Carnap on “Syntax” vs “Semantics”

Carnap’s Logical Syntax of Language actually deals with semantic notions such as “analytic.”  Why, then, didn’t he call it “semantics”? 

When the project was still in its early stages, Carnap sent a manuscript entitled “Metalogik” to Heinrich Behmann.  Behmann objected to the title and suggested as alternatives first “Logic of Language” and then “Semantics.” Carnap replied:

I like the term “semantics”; Gödel also suggested it.  Neurath, on the other hand, thinks it is unappealing and pedantic; he suggests “syntax.” In order to avoid confusion with syntax in philology, one would probably have to often call it “logical syntax.”

Der Terminus “Semantik” sagt mir zu; auch Gödel schlug ihn gleichzeitig vor. Neurath aber findet ihn unsymphatisch und gelehrtenhaft; er schlägt “Syntax” vor. Zur Vermeidung der Verwechslung mit der philologischen S. müsste man dann wohl häufig “logische Syntax” sagen.

(Carnap to Behmann, April 17, 1932)

One thought on “Carnap on “Syntax” vs “Semantics”

  1. Dear Mr. Zach,
    It is also interesting that in a letter to Schlick (RC-029-29-11.), 06. 30. 1932. Carnap wrote that “Das Wort ‘Semantik’ anstatt ‘Metalogik’ habe ich auf Vorschlag von Gödel und Behmann akzeptiert.” After that he hold 2 lectures in Berlin (at Reichenbach’s seminar) entitled “Formale Fragen der Semantik” and “Die Semantik als Grundlage der wissenschaftlichen Philosophie”. Interestingly also the first version of the Syntax book was called “Metalogik – Die logische Syntax der Sprache” and its second part was called “Semantik”, where he dealt with semantic paradoxes, the notion of analyticity and content. In the manuscript of the table of contents (RC-110-04-07) Carnap has written that “Später ‘Semantik’ anstatt ‘Metalogik’; aber wegen Neuraths Ablehnung des Wortes ‘Semantik’ schliesslich ‘Syntax’ genommen.” But these remarks wasn’t dated.
    I think that Carnap had the similar phases like Frege: First he was a certain inferentialist (as Danielle Macbeth has argued) talking about “content” which is to surface in inferential structures, and arrived to “meaning” and semantics at a later phase. Also Carnap is dealing with “Content” in all of his writings in the early 1930’s, and come to “semantics” in a certain modern sense only later (in the mid-1930s). So in that sense Syntax also deals with content (surfacing in the transformation rules and inferential structures.)
    Can I ask you, whether you could please give the archive numbers of the Carnap-Behmann letter? I could really use in my (hungarian) manuscript where I am dealing with the terminology of Carnap. Thank you very much!!

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