All posts by Carlo Penco

About Carlo Penco

After my dissertation in the Philosophy of Science at the University of Genoa (with Evandro Agazzi) I have studied at Cambridge with Timoty J. Smiley and at Oxford with Michael Dummett, of whom I have edited, and translated into italian, his book on Frege's philosophy of language. I have been teaching Philosophy of Science at the University of Lecce (Italy) and I am now teaching Philosophy of Language and Ontology at the University of Genoa, where I am the Director of the Master in Philosophy (Laurea Magistrale) and of the Doctorate School in Human Sciences. I have been Visiting at the University of Iceland at Reykjavik , at the University of Barcelona, at King's College (London), at the University of Pittsburgh, and at the Pittsburgh Center for Philosophy of Science.

Prejudice and Presupposition in Offensive Language

  1. Updating an old distinction: Frege on sense and tone[1]

In a much-discussed example from his Posthumous Writings (from the piece called “Logik” , written in 1897), Frege makes an analysis of the difference between two similar sentences:

(1) That dog howled all night

(2) That cur howled all night

The two sentences, Frege says, express the same thought:

[T]he first sentence tells us neither more nor less than does the second. But whilst the word ‘dog’ is neutral as between having pleasant or unpleasant associations, the word ‘cur’ certainly has unpleasant rather than pleasant associations and puts us rather in mind of a dog with a somewhat unkempt appearance. Even if it is grossly unfaith to the dog to think of it in this way, we cannot say that this makes the second sentence false. True, anyone who utters this sentence speaks pejoratively, but this is not part of the thought expressed (…) It might be thought that the second sentence does nevertheless tell us more than the first, namely that the speaker has a poor opinion of the dog. In that case, the word ‘cur’ would contain an entire thought.

I have quoted Frege at length because the selection contains many ideas that we may summarise as follows:

– The two sentences express the same assertive content, so that if (1) is true then (2) is true;

– However, (2) expresses also a tone or colouring given the pejorative expression “cur”, which suggests a negative attitude towards dogs;

– The term “cur” may be thought to contain an entire sentence expressing a derogatory attitude towards dogs;

– But the sentence ideally contained in the word “cur” is not expressed, but hinted at with the use of the pejorative word; a person unaware of the derogatory meaning of “cur” would interpret (2) as intending exactly what (1) means.

Therefore, we need to distinguish between:

(a) The thought expressed, which has to do with the truth or falsity of the state of affairs described (we may speak of the truth conditional content of the sentence);

(b) The thoughts “which the speaker leads others to take as true although he does not express them”.

The distinction is reminiscent of a distinction already made by Frege in his 1879 masterpiece, Conceptual Notation (Begriffsschrift), where he insists that we have to distinguish between sense and tone:

(a) The sense of a sentence is what pertains to the truth.

(b) The tone or colouring of a sentence is what pertains to pragmatic agreements.

Although Frege does not use the term “implicature”, widely applied by the philosopher Paul Grice in his analysis of implicit communication, many authors have considered his distinction as a forerunner of Grice’s idea of conventional implicature. Following this lead, David Kaplan (1999) suggested developing the Fregean distinction between sense and tone with the following analysis: in pejorative expressions we have to distinguish a descriptive part and an expressive part; both have the same information content (they refer to the same individuals when used to refer), but the pejoratives express also an attitude that we should take into account.

Consider two sentences concerning a crime:

(3) That nigger is the culprit.

(4) That man is the culprit.

Both have the same truth conditions; they are both true or false depending on the person in question having committed the crime, provided that with “that man” and “that nigger” the speaker intends to refer to the same individual. But while the descriptive part of (3) and (4) have the same function in helping the hearer, maybe together with a gesture, to refer to the individual in question, the expressive part of (3) creates a problem because it expresses a strongly negative attitude towards a class of individuals just because of the colour of their skin.

A possible reaction to this difference could be, “I don’t care about expressive aspects or tone: what counts is the truth of the matter”. The problem is just to answer correctly to the questions:

– Is that man the culprit or not?

– Did that dog howl all night or not?

If we are interested only in the objective truth of the matter, who cares about different shades of linguistic expressions? Actually, this reaction has been more and more powerful since the diffusion of “politically correct language”. Sometimes exasperated by the societal request or even imposition to use politically correct language, many people have begun to think that such a language is only an imposition that hides the real beliefs: political correctness comes across as if people abandon their prejudices, while those prejudices continue to stand as solid rock hidden by a pretentious and insincere use of politically correct jargon. After having been exposed to the excesses of politically correct language during his stay in the United States, Flavio Baroncelli, a political philosopher from Genoa, thought of a way out of the difficulties of politically correct language, by individuating—with a sarcastic humour he often used in his interactions with colleagues—its particular properties and possible virtues.

 

 

  1. A suggestion by Flavio Baroncelli (1996)

Commenting on the (sometimes correct and sound) reactions to politically correct language, Baroncelli reminds us that:

 There is not only a question of truth but also a question of appropriateness.

