The “Intimate” Parts of the Biography

In the recent literature on Carnap, it is frequently emphasized that his original intellectual autobiography written for the Schilpp volume in the second half of the 1950s was much longer and detailed than the published one in 1963.16 Carnap cut his autobiography but there were certain shortenings also in his replies and systematic presentations of his philosophical ideas. So far Carnap-scholars did not focus on the reasons for this move besides that it was due to the unexpected length of the volume which, at some point, was considered to be published in two volumes just because of that.

Carnap’s unpublished correspondence, however, is promising in this context and I will concentrate on three points. These points (or reasons) have in a general (and neutral) sense suitable documentary-value: they express aptly Carnap’s worldview, the idea that the fallible and contingent factors of “everyday life” could bear on theoretical issues, and the trends of the social and political epoch of his time.

In a broader sense, we could connect these points and Mannheim’s (1921- 22/1959, 44) inquiries about the “strata of meaning” of the cultural and social products. Mannheim claims that we can differentiate three levels: (a) the objective meaning, (b) the intentional-expressive meaning, and the (c) documentary or evidential meaning. In the first case, to understand a given act, we shall abstract from the participant subjects, from their intentions and psychological states, and it is [1] [2]

enough to know the “objective social configuration” (ibid. p. 45). Only in a given social configuration will a bit of metal function as alms. In the second case, the subject will be relevant and the meaning of the act “cannot be divorced from the subject and his actual stream of experience, but acquires its fully individualized content only with reference to this ‘intimate’ universe” (ibid. p. 46). What matters is what the subject intends to express with the given act. Finally, in the third case, besides the social configurations, and the intended expressive elements, the important thing is “what is documented about [the subject], albeit unintentionally, by that act of his” (ibid. p. 47).

Given that Carnap’s act, namely the cutting of the passages about the GYM, could be considered as a cultural and social product of the human mind [Geist], we could use Mannheim’s approach. Actually Carnap’s unpublished correspondence, mainly with Feigl and Hempel, is very promising and it indeed indicates some partial answers. I will concentrate on three separate points.

Carnap finished the first drafts of his intellectual autobiography in December 1956, and he sent it directly to Feigl and Hempel. He was “very dissatisfied with it” and as he said in the letter “you two are those from whom I can get the best help for the later working on.”[3] As usual, Carnap was wondering about the “historical correctness” of his memory and asked his friends to think about “factual events but also about influences by books or persons on [his] conceptions or about anything else [...]” (ASP CH 11-02-10).

Hempel replied on January 14, 1957, and claimed that “it is an utterly fascinating piece, which will show [Carnap] to [his] readers from a side they never thought existed” (ASP CH 11-02-09). Hempel also suggested particular places where Carnap could shorten his autobiography. Interestingly in the light of his later remarks regarding the cutting, Hempel suggested omitting (among others) the parts about the Jugendbewegung.

Carnap was still bothering with the shortenings in April 1957, when his wife, Ina wrote to Hempel (who was called by his personal acquaintances as “Peter”):

I wish, Peter, you would let me have a line taking issue with the following; if cuts are to be made (Feigl, Bohnert say: “no cuts, if possible”; I don’t agree), where would your cutting emphasis lie? Mia says: on the content of publications as given by Carnap, since people can read them anyway. (Ina to Hempel, ASP RC 102-13-59.)[4]

Though at first Ina said that she “like[d] just this [suggestion] very well”, after all, she had a different move in mind and did not agree with the advice that Carnap should cut the survey of his publications. Instead, she claimed that “I should like


to see cuts made in the more intimate material (childhood, youth movement, own children, auxiliary languages), and make it more an ‘intellectual’ auto.”[5] What does this passage tell us?

It seems that by an intellectual autobiography Ina indeed meant an intellectual autobiography where the emphasis lies on the evolution of Carnap’s theses, claims and results. An intellectual autobiography should not deal with the personal background and historical contexts beyond what is necessary for such a literary genre. The “intimate” parts and the personal experiences just do not add anything to the content of the philosophical claims. Presumably, it was Ina who formulated exactly this idea in a letter to Feigl:

This morning I mailed you the first half of the autobiography. Don’t be shocked about the length. Much of it is very easy reading. The part which impresses me more is always where it is not so easy reading, but then that may be my peculiarity. Before my eyes is the little book which Freud wrote as his autobiography, and which I think extremely good as an intellectual autobiography: a minimum of personal facts and a maximum about the developlment! and spread of the ideas, actually a history of psychoanalysis. To me this seems the ideal way of writing such a thing: people at large somehow do not seem worth the personal details, but should be fed facts primarily. Says I. (Ina/Carnap to Feigl, December 5, 1956. ASP RC 102-07-34.)

