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The Justification of Concepts in Carnap's Aufbau

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022

Abstract

This paper concerns the recent debate on the nature and motivations of the epistemological project advanced in Rudolf Carnap's (1891–1970) Aufbau. Much of this debate has been initiated by Michael Friedman and Alan Richardson who argue (against the received view of the Aufbau as a foundationalist defense of empiricism) that Carnap's epistemological project is located in the tradition of neo-Kantian epistemology. On this revisionist reading of the Aufbau, Carnap's project is not motivated to address traditional empiricist problems regarding the justification of knowledge, but rather to show how objective knowledge is possible. A central aspect of the Aufbau that is neglected in the revisionists' analysis is the role of epistemic justification in Carnap's project. The aim of the present study is to argue that although the general epistemology in the Aufbau can be cast as neo-Kantian, Carnap's method of construction theory (or rational reconstruction) is formulated precisely as an empiricist method for the justification of conceptual knowledge. Construction theory radically redefines ‘empirical justification’ into a formal-conventional notion, and is part of Carnap's more general agenda of redefining epistemology as a purely formal discipline.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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Footnotes

I would like to thank Steven Davis, William Demopoulos, Philip Hanson, Gregory Lavers, Robert Richards, Alan Richardson, and two anonymous referees of this journal for helpful comments and suggestions. Earlier drafts of this paper were presented at the first graduate conference in epistemology at the University of Rochester in November 2001, and the annual meeting of the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science (CSHPS) at the University of Toronto in May 2002; I am grateful for feedback that I received on both of those occasions. Research support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) is gratefully acknowledged.

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