I was impressed at that time (mid-1990s) by Baroncelli’s precise wordings. Actually, “appropriateness” is a property of utterances, and it is traditionally connected in the studies of pragmatics to the concept of presupposition, which, in turn, is strictly connected with the concept of prejudice. Although this is not the place to define prejudice, given the abundant literature and different concepts behind different words in different languages (and we may refer to the paper by Oprah Załęska in this issue), I want to provide at least a generic distinction about the term “prejudice”, given that literally “pre-judice” means a “judgment before…”. The question remains “before what”?

Is a prejudice a judgement given before having correct information or is it something that comes before a judgement? There are two ways of taking the term “before” that lead us to see two different aspects of prejudice: we may think of a prejudice (a) as a judgement given in advance, before having proper information; or (b) as something that comes before the actual act of judging and supports the judgement. On the one hand, we have missing information that is normally required to give a proper judgement; on the other hand, we have assumptions, beliefs, and attitudes that lie hidden and are taken for granted, as a common ground on which a judgement is possible. These kinds of opinions or beliefs on which we ground our judgements can be labelled—in contemporary terminology—“presuppositions”.

Frege distinguished the mental act of judgement from the linguistic act of assertion: an assertion is the expression of a judgement. Using the term “cur” instead of “dog”, in asserting (2), I express a prejudice against dogs; while giving a judgement on a situation I rely on a background of tacit assumptions that lie hidden in my judgement. Is this necessarily bad? Not necessarily. Actually, every assertion is based on some presuppositions. If I say that Elena stopped smoking, my assertion presupposes that Elena smoked. However, this doesn’t mean that I have a prejudice against Elena; I just tacitly state that she was a smoker in a previous time. We speak of “prejudices” only when we think that presuppositions are fundamentally wrong, and often these presuppositions are wrong because they select some superficial feature of a class to define the class itself as being negatively characterized by those features (race, gender, and so on).

From this point of view, prejudices belong to presuppositions, to what is taken for granted without or before any speech act (assertion, question, command…). A presupposition is what is taken for granted without the need for being expressed explicitly. Prejudices are a subset of the set of presuppositions. Studying presuppositions, we study the basic features of prejudice itself, features that it shares with “normal” harmless presuppositions, but that may drastically impinge on our well-being and social life.

A basically accepted definition of presupposition is the one introduced by Robert Stalnaker (2002: 712):

[PRES] A sentence S pragmatically presupposes a belief B when an utterance of S is appropriate only if B is shared by participants to a conversation (or B is taken for granted by participants)

Taking the example above, the sentence “Elena stopped smoking” presupposes the belief “Elena used to smoke”, and this presupposition is triggered or activated by a simple piece of lexicon, in this case the verb “to stop” that indicates a change of state that requires having done an action before. If I say, “Carlo gave a talk on prejudices again”, I presuppose that Carlo has already given a talk on prejudice because of the use of the iterative adverb “again”. My interlocutors take for granted those presuppositions either because they already know them or because they “accommodate” the common ground of shared beliefs with those presuppositions. Analogously, if I say, “that nigger is the culprit”, I presuppose that blacks are inferior as such, because I use a pejorative word that requires assuming an attitude of contempt towards blacks. And one who uses this pejorative expression assumes that her interlocutors share the same kind of belief and attitude.

There are at least two apparent problems in applying Stalnaker’s theory and his definition to the case of derogatory words, and they are the following:

(i) In using a pejorative in a case of reappropriation, people do not share the prejudice attached to the term; therefore we should say that their use is not appropriate, but intuitively it does not seem so.

(ii) In contrast, the use of derogatory terms by people with racist prejudices seems perfectly appropriate in their own context of dialogue where the prejudice is shared. Should we accept that?

I give here two short answers to these two problems:

(i) Reappropriation as detachment

The term “nigger” is normally and typically used in contexts where black friends enjoy using the term as a signifier of social bonding; but certainly they do not share a prejudice against black people. However, they share the knowledge of the prejudice attached to the derogatory term and want to explicitly reject the prejudice by using the term in order to change the presuppositions. Not only is the knowledge of the presupposition shared, but also the understanding that they want to detach the use of the term from the prejudice. It is similar to irony, where a term is not used with its literal meaning, but the literal meaning is intended to produce in the audience the contrary of what is normally intended. In the philosophical and linguistic environment, irony is typically interpreted as an implicature or as an “echoing” of others’ point of view in order to mock the speaker. It is as if the group of people wanting a reappropriation were mocking the usage by racists: in using irony concerning their presuppositions, they detach the term from the prejudice and can use it freely—but they cannot leave other people to use it.

Apparently this problem would deserve a deeper analysis, but it is at least useful to have an insight from actual discussion on the subject, like the wording of one famous rapper, Ice Cube: “A slur is like a knife. You can use it as a weapon or you can use it as a tool. It’s been used as a weapon against us by white people, and we’re not gonna let that happen again by nobody, because it’s not cool. It’s in the lexicon, everybody talks it, but it’s our word now. You can’t have it back.”[2] Not everybody agrees on the idea or practice of reappropriation, and some take a more radical stance similar to the one held by Jennifer Hornsby (2001: 129) concerning pejoratives in general: “Derogatory words are ‘useless’ for us. Some people have a use for them. But there is nothing that we want to say with them. Since there are other words that suit us better, we lose nothing by imposing for ourselves a blanket selection restriction on them, as it were.” In particular, with the term “nigger”, Oprah Winfrey claims that the term “should not be a part of the language, of the lexicon”[3].

