
this dismissal of his work, Frege's
would have been sufficiently
irritating. What Frege said was:
axiom

one
not regard your work as a valuable
could be rendered
such objections
harmless;
considerable
1980, p. 38)
(Frege,
reshaping.
I would

how

if I did not believe


but

this will

not

I could

see roughly
without

be possible

in addressing a graduate
Such a tone would have been more appropriate
in Germany.
student than the most prominent mathematician
and his letter covers four basic issues.
did reply, however,
Hilbert
is given by the totality of axioms. Hilbert
is, in effect,
First, meaning
a meaning
holist. Second,
the only thing one can do to give the meaning
is to give axioms;
of a primitive
term, such as 'point',
'line', etc.,
anything else is "fruitless,
illogical, and futile". Third, Frege's point that
has
first we know the truth of the axioms and then infer their consistency
course
Fourth
and
of
definition
the matter
backwards.
finally,
exactly
fix reference,
but that is
via a set of axioms does not irrevocably
fix
of
the
for
It
does, however,
enough
meaning
perfectly
acceptable.
at
hand.
the mathematical
purposes
at
senses from this letter of Hilbert
that he is fundamentally
One
this view.
with Frege, and Frege's
cross-purposes
long reply reinforces
not
the
idea
of
definition.
understand
central
still
does
Frege
implicit
one of which
is important
Frege goes on to raise several objections,
and deserves a reply. Hilbert never did provide such an answer. While
later letters in the Frege-Hilbert
there are several
correspondence,
none is really substantive,
to alter his
and neither man felt compelled
with work to make
said he was too overburdened
view. Hilbert
any
letter
ended with an unpleasant
detailed reply, and the correspondence
from Hilbert:

I find very interesting.


of your Basic Laws, which
thanks for the second volume
Many
us
was
to
at
known
I found other
the
end
of
the
book
Your
here;*
(p. 253)
example
as long as four or five years ago; they led me to the
even more
contradictions
convincing
and that the theory of concept
formation
that traditional
conviction
logic is inadequate
needs

to be

sharpened

and

refined.

*I believe
my

Dr

examples

discovered

Zermelo
to him.

it three
in Frege,

(Hilbert,

153

conventionalism

carnap's

If this deprecation
of Frege's
an invitation:

or four

1980,

years

ago

after

I had

communicated

p. 51)

work were

insufficient

to annoy, Hilbert

added

nor in G?ttingen;
in Cassel
It is a pity that you were neither
you will decide
perhaps
to visit G?ttingen
terms. Since
rail travel
is so comfortable
between
today, personal
to the written
is surely preferable
kind. I at least lack time for the latter.
communication
are a number
in the 'axiomatization
There
of younger
scholars here interested
of logic'
(Hilbert,

in Frege,

1980,

p. 52)

in order to talk
Such an 'invitation' to travel away from the provinces
with the junior faculty and graduate assistants can hardly have appealed
to Frege. It is not surprising that there were no further letters between
the

two.

What do we learn from all this (besides the facts that great logicians
do not always understand
alternative
points of view and that neither
nor
mathematicians
great
great logicians are uniformly very pleasant)?
was a precedent
We
that
there
for the central conven
learn, first,
tionalist core of Carnap's philosophy.
this precedent
is not to
Second,
be found in the Frege-Russell
tradition from which Carnap
is usually
that Frege and Russell
thought to arise, but rather in the tradition
attacked (often bitterly). Third, Carnap went considerably
beyond Hil
bert. Neither
in the correspondence
with Frege nor anywhere
else did
on
hint
of
of
Hilbert
constraints
theory
give any
Carnap's
pragmatic
convention.

Nor

does Hilbert

give any general


theory of analyticity.
the
Moreover,
theory of implicit definition.
Carnap greatly generalized
Not only did he extend it to all of logic, mathematics,
and philosophy,
but as we shall see, he extended
its relevance to the concepts of empiri
In this respect particularly,
cal science as well.
remark that
Feigl's
to
amounts
work
the
Hilbertization
of
the
Carnap's
language of science
is especially prescient.

3.

