Carnap's Response to the Charge that Verificationism is Self-Undermining

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Surovell, Jonathan
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The classic “self-undermining objection” to the verificationist criterion of meaning states that the criterion does not meet its own standard: since verificationism is not empirically confirmable, analytic, or contradictory, verificationism implies its own meaninglessness. This essay reconstructs and motivates Carnap’s response to this objection. The interpretation presented is contrasted with those of Putnam and Ricketts. I argue that Carnap’s basic move in response to the self-undermining objection is to construe his verificationism as an analytic definition of “meaningfulness” that is meaningful by its own lights. I then discuss possible motivations for this definition. I argue, against Reichenbach, Ayer, and Hempel, that it is not an analysis of the everyday concept of meaning. Instead, I claim, the definition is motivated _pragmatically_: verificationism replaces the ordinary conception of meaning with one that purports to capture all and only the expressions that are pragmatically useful to the scientist. Finally, I consider whether pragmatism faces a self-undermining objection to of its own. I argue that pragmatism is a preference concerning formal languages, and that, since preferences need not apply to themselves, pragmatism is not self- undermining.