(ii) Appropriateness of hate speech in small groups

It may sound awkward to say that the use of derogatory terms is “appropriate” in small groups, but it is just a consequence of the definition. And it helps in understanding the working of prejudices. In fact, if an expression is appropriate if its presuppositions are shared by the participants in a conversation, then a pejorative term is perfectly at home in a conversation among racists, because they certainly share the prejudices attached to the pejorative term. And knowing that using a term presupposes a common ground of racist beliefs may help us to acknowledge other people’s perspective—also in order to find ways to contrast them. However appropriate in small groups, racist or hate language should be legally forbidden
 in public—as it happens, or should happen, in Italy, where promoting Fascism is a felony punished by the law. A public offence always invites the possibility of legal action, and we have many cases of public debate on that, as well as on situations where the speaker did not intend to offend. (The quotations from the previous section come from a discussion of the use of the term “nigger” by a notorious white television personality.) At the same time, we cannot actually “forbid” using slurs, including derogatory and offensive language, in private conversation. Besides—and this is not so different from reappropriation—it is well known that derogatory language is often used in groups or pairs as a joke or as a sign of confidence. (I may use derogatory language and you are not offended because you know that I don’t mean it.)

But we have invented “politically correct language” where even in private conversation people tend to adhere to a kind of language that avoids pejoratives and offensive terminology. And in this particular fashion, developed to some extremes in the United States, Baroncelli makes his provocative challenge: with politically correct language, racism becomes a “gaffe”.

 

 

  1. A provocation by Flavio Baroncelli: “Racism is a gaffe”

In what follows, I try to present Baroncelli’s idea without his humour (and therefore missing something relevant, but I cannot be him). Let us take again our examples (3) and (4). Following the definition [PRES] above, the sentence (S) “that nigger is the culprit” is appropriate if it presupposes the sharing of the tacit belief (B) “coloured people are inferior as such”. Now imagine a situation of a classroom in a scholarly educated town for which we may assume that (B) is not shared among the participants in the conversation. Let us imagine that the classroom is brought to a court to assist a case in which—let us say—the former president of the US is accused of having wiretapped Donald Trump. What will happen if a less educated girl—seeing the once president of the US accused of the crime, and maybe unaware of the role of the person in front of her—utters “that nigger is the culprit”? Other students will look at her in a very curious way and will judge her with mixed feelings of astonishment or embarrassment and maybe take distance from her. At this point, facing the reactions of her companions, she will realize that she has made a gaffe.

But what is a gaffe? By common definitions (e.g. Wikipedia), a gaffe is:

To say something true but inappropriate in social context.

By this definition, a sentence is inappropriate in a social context when the presuppositions are not shared. Using the case of politically correct language, Baroncelli on the one hand puts racists in a humiliating situation, whereby they are unable to understand the social place they are in, and on the other hand puts politically correct language users in a ridiculous situation, making them reduce racism to a mere gaffe.

Yet there is something deep in this analysis, and it is the attempt of analysing the interaction of different presuppositions in different contexts. The point is that there are always many social contexts and they have complex relations; in small local contexts, you are allowed more liberty. As we have hinted at before, slurs and offensive language are easily used in small groups of friends, xenophobes or not, and offensive language among friends may also be a sign of friendship: you are not offended, but take the slur as a joke, as a colourful way to say something that could be also expressed in “educated” language. Youngsters are used to this (although sometimes there are periods when bad examples by adults get over the fence; Italian television during the Berlusconi era became a means to foster far too much vulgar language[4]).

What politically correct language teaches us is therefore the need to take care of different presuppositions contained in our lexicon and in different contexts where these presuppositions are or are not shared. Only with this awareness can people avoid making a gaffe, when they involuntarily use a pejorative expression in an environment that rejects the prejudices attached to the term. Often young and old people are not aware of prejudices of this kind. An aunt of mine, Maria Bianca Penco, in a report of her travel through Italy after the second World War, wrote something like “….and we met groups of niggers…”. She did not have another lexical item, like “black”, and we had to explain to her that “nigger” is now a pejorative term with such and such presuppositions. She was happy to learn, and she felt enriched and changed her lexicon. But young people are not excusable; they need to learn as soon as possible (and this is the duty of teachers) the presuppositions attached to the lexicon they use.

If in a local small context you are allowed to use slurs, in a larger context you receive social censorship (or even denunciation). The main thing to teach in this regard is that what seems normal in your small environment may be inappropriate if uttered in a larger context. Understanding this implies understanding the stereotypical presuppositions triggered by derogatory words (whose force people are often not aware of), and getting to the roots of prejudice.

What then is the role of politically correct language? Through realizing having made a gaffe, a person may learn the power of the prejudices hidden in language and emotionally react to them; a person may learn more about others and about social history, and, taking a careful attitude towards the use of lexicon in a public environment, the racist himself may find a way to change. As Baroncelli says:

It is not important just having different words; what is relevant is the effort of changing. It is the way we train the animals we are.

