I Integrated History and Philosophy of Science. Contributions from the 5th Conference

Metaphysics and the Unity of Science: Two Hundred Years of Controversy

Richard Creath

Abstract Carnap’s rejection of metaphysics and his embrace of the unity of science are closely intertwined. Carnap is clear about his specific target in metaphysics and about why he rejects it. Surprisingly, on his mature position he does not show us that we cannot be realists, or nominalists, or idealists, etc., but rather how we can. Carnap directs his remarks on the unity of science toward a specific family of claims, prominent in the early twentieth century, namely that the natural sciences are to be sharply divided from the human sciences. Windelband wrote a famous and influential paper that defends such a division. A close look at this paper shows how Carnap’s position presents the two-kind-of-science view with a dilemma: Either the attempt to divide the sciences in that particular way fails, or the division crosses the boundary into metaphysics.

Rudolf Carnap’s rejection of metaphysics and his embrace of the unity of science are intimately intertwined. They may not seem that way at present, but that is because both are now regularly misunderstood. In this paper I want to bring both parts of Carnap’s view into sharper focus, that is, to see what Carnap actually had in mind and why he took the stands he did. In the first part of the paper I will review Carnap’s attitudes toward metaphysics. I will review a common misunderstanding of Carnap’s views on metaphysics and then show that Carnap is clear and specific about what he means by ‘metaphysics’, whom he sees as guilty, and why he rejects their sort of work. And I will show that by the mid 1930s Carnap came to a surprising response to the enterprise he rejected.

In the second part of this paper I will look at Carnap’s ideas on the unity of science. After reviewing several common misunderstandings I will show how Carnap’s discussion thereof is also directed at a definite target, one that insists that there are two sorts of science that differ is specific ways. While there are many writers who advanced this two-sorts-of-science view (I will call it the dyadic view for short), I will concentrate on the views of Wilhelm Windelband. This issue of the unity of science deserves more attention because the view that Carnap rejects, while little known to American philosophers, is subtle and formidable. It is also part of a very

R. Creath (*)

Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

F. Stadler (ed.), Integrated History and Philosophy of Science, Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook 20, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-53258-5_1

long tradition that dates from at least the beginning of the nineteenth century and continues on even today. In Carnap’s response, we will see the connection to the issue of metaphysics.

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