This could be justified even in the theoretical framework of Carnap and that’s could be one reason why did Carnap indeed cut off the mentioned “intimate” passages. Carnap always distinguished theoretical/philosophical claims and one’s attitude toward life (Lebensgefuhl) and worldview (Weltanschauung). The latter underlies the former as non-theoretical complexes of cultural and social experiences along with the inherited bag of values. That was just the main point of his critic in 1932 (in the “Uberwindung” article) when he claimed that though metaphysics could exhibit some positive role - namely to express one’s Lebensgefuhl - it is not a theoretical one.

Since the relevant passages - which contained the memories about the Jugendbewegung - were entitled by Carnap as “Weltanschauung: Religion, enlightenment, youth movement” he indeed seemed to identify these reflections as the background basis for his philosophy and not as parts of his theoretical considerations. As such, Carnap held that though the remarks about one’s Lebensgefuhl and Weltanschauung could be useful to understand the (often irrational or better, a-theoretical) reasons behind one’s philosophy, they are useless in the evaluation of proposed arguments. In a frequently quoted passage from Carnap’s intellectual autobiography - where he recalled the role and effect of Herman Nohl - he claimed that

[m]y friends and I were particularly attracted by Nohl because he took a personal interest in the lives and thoughts of his students, in contrast to most of the professors in Germany at that time, and because in his seminars and in private talks he tried to give us a deeper understanding of philosophers on the basis of their attitude toward life (“Lebensgefuhl”) and their cultural background. (Carnap 1963, 4.Cf. Carnap 1957, [UCLA], Box 2, CM3, M-A3, p. B3.)

In the unpublished version, however, this passage continues with the following rarely cited remark:

[...] since my interest was more systematically than historically oriented, I was frustrated when he [Nohl] pushed aside questions about the correctness of the views of a philosopher whose work we studied. Following his teacher Dilthey, he regarded as the main aim of philosophical study not the solution of problems, but the understanding of the ways of thinking of the various philosophers. (Carnap 1957, [UCLA], Box 2, CM3, M-A3, pp. B3-B4.)

This also seems to suggest that for Carnap, writing a mainly intellectual autobiography means that one should omit the elements of his Weltanschauung.

From this angle, we could explore the objective meaning of Carnap’s act - though what is relevant is not the objective social configuration but the objective philosophical configuration. Carnap’s act - namely to remove certain typewritten pages from a document - in a given theoretical medium become bearer of a philosophical meaning: it will be the manifestation of the idea to distinguish factual/cognitive and non-factual/non-cognitive elements. If one knows the relevant and particular philosophical stance in question and all of its commitments, then the given act of cutting the parts about worldviews (which are non-theoretical, hence non-intellectual) from an intellectual autobiography will be meaningful. From this point of view, it does not matter that we are talking about Carnap, Hempel, Reichenbach or any other philosopher who puts more weight on the theoretical side: what matters is that a certain act (or product) will acquire its meaning in a given objective philosophical configuration.

We could also point out that Carnap was just simply not interested in writing the autobiography and cutting the least intellectual and theoretical parts which were not known in the U.S. (as the Jugendbewegung) just seemed to be the most simplest move to get over the project.[6]

Carnap started to work on his autobiography in 1954; in fact, it turned out to be just a duty to him which he wanted to “avoid.”[7] After all, he wrote in 1960 that “Schilpp has just sent the mss. for the Carnap-volume to the printer - perhaps it will then appear in 1961. I spent an inordinate amount of time on the writing of the ‘Intellectual Autobiography’, I don’t do this sort of thing too well. The technical discussions are much more my sort of writing [.].”[8]

When he was working on the intellectual autobiography, Carnap was indeed in a project with a lot of technicalities: it was the theory of probability which was his “latest and in his eyes most valuable baby” on which he was working for 30 years.[9] Due to the regular and increasingly grievous pains in his back, Carnap was concerned from time to time about the prospects of his life.[10] Since there was still a lot to do with probability, the writing and shortening of the autobiography were just a liability. In 1956, during the composition of the manuscripts, Carnap fulminated as follows: “For heaven’s sake, a logician should not be asked to write a history or an autobiography, unless he is a genius like Russell!”[11] Later, in 1958, he was still quite desperate: “I am engaged in the somewhat tedious work of working over my ms. for the Schilpp volume; I shall be much relieved once this manuscript is off my hands and I can return to inductive logic.”[12]

Even though Carnap had to work also on the replies, the autobiography was a “bigger chore than the former.”[13] Anyways, if Carnap would have the required time, his memory would function just good as he wished, and he would have enough space for his autobiography, writing that sort of thing would have been still a huge challenge to him. In 1965, he asked Hempel to help him formulate a preface to his Philosophical Foundations of Physics (second edition as Introduction to the Philosophy of Science). He said: “You know, I am rather clumsy in formulating such things, where the non-cognitive meaning components are more important than the cognitive ones.”[14] The relevant parts of the autobiography, however, were just filled with such non-cognitive passages which could not be formulated in a technical way because they formed the basis for all the theoretical projects of Carnap.