Last, but not least, there is also a particular form of prejudice: assuming that others share racist stereotypes while they do not. This attitude, this presumption, may be considered a kind of prejudice and may be felt very offensive. If you attribute a presupposition to a social group where the presupposition is not shared, your utterance in not appropriate, and therefore you make a gaffe. More than 10 years after Baroncelli’s book, I have been struck by an apology made by Microsoft. In the US, Microsoft deployed advertising that depicted three experts in discussion around a table: a white woman, a white man, and a black man. When the company began to use this advertising in Poland, it cancelled the image of the black expert and put in his place a white person, probably thinking that the Polish cultural environment might not have been ready to positively accept a black figure. Many people in Poland reacted strongly, feeling themselves to be judged as culturally inferior by Americans; eventually, on August 26, 2009, Microsoft re-introduced the original picture (with the black expert, as you can see from a journal article commenting on the fact[5]) with a comment, which sounds mysterious unless you know the entire history, saying:

Microsoft apologizes for the gaffe.

 

 

  1. Baroncelli 20 years later

Baroncelli’s main lesson is the search for awareness of the clash of contexts, from contexts of face-to-face conversation to different kinds of contexts of public interaction. What is new after 20 years? The World Wide Web  was invented in 1994; the first University homepage in Genoa (the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy homepage) was launched in 1996, the same year of the publication of Il razzismo è una gaffe. Twenty years later, we realise that two aspects could not have been foreseen:

(1) When derogatory expressions pass by ignorance from the context of private or small-group conversation into the context of social networks.

(2) When derogatory expressions are used on purpose in structured ways in social networks to convey the prejudice presupposed by those words.

If considered with care, (1) is exactly the kind of problem Baroncelli was trying to denounce: you cannot use offensive language out of a restricted context without paying consequences or making others pay consequences. The enormous consequences of offensive language on the Web have attracted public attention; (some) people are beginning to understand that they cannot write the first thing that passes through their mind without having or provoking dangerous consequences. Public offence can have provocative consequences both for the writer and for the offended. It depends on the strength of the offended person, who can be devastated—if young or inexperienced—or can devastate the writer, who may be denounced by the public. The novelty in the social space since the 1990s is the wide variety of social networks, from Facebook to Instagram or YouTube and Twitter. The varieties of contexts on the Web are a novelty that we still have to learn to fully manage and master, trying to find software that could check tens of thousands of pages coming online every minute[6].

However, the analysis made in the previous section, concerning the sharing of presuppositions in different contexts, still keeps its original flavour and interest. And Baroncelli’s legacy might be a warning for teachers to work with students to better understand different levels of contexts of reception.

The second aspect above, concerning the use of social networks for actual intentional spreading of prejudices, fake news, and offensive or hate language, is really something new, and it was unpredictable in the nineties. We can no more speak of a “gaffe” inside a context, but we are facing a new way of spreading prejudices through new means. Here I abandon philosophical and linguistic analysis, and give a short comment on some common news.

The diffusion of offensive language[7] increased sharply during the “Brexit” referendum in the UK (June 23, 2017). In June 2017 in Great Britain we had 5,468 records of hate speech (40% more that one year before), and in July–September 2016 there were 14,300 hate crime reports. We have to consider these to represent only a small part of actual hate crimes, given that most are not denounced. There is a strong hidden support to hate speech grounded on prejudices, which politicians have used to support their party (think of the UKIP, which had a fundamental role in deciding Brexit and disappeared in the June 2017 elections). Similar statistics come from the US after Donald Trump’s election, as a sign that prejudices are not typical of Europe, but are spreading around, supporting different political agendas (we don’t have statistics about hate crimes between Sunni and Shia populations, which go beyond what we know in Europe).

Statistics typically report only actual hate crimes in the streets, expressing prejudices against “other Europeans” or against “non-Europeans” just because of the emergence of nationalism. Is nationalism enough to explain the diffusion of prejudices and hate crimes? Not really, although we already know that propaganda in the Nazi period made great use of prejudices shared or imposed on a great part of the population. What is new today is the way in which hate crimes and offensive language are diffused through the internet, where neo-Nazi and white supremacist channels are always very active, and the way in which countless sites deliberately generate and distribute fake news on any enemy. Some YouTube channels reach very high numbers and have therefore a very high influence in generating prejudices. To provide only a few examples:

– Steve Anderson is a famous US pastor who commented on the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando as “good news” and said “there’s 50 less paedophiles in the world”. For him, gay people “were not born that way, but they will burn that way”. His YouTube channel has had 33.5 million views.

– Wagdi Ghoneim is a Muslim preacher and a central figure in the diffusion of hate speech; his channel has more than 200,000 subscribers and has had 31 million views.

– Donald Trump’s twitter account has a similar number of followers: 31 million. A peculiar feature of this president of the United States is that he insists on defining the official press as “fake news”: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC@CBS@CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”[8] In this way he implicitly suggests that his supporters rely more and more on sites that support hate speech (like the sites supporting the news that Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief John Podesta ran a child sex ring—also provoking an assault on an innocent pizza restaurant in Washington[9]).

