Syntacticism and the semantic turn




Anderson, Derek E.

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There are tensions between empiricism and semantics. The logical empiricists Otto Neurath and Rudolph Carnap were committed to rejecting semantics and treating the logic of science and by extension all of philosophical discourse as a matter of syntax alone, until Tarski convinced Carnap to embrace a semantic theory of truth. Once converted to the semantic paradigm, Carnap attempted to give a criterion of significance that would rule out metaphysics as meaningless while preserving scientific discourse as semantically interpreted. Neurath was convinced from the start that the scientific worldview would be corrupted by a semantic theory of truth. In this dissertation I explore the nature and extent of syntacticism, the view of language as syntax without semantics, and its potential to support a thoroughly empiricist approach to the scientific worldview. I argue that Neurath was right to claim that logical empiricism would not survive the semantic turn in philosophy. I also argue that scientific naturalism about semantics entails Carnap’s empiricist criterion of significance; thus, attempts to naturalize semantics are covert extensions of the logical empiricist program.



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