EXTENDING

THE

In describing Carnap's
thus far of axioms and
and other very abstract
and insofar as claims

STORY

TO

SCIENCE:

METHODOLOGY

and pragmatism
I have spoken
conventionalism
in a way appropriate
to mathematics
definitions
domains. These are domains of our own making,
are acceptable,
these domains
it is
concerning

154

RICHARD

CREATH

have made
them so. In contrast,
postulates
Carnap
not wholly of our own making,
world
is
the
science
of
thought,
empirical
and one of Carnap's
chief aims in framing his epistemic
view was to
an
our
account
of
of
the
external
world.
So far,
knowledge
provide
no
has
made
in
the
either
been
for
scientific
however,
story
provision
or for observational
and to this we must now
methodology
knowledge,
because

our

turn. As we shall see, implicit definition


structure is
by the epistemic
still an important part of Carnap's
the
approach. Moreover,
epistemic
structures are to be laid down by convention
and justified only by the
this
utility of doing so. Finally, we shall see that despite
pragmatic
a
no
in
advocate
of
unbridled
conventionalism
that
is
would
way
Carnap
of our scientific beliefs about the world.
threaten the objectivity
to be said about scientific methodology,
is much
but here I
There
want to make only a few very brief remarks so that I can leave more
room

much
Even
for methodology's
cousin, observation.
neglected
to a single topic: induction.
these brief remarks will be restricted
seen that Carnap's
account of mathematics
and
We have already
no
is
of
is
conventionalist.
There
deductive
justifying
logic
question
Instead
there is no question of finding the correct account.
deduction;
conse
there is only the engineering
task of examining
the practical
or
The
that
it
is
with
induction.
of
this
So
quences
system.
adopting
of
induction
One
traditional
question
justifying
simply drops away.
to have no inductive rules whatever.
But the pragmatic
could choose
and this would be
costs would be high: one could make no prediction
So the question
is
followed by frequent bruises and quick starvation.
to have inductive rules, but which. Here again the matter
not whether
If the rules are too weak,
then we
is one of pragmatic
comparison.
If the rules are too strong,
foreclose or complicate
useful inferences.
is an increased chance that one inference will conflict with
constant
and costly revision. The virtues of
thus
another,
requiring
as
will be
with
of educational
adventure
contrasted
those
security
we
not
all
different
but
need
agree so
weighed
differently
by
people,
as
we
no
our
choices
clear.
There
is
make
long
uniquely
respective
correct system, and the choice among
the alternatives
is pragmatic.
risk (Car
flirted with a strategy of minimal
Carnap himself occasionally
content
of
for
that
is,
nap, 1936, pp. 445-46),
avoiding any empirical
then

there

and in general making


the
and other interpretative
devices,
postulates
as
as
He
weak
whole
did,
possible.
interpretive,
(epistemic) machinery
to provide absolute guaran
that it is never possible
however,
recognize

CARNAP'S

CONVENTIONALISM

155

tees that inconsistency


will be avoided,
and he recognized
that it is
to adopt a stronger epistemology
even if doing
often more convenient
so is riskier. He,
therefore,
usually adopted a strategy of maximizing
in laying down language forms, that is, epistemic
structures.
freedom
This freedom
is still constrained
the
demands
of
by
pragmatic utility,
are sufficient
or empiri
to rule out (absolutely
and those constraints
inconsistent
of
belief.
systems
cally)
I have touched only on deductive
It might be thought that because
I have omitted
all of the really interesting
inductive
inference
as the structure of theories,
of
scientific
such
questions
methodology,
scientific realism,
theoretical
underdeter
formation,
holism,
concept
are simply
etc.
not
true.
This
is
These
latter
mination,
really
questions
into a general theory of scientific inference. For
absorbed by Carnap
the issue of scientific realism can be expressed as the question
example,
to draw from the belief
of what conclusions
that the observational
a
are
true.
with
of
Shall
the realists, conclude
we,
consequences
theory
that the theory is true? Or, shall we with, say, van Fraassen
conclude
one
thinks
to
weaker?
that
is
free
choose
either
something
Carnap
are
either
of
inference.
realists
in
wrong
strategy,
principle
Typical
one
van
correct
that
there
is
inference.
But
Fraassen
only
thinking
be similarly wrong
if he thought
would
that a weaker
of
principle
and

inference was the one uniquely correct principle.