The novelty of the Web is that hate speech and offensive language not only create a common ground of shared presuppositions, but they do it while making money. According to marketing experts, extremists and hate preachers have made around 300,000 euros from advertisements for household brands and government departments placed alongside their YouTube videos. The above-mentioned sites make money by spreading prejudices; but in having millions of views they use their sites also for advertising normal products, services, and institutions. And they make a LOT of money (gaining something like $4.18 for every 1,000 clicks may not seem like much, but it becomes relevant if you reach millions of visualisations).

In front of this new diffusion of hate language we need reactions, and perhaps Europe may be able to do something about that. We need both institutional reactions and communitarian reactions. Here are some data and suggestions, selected only from recent news. Two examples of institutional reactions: the Home Affairs Committee (British Parliament) in April 2017 asserted that the largest and richest technology firms are “shamefully far” from taking action to tackle illegal and dangerous content, and specifically that “one of the world’s largest companies has profited from hatred and has allowed itself to be a platform from which extremists have generated revenue.” And the Germany Justice Ministry in April 2017 proposed imposing financial penalties of up to 50m Euros on social media companies that are slow to remove illegal material. But reactions from private firms have also been relevant, and McDonald’s, the BBC, L’Oréal, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, the Guardian, Audi, and Channel 4 are among the companies that have decided to refuse to work with web companies if they permit advertisements on their sites with offensive or hate language[10].

As I reported at the end of Section 3, in 2009 Microsoft made an apology for a gaffe implicating that Poland is a retrograde and racist nation; later, in March 2017, Google’s European chief has publicly apologised after online advertising for major brands appeared next to extremist material[11]. As Aristotle taught us, if you ask for excuses you begin to admit there is something wrong. It’s just a first step.

 

 

References

Baroncelli, F. (1996). ll razzismo è una gaffe; eccessi e virtù del “politically correct”. Roma: Donzelli.

Frege, G. (1879). Begriffsschrift. Halle: L. Nebert. English translation in M. Beaney (1996), The Frege Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.

Frege, G. (1897). “Logik”. In H. Hermes, F. Kambartel, & F. Kaulbach (Eds.), Frege Gottlob 1969: Nachgelassene Schriften. Hamburg: Felix Meiner (pp.137–163). English translation in M. Beaney (1996), The Frege Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.

Gundle S. (1997) “Television in Italy”. In James Coleman and Brigitte Rollet (eds.), Television in Europe, Exeter: Intellect Books, 61-76.

Hornsby, J. (2001). Meaning and uselessness: how to think about derogatory words. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, XXV, 128–141.

Kaplan D. (1999). The meaning of Ouch and Oops. Exploration in the theory of meaning as use. Unpublished.

Penco, C. (in press). Refusing to endorse: a must explanation for pejoratives.

Rovatti, P.A. (2012). Un velo di sobrietà. Uno sguardo filosofico alla vita pubblica e privata degli italiani, Milano: Il Saggiatore.

Stalnaker, R. (2002). Common Ground. Linguistics and Philosophy 25, 701–721.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] I have developed these hints in Penco (in press).

[2] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OX7YB8DoO8A.

[3] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuy1rQUy5YY

[4] P.A.Rovatti, 2012.

[5] See: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/08/26/microsoft.ad.gaffe/index.html

[6] See for instance Google’s attempt to “flag” hate speech on line:

https://www.ft.com/content/8786cce8-f91e-11e6-bd4e-68d53499ed71?mhq5j=e1

The task is difficult, and any solution has its shortcomings. Think for example of the ontology used by Facebook to avoid and cancel offensive posts. The first solution is to distinguish main “protected” categories and subsets of those categories. This is a tentative ontology that has, among its consequences, the effect that “white man” (main categories) is more protected than “black children” (where “children” is a subset and not a main category). This has been criticised as intentional:

http://www.salon.com/2017/06/28/facebooks-secret-censorship-rules-protect-white-men-from-hate-speech-but-not-black-children_partner/

However, the difficulty of the task is overwhelming for any ontologist, and we are assisting in the first attempts to provide regulation on the spread of prejudices through hate language.

[7] From now on, unless differently remarked, data comes from The Guardian—a reliable source of information, although not specialised.

[8] Twitter 17 Feb. 2017. Another Trump Twitter on July 27, 2017, was: “So they caught Fake News CNN cold, but what about NBC, CBS & ABC? What about the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost? They are all Fake News!”

See for instance: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/06/27/trump-renews-attack-on-fake-news-cnn-after-retraction/?utm_term=.49bd0eda471a

[9] See for instance: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/hillary-clinton-fake-news-conspiracy-theory-child-sex-ring-edgar-maddison-welch-open-fire-comet-ping-a7456021.html

[10] With results from pressure by the UK government, McDonald and Mark & Spencer’s on Google:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/21/google-advertising-boycott-hateful-offensive-content

Online petitions are also useful; Sumofus succeeded in making 2,000 companies dissociate themselves from Breitbart and forcing the commerce giant Shopify to adopt hate speech policies. Some gains may also come from web sites that actually fight against prejudices:

http://www.reducingstereotypethreat.org

https://www.nohatespeechmovement.org/hate-speech-watch

[11] “Recently, we had a number of cases where brands’ ads appeared on content that was not aligned with their values. For this, we deeply apologise.” (from link at endnote 8). See also:

”https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/20/google-ads-extremist-content-matt-brittin

 

