FOM: Wittgenstein: two clarifications

Neil Tennant neilt at
Fri Mar 27 13:40:26 EST 1998

Charles Parsons wrote:

> The _Tractatus_ is another matter; [its] view of logic was the model for the
> Vienna Circle's view of mathematics, and so indirectly it had very great
> influence. 

This may not be supported by the evidence. In the Carnap archive at Pittsburgh
is a meticulous chart made by Rose Rand, recording the views of various members
of the Vienna Circle on many different main theses of the Tractatus. Responses
are recorded for periods before, during and after the V.C.'s reading and
discussion of the Tractatus; and are color-coded for degree of agreement 
or disagreement.  

If I recall correctly, no significant pattern emerges that could count as 
confirmation for Charles's claim. I could dig out my photocopy (with the
colors added) from a box in my basement if people are interested.

Of course, this is just one kind of datum. Another, perhaps contradicting
its general drift, might be explicit passages from susbequent publications 
of members of the V.C. that might show that Wittgenstein had had a more
enduring influence than they cared to disclose for Rand's questionnaire.

It is worth recording here that Carnap---perhaps the most influential member of
the V.C. as far as philosophy of mathematics and foundations are
concerned---and Wittgenstein did not hold one another in very high 
regard, despite Carnap's always polite and forbearing published comments
on the influence of Wittgenstein. In the archive is a document marked
"Dies nicht f"ur Autobiographie!" in which Carnap records his first meeting
with Wittgenstein. On that occasion, Wittgenstein mocked him for his
interest in Esperanto. On a later occasion, according to this document, 
in Cambridge, England, a student wanted to copy some of Wittgenstein's
lecture notes to distribute to various other thinkers. W. demanded to see
a list of potential recipients, and from among these he crossed off only
one name: that of Carnap.  [I once recounted this to Peter Geach, who replied
hotly that Wittgenstein had never done any such thing. I do not know how
Geach's evidence could be conclusive for such a denial, given the record
in the archive, and the fact that it was clearly not intended for public

Then there was the matter of the priority debate between Wittgenstein and
Carnap, which I have documented in my paper 'The Life and Work of the
Early Carnap', in N. Rescher (ed.), Scientific Inquiry in Philosophical 
Perspective, University Press of America, 1987, pp.261-280. There is a
first letter from Wittgenstein to Carnap, sent via Schlick, in which he
makes the infamous comparison with someone stealing apples from his
garden. Carnap gives a brief and polite reply, which Wittgenstein clearly
interpreted as a "Get lost!" There is then a slew of letters between Schlick 
and Carnap, resulting from Schlick's attempted mediation between the two 
Wittgenstein could not bring himself to write directly to Carnap, but 
used Schlick as a go-between. I find this pretty obnoxious on Wittgenstein's 
part---an obvious attempt to embarrass Carnap in a more public manner on the
basis of accusations of plagiarism that had yet to be adjudicated in W.'s
favour. Carnap defended himself stoutly and reasonably to Schlick, and slowly
the matter subsided.

All this was back in the late 1920s. I would conjecture that, human nature
being what it is, any one of the scholars on this list who had had to put 
up with this petulant and domineering behaviour on Wittgenstein's part would 
have made every effort, subsequently, to ensure that hardly a trace of his
(W.'s) documentable intellectual influence survived to impose a duty of
scolarly acknowledgement. That Carnap continued to give W. credit where
credit was due is a measure of his (C.'s) magnanimity.

Neil Tennant

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