Two Constants in Carnap’s View on Scientific Theories

In Sebastian Lutz & Adam Tamas Tuboly (eds.), Logical Empiricism and the Physical Sciences: From Philosophy of Nature to Philosophy of Physics. New York, USA: Routledge. pp. 354-378 (2021)
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Abstract

The received view on the development of the correspondence rules in Carnap’s philosophy of science is that at first, Carnap assumed the explicit definability of all theoretical terms in observational terms and later weakened this assumption. In the end, he conjectured that all observational terms can be explicitly defined in in theoretical terms, but not vice versa. I argue that from the very beginning, Carnap implicitly held this last view, albeit at times in contradiction to his professed position. To establish this point I argue that, first, Carnap’s ‘Über die Aufgabe der Physik’ is a contribution to the philosophy of science of logical empiricism, contrary to Thomas Mormann and in agreement with Herbert Feigl. Second, Michael Friedman misunderstands the ‘Aufgabe’ with his claim that it describes a method for arriving at explicit definitions for theoretical terms. Another received view on Carnap’s philosophy of science is that it assumed a formalization of physical theories that was too detached from actual physics and thus justly disavowed in favor of the semantic view as, for example, developed by van Fraassen. But the ‘Aufgabe’ and related works including the Aufbau show that from the very beginning to his last works, Carnap suggested formalizing physical theories as restrictions in mathematical spaces, as in the state-space conception of scientific theories favored by van Fraassen.

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Sebastian Lutz
Uppsala University

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