As a ten-year-old, Carnap accompanied his uncle on an expedition to Greece. From to , he attended the University of Jena , intending to write a thesis in physics. While Carnap held moral and political opposition to World War I , he felt obligated to serve in the German army. After three years of service, he was given permission to study physics at the University of Berlin , —18, where Albert Einstein was a newly appointed professor. Carnap then attended the University of Jena , where he wrote a thesis defining an axiomatic theory of space and time.

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The construction of sentence 1 is simply based on the mistake of employing the word "nothing" as a noun, because it is customary in ordinary language to use it in this form in order to construct a negative existential statement see IIA.

In a correct language, on the other hand, it is not a particular name, but a certain logical form of the sentence that serves this purpose see IIIA. Sentence IIB2 adds something new, viz. We pointed out before that the meaningless words of metaphysics usually owe their origin to the fact that a meaningful word is deprived of its meaning through its metaphorical use in metaphysics.

But here we confront one of those rare cases where a new word is introduced which never had a meaning to begin with. Likewise sentence IIB3 must be rejected for two reasons. In respect of the error of using the word "nothing" as a noun, it is like the previous sentences. But in addition it involves a contradiction. For even if it were admissible to introduce "nothing" as a name or description of an entity, still the existence of this entity would be denied in its very definition, whereas sentence 3 goes on to affirm its existence.

This sentence, therefore, would be contradictory, hence absurd, even if it were not already meaningless. And this presumption is further strengthened as we go on to read there that anxiety reveals the Nothing, that the Nothing itself is present as such in anxiety.

For here the word "nothing" seems to refer to a certain emotional constitution, possibly of a religious sort, or something or other that underlies such emotions. If such were the case, then the mentioned logical errors in sentences IIB would not be committed.

But the first sentence of the quotation at the beginning of this section proves that this interpretation is not possible. The combination of "only" and "nothing else" shows unmistakably that the word "nothing" here has the usual meaning of a logical particle that serves for the formulation of a negative existential statement. This introduction of the word "nothing" is then immediately followed by the leading question of the treatise: "What about this Nothing?

But our doubts as to a possible misinterpretation get completely dissolved as we note that the author of the treatise is clearly aware of the conflict between his questions and statements, and logic. To this question too there is a ready answer: "The alleged sobriety and superiority of science becomes ridiculous if it does not take the Nothing seriously. The difference between our thesis and that of the earlier anti-metaphysicians should now be clear.

We do not regard metaphysics as "mere speculation" or "fairy tales. Metaphysics is not "superstition"; it is possible to believe true and false propositions, but not to believe meaningless sequences of words. Metaphysical statements are not even acceptable as "working hypotheses"; for an hypothesis must be capable of entering into relations of deducibility with true or false empirical statements, which is just what pseudo-statements cannot do.

With reference to the so-called limitation of human knowledge an attempt is sometimes made to save metaphysics by raising the following objection: metaphysical statements are not, indeed, verifiable by man nor by any other finite being; nevertheless they might be construed as conjectures about the answers which a being with higher or even perfect powers of knowledge would make to our questions, and as such conjectures they would, after all, be meaningful.

To counter this objection, let us consider the following. If the meaning of a word cannot be specified, or if the sequence of words does not accord with the rules of syntax, then one has not even asked a question. Just think of the pesudo-questions: "Is this table teavy? Where there is no question, not even an omniscient being can give an answer.

Now the objector may say: just as one who can see may communicate new knowledge to the blind, so a higher being might perhaps communicate to us metaphysical knowledge, e.

Here we must reflect on the meaning of "new knowledge. For this sort of thing we can test, just the way even a blind man can understand and test the whole of physics and therewith any statement made by those who can see. But if those hypothetical beings tell us something which we cannot verify, then we cannot understand it either; in that case no information has been communicated to us, but mere verbal sounds devoid of meaning though possibly associated with images.

It follows that our knowledge can only be quantitatively enlarged by other beings, no matter whether they know more or less or everything, but no knowledge of an essentially different kind can be added.

Therefore no god and no devil can give us metaphysical knowledge. But our results apply with equal validity, in part even in verbally identical ways, to other metaphysical systems. That treatise is completely in the right in citing approvingly a statement by Hegel "pure Being and pure Nothing, therefore, are one and the same".

The metaphysics of Hegel has exactly the same logical character as this modern system of metaphysics. And the same holds for the rest of the metaphysical systems, though the kind of phraseology and therewith the kind of logical errors that occur in them deviate more or less from the kind that occurs in the examples we discussed. It should not be necessary here to adduce further examples of specific metaphysical sentences in diverse systems and submit them to analysis.

We confine ourselves to an indication of the most frequent kinds of errors. Perhaps the majority of the logical mistakes that are committed when pseudo-statements are made, are based on the logical faults infecting the use of the word "to be" in our language and of the corresponding words in other languages, at least in most European languages.

The first fault is the ambiguity of the word "to be. This mistake is aggravated by the fact that metaphysicians often are not clear about this ambiguity. The second fault lies in the form of the verb in its second meaning, the meaning of existence. The verbal form feigns a predicate where there is none. To be sure, it has been known for a long time that existence is not a property cf.

