Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Carnap: Radical Phenomenology, Logical Positivism, and the Roots of the Continental/analytic Divide

By Luchte, James | Philosophy Today, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Carnap: Radical Phenomenology, Logical Positivism, and the Roots of the Continental/analytic Divide


Luchte, James, Philosophy Today


It would be too simple to assert that the root of the "Continental/Analytic divide" grew out from the "dispute" between Heidegger and Carnap. There are other, earlier candidates for this "divide" through which significant topoi separated off into differing currents of philosophy.1 Roberta Lanfredini2 describes one of the conflicts between the two fathers of phenomenology and logical positivism,, Husserl and Schlick, respectively, in this case, over the significance of "qualitative aspects" for the constitution of knowledge. Schlick, prefiguring the language of Russell, Carnap, and Ayer, advocated the elimination of these aspects from the domain of rigorous, scientific knowledge. Husserl, for his part, sought to found the qualitative aspect of the lifeworld in a phenomenology of pure consciousness. Yet, as we can gather from Heidegger (Husserl's dissident student) in one of his many Marburg lecture courses, History of the Concept of Time (1925), Husserl (along with the Neo-Kantians) tacitly upholds the ontology of Descartes and his "mythology of consciousness."3 That of which Husserl and Schlick are in agreement is an isomorphism between the structure of experience and the logical form of knowledge,4 even if they disagree on the "details" of the project. In light of the tentativeness of both sides of this dispute, it would be difficult to fathom any ultimate ontological difference between the positions of Schlick and Husserl. When the latter identifies being, via his eidetic reduction, with pure consciousness (and denies the necessity of the world for its existence), he reveals his phenomenology, as Heidegger insists, as empty, formal, and thus, as un-phenomenological. Adjacent to Schlick's non-subjective, logico-linguistic exclusion of quality, it is not surprising that this particular "dispute" is little known. At the end of the day, nothing was at stake.5

That which distinguishes the clash between Heidegger and Carnap from that between Schlick and Husserl however is that the question of the task of philosophy itself is raised and this immediately raises the question of truth and of its possible modes of disclosure. What is "truth," how is it constituted and how is it to be expressed? Are there differing senses of truth which induce specific ways of expression, and are these variegated senses still philosophy? Must these senses stand or fall on whether they find expression in a world of mere logic and empiricism (scientific fact) or are there other modalities of expression for differing topologies of truth? This controversy follows the Davos Disputation between Heidegger and Cassirer, and it never generated the interest or the intensity to really constitute a significant "dispute."6 Indeed, the only real party in the disagreement was Carnap, as he was merely reacting to Heidegger's Inaugural Address at Freiburg (and his apparent dislike for Heidegger during his Marburg years). Heidegger, for his part, as Gottfried Gabriel notes, gave a few-sentence response to Carnap, re-affirming his desire for a criteria of rigor that would allow for the disclosure of differing topographies of phenomena (a la qualitative aspects). The questions posed to Carnap, as the latter sought to bar him from philosophy, are: Why is there something rather than nothingand how is it with the nothing? And how is such a truth "encountered" and expressed?

In the following, in light of our guiding questions of the task of philosophy and of the way by which differing senses of truth can find expression, I will explore in detail each of the texts in this "dispute." After an initial reading of Gabriel's work on this topic, I will explore Heidegger's foray into the metaphysical question of the "Nothing" in "What is Metaphysics?"7 I will then turn to Carnap's criticism of the Address in "The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language."81 will consider the question of the force and relevance of this essay as to its pretensions to exclude Heidegger from the domain of meaningfulness, and indeed, from philosophy itself. …

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