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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Carnap's Pragmatism
by Surovell, Jonathan, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2013, 151; 3577180
Abstract (Summary)

One of Carnap’s overarching aims was to set philosophy on a firm scientific footing. He relied primarily on two ideas to achieve his ideal of a scientific philosophy: verificationism, according to which only empirically testable or logically determinate sentences are meaningful, and the Principle of Tolerance, which held that we are free to choose whichever system of empirical knowledge is most expedient. The logical empiricism embodied in these views is is widely believed to have been decisively refuted by a variety of objections.

My dissertation seeks to clarify the content and aims of Carnap’s tolerance and verificationism, and to defend the resulting view against some of the most influential objections to logical empiricism. I argue that both tolerance and verificationism are manifestations of Carnap’s fundamentally pragmatic conception of scientific language; for Carnap, precise formulations of scientific theory—“languages for science”— are to be viewed as instruments for the derivation of intersubjective observational knowledge.

Verificationism, on my interpretation, is the decision to narrow one’s options for a language for science to those languages in which every sentence is either empirically testable or logically determinate. This decision is motivated by Carnap’s pragmatism: any sentence that is neither empirically testable nor logically determinate makes no contribution to the aim with which the pragmatist uses scientific language.

I use this pragmatist account of verificationism to respond to two objections. The first is Hilary Putnam’s version of the argument that verificationism is neither empirical nor analytic, and is therefore meaningless by its own lights. According to Putnam, Carnap’s construal of verificationism as significant in a practical, but non-cognitive, sense, in response to the objection, presupposes verificationism. Carnap’s response is therefore viciously circular. I respond that Carnap’s non-cognitive conception of verificationism presupposes pragmatism, and not verificationism, and thereby avoids Putnam’s circularity. Second, there is a widespread belief that verificationism requires a criterion of empirical significance in order to demarcate the empirically testable sentences, but that no such criterion can be formulated. I reply that by adopting the pragmatic conception, the verificationist can select her favored language in the case-by-case manner described by Goldfarb and Ricketts, without a criterion of empirical significance.

Carnap’s pragmatism maintains that the goal of scientific language is the derivation of observation reports. It therefore helps itself to a notion of observation report, of observation language. This notion is another major source of skepticism about logical empiricism. I argue that Carnap’s account of observation language in “Testability and Meaning” is sufficient for the purposes of his pragmatism. On this account, a term is observational to the extent that it can be applied on the basis of minimal observation and inference. A degree of observationality can then be arbitrarily designated sufficient and necessary for a term’s being observational in the language. I show that this approach to fixing the observation language is not vulnerable to van Fraassen’s objections.

Finally, pragmatism helps to clarify Carnap’s Principle of Tolerance. According to a widely held view, Carnap’s tolerance rests on “relativity to language”: since a language for science provides the rules for inquiry—be these semantic or evidential rules—language cannot itself be subject to such rules. So interpreted, the Principle of Tolerance is able to provide a critique of what I call ‘first philosophy’, i.e., the doctrine that the choice of concepts or rules in science can be constrained by considerations external to these rules. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ricketts, Thomas
School: University of Pittsburgh
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 75/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Metaphysics, Philosophy of Science, Philosophy
Keywords: Carnap, Rudolf, Logical empiricism, Pragmatism, Vienna Circle
Publication Number: 3577180
ISBN: 978-1-303-59307-9
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