So, which choice does
case
not
make?
Does
he
the
Carnap
against scientific realism
prejudice
the
of
theoretical
by emphasizing
conventionality
concepts and infer
ence? The answer to this latter question
is no, for as we shall see he
insists on the conventionality
of observational
concepts and inferences
as well. The two domains of discourse
are thus on a par, and thus,
unsurprisingly,
Carnap
typically adopts the principle of inference that
he takes to be constitutive
of realism. This discussion of realism is only
an example of the ways in which various methodological
issues can be
absorbed
into a theory of scientific inference, but it is at least a highly
1985).
typical example
(Carnap, 1966, pp. 247-56; Creath,
One final note on induction is in order. That is that Carnap's actual
as a theory of probabil
for inductive inference get expressed
proposals
it,
ity. I cannot even begin to address the controversies
surrounding
but there is one feature that will crop up later. Strictly, probabilities
for Carnap are supposed to be rational betting quotients,
i.e., measures
of the degree of confidence
that is warranted
for a given proposition.
in being certain of the truth of some proposi
Thus, if we are warranted

156

RICHARD

CREATH

of one.
If we should
has a probability
the probability
should be less than one.
is not a theory of rational
actually presents
of the extent to which a given proposition
is supported by the evidence. These are not at all the same thing, as is
is the
itself. To what extent
shown when we ask about the evidence
so
the
evidence?
the
evidence
Well,
completely;
probabil
supported by
is a fallibilist
about
ity of the evidence must be one. But Carnap
so
we
in
the
of
confidence
have
the
evidence
should
observation,
degree
the magnitude
of his diffi
be less than one. Carnap
fully understood
saw
a
never
he
around
it
but
way
1957). In the end
culty,
(Carnap,

tion, then that proposition


be less than certain,
then
what
Unfortunately,
Carnap
degrees of belief but a theory

that does not in fact solve


he accepted Richard
Jeffrey's
suggestion
It
do
what
it to, but not what
may
Jeffrey needs
Carnap's
problem.
I
think
could
have done better,
needs
(Carnap, 1971).4
Carnap
Carnap
the conventionalist
and ironically the way to do so is to develop
and
that
he
of
observation
had.
If I
theory
already (implicitly)
pragmatist
can suggest how that can be done, then I shall not only have helped
as well.
of observation
Carnap but enriched our understanding

4.

EXTENDING

THE

STORY

TO

SCIENCE:

OBSERVATION

In turning to observation
the most surprising thing is how little Carnap
us
in
of
sustained
discussion.
the
True, there is 'On Protocol
way
gives
as
was emerging
in
his
conventionalism
1932
Sentences',
just
produced
he
made
it
that
the
of
There
questions
[1932b]/1987).
plain
(Carnap,
and how much observational
what things were observable
judgments
to be answered by conventions.
He also sug
should be trusted were
some of the conventions
he would
Even here the
propose.
gested
discussion
is sketchy, but thereafter we get even less (Carnap,
1936,
All told, we are given many hints, but no well-worked
pp. 454-56).
out theory. If we 'connect the dots', however,
the outline of a general
does
emerge.
theory
Let us begin by laying down some desiderata,
i.e., some features
to exhibit. Some con
that Carnap wanted
his theory of observation
ditions

will

turn out

to be deeper

than others,

but

that

is perfectly

acceptable.

(1) Fallibilism:

As

previously

mentioned,

Carnap

thought

that we

carnap's

could
fact,

157

conventionalism

in any of our beliefs about


be mistaken
our
in
observational
including
reports.

contingent

matters

of

is somewhat
While
broader,
(2) Physicalism:
physicalism
Carnap's
to observe physical objects
here I mean only that it should be possible
to infer their presence,
from beliefs about
directly, rather than merely
our mind. Let me emphasize
that this physicalism
is a substantial break
from both the Au?au
and from Russell's
brand of Cartesianism.
There are objective
facts about the world,
(3) Objectivity:
indepen
dent of what individuals may think. Thus, observation
reports cannot
themselves
be conventions.
in order to show
One cannot use observation
(4) Non-circularity:
to do so would presuppose
that observation
is to be trusted. Trying
to judge the truth of the obser
that we have independent
evidence
vational beliefs, but such independent
is just what we do not
evidence
have. The most
that a psychologist
could discover
is that her own
or fails to coin
observational
however
coincides
with
evidence,
refined,
cide with the observational
beliefs of her subject. Observation
will have
its role to play, but not this one.
and how
(5) Sensitivity: The question of what things are observable
trustworthy various observational
judgments are must somehow be sen
sitive to contingent matters of fact. The wholly a priori accounts of the
Cartesian will not do.
a condition
Should we add to this list a sixth condition,
of
namely,
naturalism? The answer is no, but not because Carnap rejects natural
ism. Unfortunately,
the word 'naturalism' has come to mean everything
to everybody,
and some writers use it in various ways simultaneously
without
them. If it means merely
that human beings,
distinguishing
their judgments,
and the rest of their mental
lives are all objects and
in the natural world and properly
to be studied by science,
processes
then naturalism
is just a weaker
version of Carnap's
As
physicalism.
such it is adequately
addressed by conditions
and
(2)
(5). If, however,
in a stronger sense according
naturalism
is meant
to which science can
answer every question,
not only about what
is but
straightforwardly