Again judging things from this perspective, cutting all the “intimate” parts was just the quickest move to get over the autobiography and move back to the technical projects. Carnap’s correspondence documents quite well that while Schilpp insisted aggressively that he should write first the autobiography, he always tried to delay the task: “I have, of course, not only unconscious but also quite conscious resistance against the writing of the autobiography [.].”[15]

One could plausibly claim that omitting the “intimate” parts of the autobiography (and even some first-orderly philosophical parts) set back Carnap’s historical rehabilitation for many years. Hempel was very much aware of the problem when he wrote to Ina (after she suggested cutting the personal passages):

Would we not be shocked if there were an autobiography of Kant which had been cut down just to save on publication costs? I sympathize with the feeling and think and you should try how much Schilpp will allow; but I think that some cutting is possible where repetitions or extremely leisurely reflections occur [...]. As for Ina vs. Maria Rbch concerning where the cuts should be made if further reductions are inevitable: On the whole I would agree with Maria Rbch. I think that most of the people who are really interested in the volume will have read a good deal of Carnap’s work or will be willing to look into it; and at any rate, those publications are there and available for posterity; but the material about the human side is not available elsewhere and will surely arouse a great deal of interest. (Hempel to Carnap/Ina, May 18, 1957, ASP RC 102-13-57.)

Things were settled, however, and a few years later the intellectual autobiography appeared just as we know it today. Considering things like this, it will matter that we are talking about Carnap: it was Carnap himself, who expressed with his act a certain meaning, namely the intention of avoiding to write an autobiography. It is more than just the fact that a certain theoretical/philosophical commitment surfaces in practice: a certain ‘higher strata’ of meaning is also expressed here intentionally. It is the way how we authentically grasp the conveyed meaning: “just as it was meant by the subject, just as it appeared to him when his consciousness was focused upon it” (Mannheim 1921-22/1959, 46).

The final reason - which I will just mention because it was treated in quite a detailed manner by George Reisch (2005, 2007) - is connected to the political atmosphere of the United States just before and after the Second World War. When Carnap immigrated finally to the U.S. in 1935, he found himself in a wholly different cultural and political context that he experienced earlier in Germany and later in Austria (or in Czechoslovakia). In 1935 (just before he left Europe) Carnap was about to hold a lecture tour in the U.S., especially at the New York University. Nagel was preparing the invitation and he wrote to Sidney Hook to arrange it; later Nagel quoted to Carnap some parts of Hook’s letter with his own commentaries:

»Tell Carnap that Universities throughout the U.S are becoming politically more reactionary daily and to exclude from his prospectus anything which some dumb conservative - who ‘feel’ these things - might regard as cultural Bolshevism. I wish I could get him to NYU for a year, but it doesn’t seem possible now and we couldn’t pay him enough [...].«

In the light of these remarks, perhaps it would be wiser if you replaced the lecture on the relation between contemporary philosophy and culture by something less full of dynamite. (Nagel to Carnap, January 5, 1935. ASP RC 029-05-16.)


The situation just got worse after the Second World War under the McCarthy-area and so Carnap had to rethink and stow his European socialist and political sensitivity away. As Reisch (2005) showed in his sociology of science book with great clarity, there was only one way to uphold Carnap’s admitted professionalism and significance: he had to fall back to the “icy slopes of logic” (Carnap et al. 1929/1973, 317).

If even the mentioning of the relation between culture and philosophy by an allegedly East-European socialist in the mid-1930s was just so dangerous and triggered the concept of “cultural Bolshevism”, some parts of his intellectual autobiography could cause a certain philosophical and cultural trauma in the philosophy departments.[16] The earlier phases of the a-political Jugendbewegung and the later political phases was uniquely German and considering the fact some members of the movement ended up in either communist or Nazi groups could not help the carefully constructed politically-neutral picture of Carnap. From this perspective, cutting the “intimate” parts of the autobiography was perhaps the right move to shorten the manuscripts.

Though Carnap did not even mention or referred to the political atmosphere of the United States, or that he had in mind such reasons to cut the “intimate parts”, at this point we are facing the third “strata of meaning”, i.e. the documentary-meaning in the Mannheimean sense. Even if Carnap’s act points to theoretical commitments, and even if he evidently expressed his disinterest in the autobiography, cutting the politically (possibly) sensitive parts ‘unintentionally’ documents certain trends and the socio-political environment of the 1950s and 1960s.

