Rational Reconstruction, Explication, and the Rejection of Metaphysics

  • Michael Friedman
Part of the History of Analytic Philosophy book series (History of Analytic Philosophy)


André Carus (2007a, 2007b) has recently focussed attention on the importance of the practice of explication in Carnap’s mature philosophy. Carus rightly emphasizes, in particular, a crucial transition in Carnap’s development from a concern with rational reconstruction in his earlier work to the practice of explication in his later. Both enterprises involve a replacement of the characteristically vague and intuitive concepts used in ordinary life and science with precise and explicit concepts self-consciously crafted, using the methods of modern mathematical logic, as more fruitful clarifications of the former. The crucial difference, Carus argues, is that the later practice of explication operates against the background of the Principle of Tolerance that Carnap first explicitly formulates in Logical Syntax of Language (1934), when he is no longer committed to a single ‘correct’ logical language within which the enterprise of conceptual clarification is to take place. The choice of such a language now defines the standards of logical correctness governing theoretical questions, and so it cannot be dictated by these standards in turn. In the terminology of ‘Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology’ (1950a/1956a), we are concerned with an external question – a practical or pragmatic choice between languages – rather than an internal question to be answered, purely theoretically, within a particular given language. And such a choice, as practical rather than theoretical, essentially involves the values that guide the decision in question. There is then a ‘continuous feedback relation,’ as Carus (2007b, p. 42) puts it, between our theoretical knowledge, on the one side, and our practical values, on the other. Each informs the other (ibid.): ‘Neither is subordinate.’


Constitutional Theory Theoretical Term Rational Reconstruction Transcendental Idealism Axiomatic Method 
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© Michael Friedman 2012

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  • Michael Friedman

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