Juha Manninen and Friedrich Stadtler (eds.), The Vienna Circle and the Nordic Countries. Networks and Transformations of Logical Empiricism (Vienna: Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook vol.14, Springer, 2010)

In the years preceding the Second World War, European philosophy was at the high point of its intellectual vitality. Everywhere philosophical societies promoted a dense network of connections among scholars, with international meetings and strong links among individuals and associations. In this context, the Vienna Circle emerges as one of the many, also if probably the most well-known, centres of diffusion of a new style of philosophy, closely linked to the new logic and with a strongly empiricist attitude. At the same time, empiricism, formal logic and psychology constituted (and still constitute) the common background of most of the Nordic philosophers, a background which permitted them to develop connections with Vienna’s cultural environment (well known also for the work of psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, but also Charlotte and Karl Bühler). This piece of history, although limited to the connection between Nordic philosophy and Vienna Circle, helps to clarify the history of European philosophy, and the sharp difference of Nordic philosophy in respect of the development of philosophy in Southern and Central Europe in the half a century following the Second World War. The editors say in the introduction:

 

. . . one of the least known networks of the Vienna Circle is the “Nordic connection”. This connection had a continuing influence for many of the coming decades, beginning with the earliest phase of the Vienna Circle and continuing with a number of adaptations and innovations well into contemporary times. Some of the individual members of this network are remembered, such as Georg Henrik von Wright. But little attention is now given to the fact that these individual members communicated intensively with each other as well as with the Vienna Circle and its international continuation in the Unity of Science movement.

 

The volume here reviewed, dedicated to Arne Naess, is intended to fill the historical gaps and provide a more complete picture of this rich network, which even the Second World War was unable to destroy. In what follows, I will not discuss the second part of the volume, which contains a paper on the unit and disunity of science by Gerard Holton and a series of reviews of relevant books on different topics related to the Vienna Circle. I will instead offer some remarks concerning the main characters of our story, that is: Eino Kaila (1890-1958), Arne Naess (1912-2009), Jørgen Jørgensen (1894-1969) and Åke Petzäll (1901-1957), who founded the Swedish Journal Theoria. However, instead of following the order of the individual articles, I will reconstruct the content of the volume dealing with individual countries, to see their relative contribution to the continuity of the philosophical network in the Nordic Countries.

 

 

From Norway to Denmark

 

I begin with Norway, not least because the volume is dedicated to Arne Naess. Arne Naess is a typical example of a European Intellectual of pre-war times: he studied in Paris and Oslo and went to Vienna in 1934-36 to write his dissertation on Knowledge and Scientific Behavior (published in Oslo 1936). Then he participated in the third Conference on the Unity of Science in Paris, discussing with Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970) and Otto Neurath (1882-1945) about truth. He then went on to Berkeley and returned to Oslo, where he was active in the anti-Nazi movement, and he continued to work there after the war, both as a professor and a political activist; he became a UNESCO representative in the East-West conflict, and was a promoter of the international peace movement and later of the ecological movement. Meanwhile he published frequently in Theoria, worked as editor of Synthese and founded and edited Inquiry. Although primarily thought of as a founding father of Norwegian philosophy, Arne Naess may be also considered as central in the development of the Social Sciences in Norway. As Fredrik W. Thue remarks in “Empiricism, Pragmatism, Behaviorism”, shortly after the German invasion, Arne Naess gathered an interdisciplinary group of students to work on foundations, and, after the war, the agenda of the group changed from philosophy towards social research: Naess’ epistemological program, and the experience of resistance against Fascism brought about a strong interest in the practical and normative challenges to postwar society, and an abandonment of his links with Logical Empiricism. Thue analyses Naess’ influence on the organization of studies (with psychology, logic and the history of philosophy as mandatory for all university students in Norway) and his naturalistic behavioral epistemology, nearer to American sociology and antagonistic to Popper’s “principles” of the Open Society. According to Naess, “Spontaneous reactions of empathy between humans presented deeper and more universal moral wellsprings than philosophical dogmas” (p.222). The paper tries to show the strong connections on the one hand between Naess and his pupils – where much space is given to Stein Rokkan (1921-1979) and his criticism of Karl Popper (1902-1994) – and on the other hand between his group and the American liberal-progressive tradition, following the path of John Dewey (1859-1952). From this connection a new attention to sociology and social reform arose.

 

Thue devotes too little space to exploring the links between the intellectual environment around Arne Naess and the optimistic faith that society could be improved by means of an interplay between economic growth, social welfare and political democracy. Hints about the “liberal innocence” of Naess are unfortunately not adequately explained. In any case, an anthology is unlikely to give a coherent account of the career of a complex philosopher. The idea of Naess’ progressive abandonment of Logical Empiricism is rejected by another paper of the anthology, by Friedrich Stadler: “Arne Naess – Dogmas and Problems of Empiricism”. According to Stadler, although Naes apparently stopped working inside the frameworks of traditional Logical Empiricism and the Unity of Science program after World War II – mainly on account of his interest in the social sciences and the ecological movement – he had kept in continuous touch with his Logical Empiricist roots, for instance in his correspondence with Neurath (up to 1945) and with Carnap (up to 1969) and in his many papers on A. J. Ayer (1910-1989) and Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994). Although his criticism of Logical Empiricism anticipates the famous critique of Quine (1908-2000) in “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”, Stadler shows how Arne Naess never abandoned Logical Empiricism as a style of thinking and, especially in his later years, returned to his former ideas. A discussion of the 10 volumes of Naess’ selected works confirms the complexity of his overall philosophy.

