Carnap, Quine, Tarski: 1940-1941

If you’re reading Obscure and Confused Ideas or the comments to this post on, then you probably know that Greg Frost-Arnold is working on a book about what went on at Harvard in 1940/41, when Carnap, Quine, and Tarski were hanging out there. While you’re waiting for that book to come out, you could look at Paolo Mancosu‘s paper on some of the same stuff, hot off the presses of HPL:

Paolo Mancosu, Harvard 1940–1941: Tarski, Carnap and Quine on a finitistic language of mathematics for science. History and Philosophy of Logic 26/4 (2005) 327-357

Tarski, Carnap and Quine spent the academic year 1940–1941 together at Harvard. In their autobiographies, both Carnap and Quine highlight the importance of the conversations that took place among them during the year. These conversations centred around semantical issues related to the analytic/synthetic distinction and on the project of a finitist/nominalist construction of mathematics and science. Carnap’s Nachlaß in Pittsburgh contains a set of detailed notes, amounting to more than 80 typescripted pages, taken by Carnap while these discussions were taking place. In my article, I present a survey of these notes with special emphasis on Tarski’s rejection of the analytic/synthetic distinction, the passage from typed languages to first-order languages, Tarski’s finitism/nominalism, and the construction of a finitist language for mathematics and science.

Maybe Greg wants to follow up?

(PS: The new issue of HPL also includes the full review of Torkel Franzén’s book Use and Abuse of Gödel’s Theorem announced previously.)

One thought on “Carnap, Quine, Tarski: 1940-1941

  1. Thanks for the free publicity! I don’t have much to say in terms of ‘following up,’ but I can’t pass up this kind invitation.First, I wholeheartedly recommend Paolo’s HPL; article to anyone whose interest is piqued by Richard’s post here. Paolo’s article contains the “greatest hits” of these notes, while the book that I am working on (due out early-to-mid 2007) is akin to a ‘complete discography’: Paolo quotes extensively from the highlights, while my work is a translation of every last word. The introduction to the book will also provide a ‘then and now’ treatment of a series of topics, in particular, nominalism, formal semantics, analyticity, and the unity of science — for the notes often sound misleadingly modern.Finally, these notes form the basis of my dissertation. Basically, the dissertation reconstructs and evaluates the most important (or at least, most interesting to me) claims and arguments found in the notes, along with a bit of properly historical work and a couple of original philosophical arguments of my own. (There are currently no plans to publish it in part or in whole, though an abbreviated version of one of the chapters will appear in the PSA 2004 volume. ) Lastly, I must mention that Richard’s dissertation on Hilbert and finitism was extremely helpful to me in the early stages of working on these 40-41 notes, since Carnap, Tarski et al. claim they are working on a “finitist” project. I count myself very fortunate that he posted the dissertation to the web, for it cleared up several of my initial confusions. Thanks!Posted by Greg Frost-Arnold

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