Meaning and Necessity - A Study in Semantics and Modal Logic
Carnap (Rudolf)
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Amazon Customer Review 1

  1. Though Willard van Orman Quine taught a generation of analytic philosophers to disparage Rudolf Carnap's Meaning and Necessity, in reality (as in Carnap's private helps to understanding this period of his work) there is very little to dislike about this book. Carnap's "assimilation" of Tarski and Goedel's limitative results with respect to the logical syntax of language did not cause him to completely abandon the habits of mind he had accustomed himself to, but led him to write a series of books on semantics. And in this third volume, his last major work on the philosophy of language, Carnap extends his analysis to include modal1 phenomena (possibility and necessity) which were formerly intellectually distasteful to the Vienna Circle. The volume is rounded out with a number of papers, including Carnap's famous "Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology" and a discussion of Charles W. Morris' tripartite division of semiotics.
  2. Although Quine (whom Carnap engaged in a spirited correspondence with concerning these topics) spent a great deal of time during the '50s and '60s trying to demonstrate the logical inconsistency of Carnap's analysis, this book is quite a successful "implementation" of Carnap's Principle of Tolerance concerning modalities2 and their role in semantic analysis: although Carnap is usually understood as a slightly lax Fregean, here he presents a formalization of Frege alongside multiple theories of his own. Furthermore, all subsequent work in intensional logic and the semantics of modal logic3 owes something to Carnap's treatment of "possible worlds" in terms of state-descriptions: contemporary modal logic4 has rather less to do with the metaphysics of modality5 than with the issues of descriptive adequacy raised by possible-worlds semantics and addressed at length in Barwise and Perry's Situations and Attitudes (a book which would not have existed but for this one, as perhaps could be honestly said of many linguistic works informed by "generative semantics"). All in all, an important document of postwar intellectual life and a model for genuinely critical analysis -- an excellent buy.

Amazon Customer Review 2
  1. This book is extremely important. Modal logic6 is the main (some would say the only) real achievement of American philosophers in the post-war era. We tell the story (on the rare occasions when we tell it at all) as if Quine somehow spontaneously began to display a dislike for modal7 talk, which a younger generation of philosophers then clarified to show he was wrong. But that isn't what happened at all.
  2. It was Carnap who pioneered the subject - the title of Kripke's Naming and Necessity is almost identical with that of Carnap's book, to make exactly that point. Quine, an actualist and behaviorist, had doubts about Carnap's ideas, which he spent his whole career reacting to, but nobody else was really convinced by them, and David Lewis et al. basically just moved forward with Carnap's program while fending off Quine's quibbles. So Carnap is really the most important American philosopher of the last century, even though he wasn't American.
  3. But somehow we tell the story in a way that makes Quine, who, in retrospect, was clearly wrong, into the hero, and pushes Carnap into the shadows. Presumably the inaccuracy is somehow a result of the way things work at universities - saying that Carnap was important does nothing to aggrandize Princeton or Harvard. But don't be fooled; this is a really crucial book, and you won't actually understand what Kripke, Lewis and the others were talking about in the '60's and '70's, the time they did the work that will actually continue to be of interest, until you've read it and grasped what Carnap is up to.
  4. But it is difficult, dry, technical, antiquated, confusing, poorly explained. Reading it is a little like climbing Everest without oxygen - not for the faint-hearted.

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