 

While philosophy in Norway tended to be also closely linked to sociological studies, the role of Finland in the development of philosophy seems to be the most “foundational” of all other countries. Long before Arne Naess gave Norway a steady logical and empiricist foundation in philosophy, Eino Kaila was building a steady ground for cultivating analytic philosophy and logic in Finland as in Sweden and Norway. As Juha Manninen writes in the paper, “Between the Vienna Circle and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The philosophical Teachers of George Henrik von Wright”, the logic textbook used by Kaila for many years was the Abriss der Logistik by Rudolf Carnap, and many books by Carnap were recommended to the students, including Henrick Von Wright (1916-2003). The curriculum included the study of Wittgenstein (1989-1951), mainly the Tractatus. Besides chairing a logic club with advanced students, including von Wright himself and Herick Stenius (1911-1990), Kaila influenced Swedish philosophers, criticizing their psychologism in a strong address given at the University of Uppsala. Together with Jørgen Jørgensen, he convinced the appointments committee in Oslo to give the chair of philosophy to the young Arne Naess in 1939. Actually Kaila’s philosophical career begun when he wrote to Hans Reichenbach (1891-1953), who suggested that he contact Moritz Schlick (1882-1936). Kaila had some correspondence with Schlick, who then asked him to come to Vienna in 1929. Kaila had already written on Shlick, Einstein and Carnap’s Aufbau. Carnap found Kaila’s criticism surprising and interesting, and over a long period the two philosophers met several times. Kaila insisted on the importance of inductive inference and probability, while Carnap was – at the time – very distant from this topic that was to become a primary concern during his last period. Perhaps it was Kaila who moved Carnap in that direction. Kaila’s attention to induction culminated in his Finnish translation of Hume’s Inquiry Concerning the Human Understanding. His critical book on Carnap’s Aufbau was discussed in Berlin by Reichenbach and by the young Carl Hempel (1905-1997), and later in Vienna by Hans Hahn (1879-1934), Felix Kaufmann (1895-1949), Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) and Rudolf Carnap, who reviewed the book in Erkenntnis. Kaila went many times to Vienna and collaborated with Charlotte and Karl Bühler, defining what it is now called “the Kaila effect” – the attention area of the two eyes of a moving person from a child, who typically did not use that area if one eye was covered. (p.58). Between psychology and logic, working on intentionality, Kaila was always critical of Carnap, since his review of Carnap’s Logical Syntax; he did not completely accept physicalism and always asked for a space for a phenomenological language dealing with subjective experience.

 

As an historical influence, Kaila was also important for the development of the Swedish journal Theoria, founded in 1935. Kaila suggested that Theoria could take the place of Erkenntnis, which was in difficulty for political reasons. In fact, Erkenntnis lasted two more years before being provisionally closed; its contributors went mostly to the US, where they contributed to new journals, such as Philosophy of Science (founded in 1934) and the Journal of Symbolic Logic (founded in 1936). We will come back later to the history of Theoria.

 

Kaila’s influence in philosophy in Finland was wide; in the book we find reference to two main figures among his students, Oiva Toivo Ketonen (1913-2000) and George Henrick Von Wright. Ketonen was more devoted to logic than philosophy and went in 1938 to Göttingen, where he met Heinrich Sholtz (1884-1987). In Göttingen he studied under Gerhard Gentzen (1909-1945), and then received his PhD in logic during the 1944 bombing of Helsinki. In the paper “Young Ketonen and His Supreme Logical Discover”, Michael von Boguslawski suggests that the impact of the war was a reason for Ketonen to pay more attention to ethics than to philosophy of science. However his early logical work was well received: Haskell Curry (1900-1982) said that Ketonen’s work, extending Gentzen’s calculus, was the best thing in proof theory since Gentzen. Paul Bernays (1888-1977) and Arend Heyting (1898-1980) also appreciated his work. Ketonen remained in contact with Kaila, working on topics such as the problem of analytic and a priori knowledge.

 

However, the influence of Kaila was much more relevant to Georg Henrik von Wright especially at the beginning of von Wright’s career, when Kaila compelled the young student to study logic and gave him English texts to read. Certainly he was also influential in von Wright’s interest in induction and probability. In 1939, the year of the Russian invasion of Finland, Kaila (then in Helsinki after having taught in Turku) published his introduction to logical empiricism, Human Knowledge, translated into Swedish by von Wright. Despite the invasion, Finland survived as an independent democracy and was able to keep its leading scholars linked together, including a new arrival from the US, Jaakko Hintikka (1929-), described by von Wright (who had met Hintikka in Cambridge) as a “a very gifted young man”. In short, as Manninen says in his paper, “there is an unbroken lineage from Kaila and the Vienna circle to present day philosophy in Finland”.