158

RICHARD

creath

to be, then Carnap


This
what ought
rejects this naturalism.
is
in
condition
rejection
expressed
(4).
So, how did Carnap propose to satisfy these conditions? His dominant
This, of course,
vocabulary.
impulse was to isolate an observational
was a dreadful mistake.
The distinction wanted
is at the level of judg
not words,
and as Carnap fully understood
that the distinction
ments,
a matter
so the words used in
must be somehow
of degree. Even
in previously
observational
judgments will get part of their meaning
and principles of inference.
described ways, i.e., via various postulates
is both red and
'red' will get some of its meaning
from "Nothing
Thus,
same
as
a
over
at
all
the
time"
construed
and from
green
postulate,
about

as a
from 'x is red'" construed
'"x is colored'
is directly derivable
of
inference.
principle
involv
Still, this is not enough. We need rules to connect judgments
a rule
with
the
A
schema
'red'
world.
for
such
directly
general
ing
be:
might
In conditions Q, you may
of justification
Ji.

assert proposition

Pi with

degree

an assertion
that there is a red
As a first approximation,
perhaps
a certain degree of justification,
of
truck will be assigned
regardless
sun
the
that
the
is
conditions.
under
conditions
and
shining
Perhaps
the believer's eyes are open, itwould get a higher degree of justification.
the conditions
that the believer
has taken a narcotic or that
Under
there is a billboard between
the believer and the purported
location of
and
the truck, the assertion would get a lower degree of justification,
so

on.

a language requires acquiring


the appropriate
habits. This
Learning
If you
is likewise true of learning the observational
of
parts
language.
in the right circumstances
have not learned to respond to red objects
with the appropriate
degree of belief in "This is red", then you have
not fully grasped
of the word
'red'. If you have not
the meaning
learned to correct others' observational
reports of "This is red" or to
made against yourself,
such criticism when appropriately
acknowledge
of the word
then you have not fully learned the meaning
'red', either.
use
rules
the
of the word
The totality of these epistemic
governing
uses
or
the word
'red'
alternatively
governing beliefs whose expression
In the implicit definition of mathema
'red' in effect defines the word.
to
and inference
rules
tical terms, the freedom
lay down postulates

carnap's

159

conventionalism

to define our terms in


arbitrarily was part and parcel of our freedom
whatever way we desire. So it is with terms which have observational
so that a non-inferen
uses. Our freedom to construct our epistemology
is red is justified to a certain degree arises
tial belief that something
as
from our freedom to define 'red' (and 'justified') as we wish. Again,
we
what
what
definitions
in the mathematical
case,
choose,
i.e.,
precise
to fill out the schema for various conditions,
will be
way we choose
As we shall see presently,
these
influenced by pragmatic considerations.
will
insure that the theory will satisfy the
considerations
pragmatic
desiderata
outlined above.
of words
in observational
While
the meanings
reports are conven
not.
content
is
That
red
is a feature that
the
of
those
tional,
reports
can be directly reported rather than merely
inferred is a fact about its
is fixed,
and it is a result of a convention.
Once the meaning
meaning,
one
no
a
matter
what
of
is
of
choice
belief
it
however,
longer
degree
so
this
should have in a specified circumstance.
account,
far,
Thus,
condition and the non-circularity
condition.
satisfies both the objectivity
In order to see how the account might satisfy the sensitivity condition,
an analogy with measurement
concepts might be helpful. When we first
establish a concept of length we could choose as our measure
of linear
a
metal
rod
without
for
thermal
congruence
any adjustments
making
in comparison
Such a choice might prove inconvenient
inhomogeneity.
of measurement,
but
with our usual 'temperature
corrected' procedures
are only pragmatic.
neither choice would be incorrect. The differences
to say that one procedure
Indeed,
gave incorrect results presupposes
for determining
what
that we already have an independent
procedure
the correct results are. But ex hypothesi we do not yet have such a
If there were a uniquely correct standard of measurement,
procedure.
we could not discover
that it was so even in principle. Thus,
it seems
best to abandon
this assumption
that there could be such a uniquely
correct standard and say instead merely
that there are different avail
able

