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This month, we discuss Rudolf Carnap’s Aufbau with Kent Schmor, visiting philosophy instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. Click here to listen to our conversation.

Why, Carnap would ask, did independent philosophers keep attempting to rehash huge domains? Scientists, Carnap noticed, each work on a focused problem, broadening knowledge collaboratively. In 1917, Carnap began a thesis relating to both science and philosophy. He brought it to his physics department, but they said it was too philosophical. So he brought it to his philosophy department, but they said it was pure physics. Eventually, he got his philosophy department to accept a new thesis on how philosophy, physics, and math could together understand the advancements of the new century.

Then, in 1928, Carnap published his “Der logische Aufbau der Welt” (“The Logical Structure of the World,” or Aufbau). In it, Carnap does not attempt to create all knowledge; rather, he orders the knowledge each of us can contribute, helping us relate our varied knowledge for our varied purposes. So, for instance, he explains that our knowledge from experience makes for our knowledge of physical objects, and not vice versa; we would not claim to know about an experience because we first knew about an object. In turn, knowledge of physical objects provides evidence for our knowledge of people, which provides evidence for our knowledge of culture. Thus can we relate much of our knowledge to others’.

Crucially, Carnap does not attempt to impose the above order (or any order) universally; he does not attempt to reduce all knowledge to a few fundamentals. He rather suggests that we order knowledge differently for different purposes. For instance, for problems of scientific laws, we might start with general laws, and use them as evidence for specialized laws. So we might start with laws of physics, and use them as evidence for laws of chemistry; we would not claim to know physics on the basis of chemistry. In suggesting yet more ways to order knowledge, Carnap starts a philosophy of ordering.

Ultimately, by relating philosophy to science, our guest suggests that Carnap offers a new purpose for philosophy: Philosophy can collaborate with science, relating science’s various focuses generally to advance human knowledge collaboratively. Join us as Kent Schmor continues to unpack Carnap’s Aufbau.

Dominic Surya