But it was not until the advent of modern logic that full consistency on this point was reached: the syntactical form in which modern logic introduces the sign for existence is such that it cannot, like a predicate, be applied to signs for objects, but only to predicates cf. Most metaphysicians since antiquity have allowed themselves to be seduced into pseudo-statements by the verbal, and therewith the predicative form of the word "to be," e.

We notice at once two essential logical mistakes. The first lies in the conclusion "I am. But in that case this sentence violates the above-mentioned logical rule that existence can be predicated only in conjunction with a predicate, not in conjunction with a name subject, proper name. An existential statement does not have the form "a exists" as in "I am," i.

What follows from "I am a European" is not "I exist," but "a European exists. The verbal form easily misleads us into the misconception that existence is a predicate. One then arrives at such logically incorrect and hence senseless modes of expression as were just examined.

Likewise such forms as "Being" or "Not-Being," which from time immemorial have played a great role in metaphysics, have the same origin. In a logically correct language such forms cannot even be constructed. It appears that in the Latin and the German languages the forms "ens" or "das Seiende" were, perhaps under the seductive influence of the Greek example, introduced specifically for use by metaphysicians; in this way the language deteriorated logically whereas the addition was believed to represent an improvement.

Another very frequent violation of logical syntax is the so-called "type confusion" of concepts. While the previously mentioned mistake consists in the predicative use of a symbol with non-predicative meaning, in this case a predicate is, indeed, used as predicate yet as predicate of a different type.

We have here a violation of the rules of the so-called theory of types. An artificial example is the sentence we discussed earlier: "Caesar is a prime number. The error of type confusion is, unlike the previously discussed usage of the verb "to be," not the prerogative of metaphysics but already occurs very often in conversational language also.

But here it rarely leads to nonsense. The typical ambiguity of words is here of such a kind that it can be easily removed. Example: 1. The mistake is here unimportant; it could, e. Since the confusion of types causes no harm in conversational language, it is usually ignored entirely.

This is, indeed, expedient for the ordinary use of language, but has had unfortunate consequences in metaphysics. Here the conditioning by everyday language has led to confusions of types which, unlike those in everyday language, are no longer translatable into logically correct form.

Pseudo-statements of this kind are encountered in especially large quantity, e. The latter has adopted many peculiarities of the Hegelian idiom along with their logical faults e. Having found that many metaphysical statements are meaningless, we confront the question whether there is not perhaps a core of meaningful statements in metaphysics which would remain after elimination of all the meaningless ones.

Indeed, the results we have obtained so far might give rise to the view that there are many dangers of falling into nonsense in metaphysics, and that one must accordingly endeavor to avoid these traps with great care if one wants to do metaphysics.

But actually the situation is that meaningful metaphysical statements are impossible. This follows from the task which metaphysics sets itself: to discover and formulate a kind of knowledge which is not accessible to empirical science.

We have seen earlier that the meaning of a statement lies in the method of its verification. A statement asserts only so much as is verifiable with respect to it. Therefore a sentence can be used only to assert an empirical proposition, if indeed it is used to assert anything at all.

If something were to lie, in principle, beyond possible experience, it could be neither said nor thought nor asked. Meaningful statements are divided into the following kinds. They say nothing about reality. The formulae of logic and mathematics are of this kind. They are not themselves factual statements, but serve for the transformation of such statements. Secondly there are the negations of such statements "contradictions". They are self-contradictory, hence false by virtue of their form.

With respect to all other statements the decision about truth or falsehood lies in the protocol sentences. They are therefore true or false empirical statements and belong to the domain of empirical science. Any statement one desires to construct which does not fall within these categories becomes automatically meaningless. Since metaphysics does not want to assert analytic propositions, nor to fall within the domain of empirical science, it is compelled to employ words for which no criteria of application are specified and which are therefore devoid of sense, or else to combine meaningful words in such a way that neither an analytic or contradictory statement nor an empirical statement is produced.

In either case pseudo-statements are the inevitable product. Logical analysis, then, pronounces the verdict of meaninglessness on any alleged knowledge that pretends to reach above or behind experience. This verdict hits, in the first place, any speculative metaphysics, any alleged knowledge by pure thinking or by pure intuition that pretends to be able to do without experience. But the verdict equally applies to the kind of metaphysics which, starting from experience, wants to acquire knowledge about that which transcends experience by means of special inferences e.

Further, the same judgment must be passed on all philosophy of norms, or philosophy of value, on any ethics or esthetics as a normative discipline.

For the objective validity of a value or norm is even on the view of the philosophers of value not empirically verifiable nor deducible from empirical statements; hence it cannot be asserted in a meaningful statement at all. In other words: Either empirical criteria are indicated for the use of "good" and "beautiful" and the rest of the predicates that are employed in the normative sciences, or they are not. In the first case, a statement containing such a predicate turns into a factual judgment, but not a value judgment; in the second case, it becomes a pseudo-statement.

It is altogether impossible to make a statement that expresses a value judgment. Finally, the verdict of meaninglessness also hits those metaphysical movements which are usually called, improperly, epistemological movements, that is realism insofar as it claims to say more than the empirical fact that the sequence of events exhibits a certain regularity, which makes the application of the inductive method possible and its opponents: subjective idealism, solipsism, phenomenalism, and positivism in the earlier sense.


On Carnap's Elimination of Metaphysics



Rudolf Carnap






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