standards

results and defining


giving different
(in part) different
a
must
of
We
standard
of measure
concepts
length.
begin by choosing
cannot
and
that
choice
be
but
conventional.
This should
ment,
anything
not suggest, however,
that there can be no reasons for preferring one
standard over another. We can discover
that some standard is more
seem to be the
to use overall. The uncorrected
convenient
rod might
most convenient,
but we have to consider our convenience
in using the
physics

to be built on it as well.

If we wish

to take the uncorrected

rod

160

RICHARD

creath

as our standard, then we are forced to say that when the rod is brought
near a flame the rest of the universe
shrinks. This is a perfectly consist
ent claim, but such a physics would be extremely
cumbersome.
Our
desire to avoid a clumsy physics supplies a reason for preferring a given
to show at most
but it is a pragmatic
reason, for it purports
choice serves our overall aims and purposes
better than the
other choice of standard. These
claims
the only
pragmatic
provide
sense that can be made of the assertion
that a temperature
corrected
rod is a better
indicator of length. The definition
is non
measuring
standard,
that one

to contingent matters
of fact (Carnap,
circular, but it is also sensitive
1966, pp. 91-95).
So it is with human observation;
indeed human beings can be thought
of as measuring
devices
for certain features of the world. But just as
so can
rods can be read in a number of different ways,
measuring
to set up for the first time a concept of
If we were
human observers.
color we could choose to take human beliefs about the colors of objects
in the vicinity as evidence,
to some degree
i.e., take them as warranted
even though those beliefs were not inferred from other beliefs. Alterna
tively, just as we could 'correct' the metal rod for changes in tempera
either by letting the
ture, so we could correct the person's
beliefs,
beliefs vary in what degree of warrant
they enjoy in diverse circum
stances (e.g., beliefs about the colors of objects
in broad daylight are
more
than
those
about
illuminated
vapor
justified
objects
by mercury
for
evidence
lamps), or even by taking them as phenomena
providing
a
an
different
claims
under
these
that
report
(e.g.,
object
quite
lights
is blue indicates
that it is green, or more
under
these
colloquially,
are
The
is
look
that
there
alternative
lights green things
blue).
point
for determining
what
the color of an object
is, and it is
procedures
to talk about the right procedure
apart from our already
misleading
a
chosen
standard
of
judging.
having
a measuring
Even so, just as there can be reasons for preferring
rod
can
reasons
corrected
for temperature
there
be
for
changes,
preferring
our non-inferential
in
about color for changes
judgments
reasons
are
we
If
And
the
still
choose
lighting conditions.
pragmatic.
then either justified judgments must be fre
'uncorrected
observers',
that the colors of things are
quently revised or else we must conclude
in color do not correlate
in any tidy way
and changes
highly unstable
with other changes interior to the objects themselves.
There is nothing
inconsistent
about such a position,
but many will find it unnecessarily
to correct

CARNAP'S

161

CONVENTIONALISM

In any case the argument


for preferring
and undesirably
cumbersome.
a given way of judging color can show at most that one choice serves
our overall aims and purposes better than another.
reasons there are several general features that
For such pragmatic
we might wish for in our rules of non-inferential
the results
justification:
to things
should be stable enough so that the properties we attribute
only in simple,
regular ways. The rules should be cautious
we
so
not
that
need
constantly revise our most highly warranted
enough
the rules should be strong en
however,
judgments. Correspondingly,
to
Sometimes
the cost of making our non
allow
useful
ough
prediction.
to
inferential
less
disconfirmation
open
judgments
(perhaps by re
our
to
to
them
claims
about
mental
is
make
reasonable
states)
stricting
events
and
about
future
difficult.
Finally,
extremely complex
predictions
the rules should permit shared results to allow for joint investigation
reasons Carnap
and action. For all these pragmatic
thinks that it is
a
no
to
in
which
observational
reports
highly prudent
language
adopt
change

