Several of the blog entries here have been about the Quine-Carnap debate over the status of analytic truth. Generally, I don't feel the force of Quine's arguments as they are usually presented, either because his interpretation of Carnap is unfair or inaccurate, or the arguments just aren't that persuasive. Multiple commentators on the Quine-Carnap debate have suggested that the two are 'talking past each other,' at least to some degree. So, I am constantly trying to find a way to make Quine's view make sense to me, AND simultaneously really disagree with Carnap. This seems like installment 19 or so in that endeavor.
Carnap and Quine agree that language can be studied at various levels of abstraction. Using Carnap's taxonomy, we start at the level of pragmatics, where we study how individual speakers use expressions under particular circumstances. This level contains the most detail: speakers, their circumstances, plus the meanings of the words for particular speakers under particular circumstances. At the next, more abstract level, we have semantics, which abstracts away from particular speakers and particular circumstances. And at the highest level, we have syntax, which abstracts away the meanings of words, leaving just the symbols, the way they are put together, and which strings follow from others.
In each transition from pragmatics to semantics to syntax, some information about language is omitted/ discarded. (Like the move from Euclidean geometry to neutral geometry, which drops the parallel postulate.) Now, we can conceive of Quine's indeterminacy of meaning thesis (the radical translation thought experiment) as critiquing Carnap in the following way: Carnap is importing
or introducing new information
at the semantic level, because the semantic facts Carnap includes in a semantically-characterized language [a "semantic system"] cannot be 'read off' even the information contained at the pragmatic level. The analogy in the geometry case shows why this is clearly an unacceptable maneuver. It would be: thinking that there exists some claim that could be proved in neutral geometry (= Euclid's first four postulates only) but couldn't be proved in Euclidean geometry.
This may not be Quine's actual worry; his concern may stem from the fact that applied semantics (or whatever branch of language study) underdetermines pure semantics (or whatever). However, Carnap is perfectly happy to accept that claim: Creath says this is why Carnap's copy of Word and Object
Ch.2 (Indeterminacy of Translation) has no marginalia. [But how does the geometry analogy fare here? Would Carnap admit that applied geometry underdetermines pure geometry? My guess is yes; and that that's not so bad...
Labels: Carnap, history of analytic, Quine