As Peter Galison (1996, 35) wrote, “[...] people move across oceans with relative ease, complexes of ideas do not.” If Carnap would and could publish his intellectual autobiography as he first imagined and wrote it (i.e. if he could ‘move’ his own Jugendbeweger past officially), then perhaps he could have helped the understanding of his ideas and that socio-cultural environment which gave rise to his informal and even technical philosophy.

Acknowledgement I would like to thank Christian Dambock and Thomas Uebel that they read the manuscript and provided helpful comments. I am indebted to the Carnap Archives at Los Angeles (Rudolf Carnap papers (Collection 1029). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library) and at Pittsburgh (Rudolf Carnap Papers, 1905-1970, ASP.1974.01, Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh), and to the Hempel Archive also at Pittsburgh (Carl Gustav Hempel Papers, 1903-1997, ASP. 1999.01, Archives of Scientific Philosophy, Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh.) for the permission to quote the archive materials. All rights reserved. I cite the Rudolf Carnap and Carl Hempel Archives from Pittsburgh as follows: ASP RC XX-YY-ZZ and ASP CH XX-YY-ZZ, where XX is the box number, YY the folder number, and ZZ the item number; the UCLA archive as Carnap 1957, [UCLA] fol?lowed by box, folder, and page numbers. Normal underlining in the quotations is made with pencil in the archive materials. The research was supported by the Hungarian National Grant of Excellence.

  • [1] 16 It seems, in fact, that the Schilpp volume, The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap, did not appear in1963. Carnap wrote to Robert Mathers on 20 November, 1963 that “I hear that the Schilpp volumeis to appear by Dec. 31; but there have been so many delays that this date cannot be counted on”(ASP RC 088-62-09). Still on 5 April, 1964, Carnap told to Albert Blumberg that “Unfortunately
  • [2] am not able to send you a copy of my autobiography. In the mistaken trust that the Schilpp-volume was going to appear in 1963 I seem to have given away all my copies” (ASP RC088-06-04).
  • [3] Carnap to Hempel and Feigl, ASP CH 11-02-10. The letter is dated in Carnap’s Nachlass asNovember 18, 1956 (ASP RC 091-20-18), but it was received by Hempel on December 5.
  • [4] The letter could be found also in Hempel’s Nachlass, see ASP CH 11-02-07. “Mia” is HansReichenbach’s wife, Maria Reichenbach.
  • [5] Ina to Hempel, April 15, 1957. ASP RC 102-13-59.
  • [6] Since every other autobiography of the Schilpp volumes starts with the author’s childhood itwould have been unreasonable to delete the relatively long passages about his childhood and hismother.
  • [7] Carnap to Feigl, June 14. 1954. ASP RC 102-08-43.
  • [8] Carnap to Vere Chapell, August 4, 1960. ASP RC 027-03-17.
  • [9] Carnap/Ina to Hempel, August 31, 1957. ASP RC 102-13-55. According to the unpublished partsof his autobiography Carnap started to work on the questions of probability between 1941 and1944. See Carnap 1957, [UCLA] Box 2, CM3, folder M-A5, p. P20.
  • [10] See for example Carnap’s letter to Bochenski (October 30, 1963) where he was wondering about“how much time one has left [...].” ASP RC 027-23-40.
  • [11] Carnap to Hempel and Feigl, November 28, 1956. ASP CH 11-02-10.
  • [12] Carnap to Richard Martin, May 1, 1958, ASP RC 081-12-13. Carnap wrote to Feigl already onthe 4th of February, 1955 that “the Schilpp volume is taken far more of my time than I can sparefrom my work on probability [...].” ASP RC 102-08-26. The same motive occurs in many otherletters see e.g. ASP RC 102-08-01; ASP RC 102-07-39; but Carnap complained about it also toHugues Leblanc, ASP RC 081-10-03.
  • [13] Carnap to Howard Stein, August 11, 1954. ASP RC 090-13-26.
  • [14] Carnap to Hempel, November 24, 1965, ASP RC 102-13-05. When Carnap wrote the preface toLogische Syntax der Sprache, Neurath helped him with some ‘nice’ formulations. See Neurath’sletter to Carnap, June, 10. 1934. ASP RC 029-10-65.
  • [15] Carnap to Feigl, November, 14. 1955. ASP RC 102-08-06. On Schilpp’s forceful letters see thecorrespondence of Carnap and Feigl, ASP RC 102-08-07 and ASP RC 102-08-09.
  • [16] In his personal correspondence Carnap complained a lot about the atmosphere and attitude bothof his department at Chicago and about other philosophy departments in the U.S.
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