On Carnap as an Esperantist & cosmopolitan (vs Heidegger)

As the philosopher Michael Friedman has recently shown, Carnap knew Heidegger’s work and standpoints well, and had read him quite seriously. He attended the debate between Heidegger and Cassirer at Davos in 1929 and took a walk with Heidegger and conversed with him in a café. He studied Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) and expounded its philosophical purpose to the Vienna Circle around Moritz Schlick as an entrée to the group. Heidegger represented a rival means and approach to “overcoming metaphysics,” the task that this magician of the Black Forest promised to accomplish by going back to a more primordial, prerational sense of human existence, its elementary Dasein, which stood as the opposite of the progress of science and cosmopolitan modernity. Once Heidegger had turned Nazi, Schlick had been murdered, and Carnap, Neurath, and Philipp Frank—along with their allies Hans Reichenbach and Carl Hempel in Berlin— began to migrate West, away from anti-Semitic repression, their political conflict with the forces of the xenophobic Right filled out and extended the terms of the methodological conflict.

This was the original “linguistic turn.” Recent biographies have strongly humanized Rudolf Carnap away from the image of a stern logician and into a true man of enlightenment and a utopian of international cooperation. Carnap favored the construction of “ideal languages” both in logic and in reality, artificial languages that could overcome the errors and historical demerits of natural language, not from any disapproval of human history but because he maintained the cosmopolitan Enlightenment ethos of Kant’s “Perpetual Peace,” as in his love of Esperanto. Friedman has pointed out the touching rhapsody in Carnap’s intellectual autobiography when he recounts teaching himself the language at the age of fourteen and attending a performance of Goethe’s noble Iphigenia performed in the rationalized international language. “It was a stirring and uplifting experience for me to hear this drama, inspired by the ideal of one humanity, expressed in the new medium which made it possible for thousands of spectators from many countries to understand it.” After the tragedy of World War I, young man Carnap hiked through Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania with a Bulgarian friend: “We stayed with hospitable Esperantists and made contact with many people in these countries. We talked about all kinds of problems in public and in personal life, always, of course, in Esperanto.”

SOURCE: Greif, Mark. The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973 (Princeton University Press, 2015), chapter 10--Universal Philosophy and Antihumanist Theory, pp. 288-289.

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