are certain

are genuinely
i.e., physical objects. Carnap's
represents,
public,
physicalism
nature of the world,
therefore, not a deep insight into the metaphysical
structures
to set up; it is a
but a proposal
governing what epistemic
recommendation
about what
is the most
fruitful and useful way of
is the basis for Carnap's
Such pragmatism
fashioning our epistemology.
and
fallibilism as well. In this way conditions
(1)
(2) are satisfied, not
and

in which

the basic

language

but by the language

observational

reports

about

by any possible
on

pragmatic

that Carnap

recommends

grounds.

as Carnap wanted,
as degrees
Now we really can take probabilities
are conventionally
statements
of rational belief. The evidence
assigned
a probability
less than one. In differing
(rational degree of belief)
circumstances
From the 'out
they are assigned differing probabilities.
side' these assignment
rules can be viewed as rules of criticism. From
in the rules will refer to items
the 'inside' the circumstance mentioned
in the believer's background
Once
the evidence
is in place
knowledge.
own
and properly
then
of
evidential
fallible,
theory
support
Carnap's
to other beliefs,
will finish assigning probabilities
including theoretical
ones.

I have been speaking as though what happens


in observation
is that
a degree of belief comes
into being where none existed before,
and
thus that the rules of rational belief in these cases govern such initiation
of belief. This may be a convenient
but it is also
way of speaking,

162

RICHARD

CREATH

we
It would be more accurate
to say that in observation
misleading.
of
belief.
To
this
the
adjust previously
existing
degrees
accomplish
conventional
rules will have to contain a parameter
for these prior
and then indicate how in varying
circumstances
these
probabilities
be
adjusted non-inferentially.
priors may
Itmay seem that the enterprise
is utterly a priori and hence insensitive
to contingent
facts about our observational
powers and reliability. This
is not so. As with standards of spatial and temporal measurement,
the
conventional
standards are highly constrained
consider
by pragmatic
ations. Let us see how this might work.
We
albeit conventionally,
having
begin with observation
suitably,
of
in
rational
belief.
Note
that
assigned
degrees
using this word 'ration
al' I am highlighting
the normative character of the probabilities.
From
these we build up and confirm theories which ultimately
explain both
on which their confirmation
rests and
the very processes of observation
our
the reliability of
observational
judgments. This notion of reliability
here
i.e.,

is also a probability
as

descriptive

relation,

this time understood

as a frequency,

relation.

It seems fitting that the degree of reliability should match


the degree
To insist that they
of justification
(that is, rational degree of belief).
one a giant step further away from classical foun
must match moves
and toward a modest
coherentism.
Let me here announce
dationalism
I
and
Creath's
suspect
certainly hope is provable,
(which
conjecture
not
to
I
do
have
it): if the degree of reliability
though
proved
pretend
and the degree of its rational credibility do not match,
of observation
is decision-theoretically
then the language
unstable,
i.e., a decision
can
be
from
within
theoretic
the
that one
argument
language
given
a
to
If
this
choose
different
is
conjecture
right, then
ought
language.5
con
the pragmatic
beyond
Carnap needs no additional
requirement
the system is highly sensitive to the
straints he already has. Moreover,
facts addressed by empirical psychology.
contingent
If we concentrate
of reliability, we might
solely on these explanations
be tempted to suppose that empirical psychology
by itself can answer
the fundamental
of epistemology.
But such a supposition
questions
as
we
seen.
would be circular,
have
It would also confuse the normative
and descriptive
of probability.
Some have been tempted
interpretations
to give reliability
and knowledge
theories of justification
(Goldman,
to pick out
have been hard pressed
however,
1986). Such theorists,
the relevant conditions
for measuring
reliability. The current proposal

163

conventionalism

carnap's

in the conditions
(Q), mentioned
helps these reliabilists by specifying
are.
At the same
what
the
relevant
conditions
in the epistemic
rules,
the current proposal
time that it shows what is right about reliabilism,
in a larger context.
shows how that view must be embedded
a
with
rejection of intuition as a source
began
Carnap's philosophy
From the current vantage point we can now see that the
of knowledge.
Intuitive judgments are unreliable,
conflict
objections were pragmatic.
no
In
of
the
of
such a
and
unshared.
short,
explanation
reliability
ing,
was
same
can
of
could
The
be
said
any
process
be) forthcoming.
(or
mode of knowing. Thus, even em
(i.e., metaphysical)
trans-empirical
to be defended
and Carnap
is a proposal
says
pragmatically,
piricism
just that in 'Testability and Meaning'
(Carnap, 1937, p. 33).
We have come full circle: starting with a rejection of intuition, Carnap
a vast conventionalist
and pragmatic epistemology.
Our job
constructed
was to unearth
it and to extend
it a bit. Carnap could then not only
avoid relying on intuition,
but also (pragmatically)
justify in detail
his having done so. That
is no small accomplishment
for Carnap's
Hilbertization
what

it would

of the language of science.


lead to, perhaps he would

If Feigl could have foreseen


have smiled right along with

Carnap.

NOTES
1

to criticize
he deeply
but clearly
found it nearly
admired,
anyone
Carnap
impossible
was a special case. From very early in his career Carnap
Russell
the work of
devoured
and from it he drew the reassurance
of a kindred
for
Russell,
spirit as well as inspiration
with help and generosity;
his own work. To this Russell
have
responded
Carnap would
man
as a 'father figure'.
as is well known,
Russell
Furthermore,
even on major
it happens
the book of Russell
his mind
issues. As
changed
influenced
of the External World
(George Allen
Carnap was Our Knowledge
as well
and Unwin,
the inspiration
for the Au?au
London,
1914). That book was plainly
was strictly the logic of science.
as for Carnap's
conviction
that the task of philosophy
in at the end of the third chapter of his personal
Indeed, Carnap
copy: "This
penciled
... is my task"
of Pittsburgh,
p.
Carnap Collection,
University
(see copy in the Rudolf
book
is a vigorous
attack on the very idea that
of Russell's
the first chapter
97). But

described

the older

frequently
that most

intuition

is a source

not implausibly,
that
of knowledge.
believe
Thus,
could,
Carnap
error and hence no longer needed
his previous
that
the criticism
repented
didn't want
to give anyway.
Carnap
2
as epistemology
to be given
avoided
his work
for reasons
Carnap
usually
describing
But not always.
In scattered
his writing
he conceded
its
passages
presently.
throughout

Russell

epistemic

had

character.

epistemological.

Quine,

too,

intermittently

has described

Carnap's

basic

notions

as

RICHARD

164

CREATH

3
to belabor
it is unnecessary
this point as I have done, but Burton Dreben
has
Perhaps
so he may be right.
in these matters,
He is often insightful
reached a contrary
conclusion.
reasons.
to disagree with him without
In any case,
clear and cogent
it is unwise
4
I do not mean
to fault Jeffrey here. His
intentions
and the theory
differ from Carnap's,
it faces likewise differ. Even
he advances
so, Jeffrey's
together with whatever
problems
suggestions

are

and Carnap
finds them helpful.
If it does not fully solve
constructive,
for Carnap,
not Jeffrey.
that is a problem
out in conversation,
has pointed
here that a
there is no guarantee
for which
the degree
of reliability
of observation
and the degree
of its rational

difficulty,
Carnap's
5
As Robert
Nozick
language
original
In fact,
would

A sufficiently
be normal
from our usual perspective.
weird
the odd reliability.
theory which would
support a weird
explain
this is pretty harmless.
As with all measurements,
the results
one can
at hand. For example,
to the procedures
of measurement

will

do match

credibility

assignment
however,
relativized

might
all of

be

measure

perspective;
a rubber rod, those
also suggest
should

a rubber

with

the universe

current

rod; the results


measuring
the results have to be relativized

but because

be weird

even

there may

our

from

to the method

are not

results
that

will

of using
This

really in conflict with our usual measurements.


if degrees
and rational
of reliability
match,
credibility
the language
considerations
that would make
decision

be other pragmatic
that this is the case for the use of a rubber measuring
unstable. We all assume
theoretically
it is also true with many weird
initial conventions
of observational
rod. Doubtless
justifi
cation.
more
under

Finally,
than one

there would

be

decision-theoretically
that these
the assumption

if it should be discovered
that
wrong
nothing
stable language. This is just what one would
are conventions.

is

there
expect

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