 

More on Kaila’s philosophy can be found in the papers by Ilkka Niiniluoto, “Kaila’s Critique of Vitalism”, and by Arto Siitonen, “Kaila and Reichenbach as Protagonists Of Naturphilosophie”. Hintikka, without whom it is almost impossible to speak of Finnish philosophy, gives a rather personal account of the connections between himself and Kaila in an interview in The Philosophy of Jaakko Hintikka (in the Library of Living Philosophers collection). Hintikka identifies Kaila as his original inspiration, discusses his connection with von Wright, and makes some remarks on Vienna Circle’s influence coming to an end (referring obviously to the original Vienna Circle project). His interviewer, Simo Knuuttila, is able to put provocative questions that evoke interesting responses on a variety of topics, including reflections on Carnap, Wittgenstein and Quine.

 

Sweden must be considered not only for those Universities — in particular Uppsala and Bergenl — that established strong links with logical empiricism, but also as the country that produced the first Nordic philosophical journal in the analytic style: Theoria. The history of Theoria and its founder, Åke Petzäll, is well told by Johan Strang in the paper, “Between the National and the International – Theoria and the Logical Empiricists”. Over a long period, Theoria could have been described as a “journal of one man alone”; and Petzäll himself heavily influenced the general orientation of Swedish philosophy, based on a style of philosophy in the old tradition of the University of Lund – the so-called “Oxford of Sweden”.

 

Petzäll visited Vienna in 1932 and wrote a small book reflecting upon his conversations with Viennese philosophers, especially Friedrich Weismann. Theoria was launched just three years later, in 1935, becoming an important forum for the exchange of ideas and criticism between the networks of Logical Empiricism and the philosophers of the Nordic countries. By the end of the thirties Theoria had become closely linked with Logical Empiricism. Works by Carnap, Ayer, Hempel and Oppenheim, Popper and Tarski were typically reviewed in the journal, and many logical empiricists, like Neurath and Hempel published in it. A curiosity: the first publication of Hempel’s paradox of confirmation was in French at the request of Petzäll who wanted to promote the journal at the 9th International Congress in Philosophy in Paris (1937). Also Victor Kraft (1880-1975), a member of the Vienna Circle who was to become later the supervisor of Paul Federated (1924-1994), published on Theoria during a period when Petzäll sent monthly packages of food to Vienna. Unlike Erkenntnis, which was the official journal of Logical Empiricism, Theoria continued to publish papers reflecting different philosophical trends and hosted a debate between Uppsala Philosophy vs. Logical Empiricism, both of which emphasized the importance of logical analysis. Neurath had been contacted by the Danish philosopher Alf Ross (1899-1979), who had studied with Axel Hägerström (1868-1939), one of the chief representatives of the Uppsala school and influenced by neo-Kantianism. Neurath subsequently promoted the diffusion of the Uppsala antimetaphysical position. In a detailed report (pp.78-88), it is shown the development of Uppsala School: at the beginning, one of the most relevant representatives of Uppsala School, Einar Tegen (1884-1965), presented a very antagonist stance towards Logical Empiricism, but later other scholars like Ingemar Hedenius (1908-1982), a pupil of Adolph Phalén (1884-1931), developed a more sympathetic attitude.

 

Traditionally Sweden had an anti-metaphysical tradition, centered mainly in the University in Uppsala; but this tradition was not intrinsically connected with the development of modern logic. Although it is normally accepted that Swedish analytic tradition was originated by Alex Hägerström, the paper of Johan Strang shows the relevance of other influences and the important role of Åke Petzäll and his efforts in the diffusion of new ideas through Theoria. Petzäll may also have had an indirect role in the development of formal logic, which was missing in Uppsala. But Petzäll was not only the founder of Theoria. A relevant part of the history of the role of Petzäll within Logical Empiricism is told by Thomas Umbel, in “The Nature and Status of Scientific Metatheory. The Debate between Otto Neurath and Åke Petzäll”. In 1936 Theoria published a debate between Petzäll and Neurath – who wrote a review of Petzäll’s Zum Methodenproblem der Erkenntnisforschung (1935), where the author had given a strong criticism of both the physicalistic and naturalistic trends within the Vienna Circle. One of the main worries of Petzäll was the difficulty of keeping genetic or causal and normative issues sharply distinct; their purported distinctiveness was for him a myth, just like the distinction between analytic and synthetic. Empirical and logical considerations need to find some space within which they connect or at least work together; Neurath, in his replies, eventually reached the idea of the distinction between two types of metatheory, making this debate a direct contribution to the overall debate within logical empiricism.

 

Another influence came from Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945), who was a refugee in Sweden, and a friend of Petzäll, and was thus “able to continue his unique neo-Kantian career and dialogue with the logical empiricists”. Cassirer settled down for a time in Uppsala; but with the possibility of a German invasion of Sweden, he left for the US, where he lived until 1945. In this connection, Thomas Mormann discusses the debate in the theory of concepts between Cassirer, Schlick and the Swedish Philosopher Konrad Marc-Wogau (1902-1991), who was Professor of philosophy in Uppsala from 1946 to 1968. The debate between Cassirer, Schlick and Mar-Wogau took place mainly in Theoria with many papers published between 1936 and 1940. Mormann’s article explores the details of this debate, explaining the criticism Marc Wogau devoted to Cassirer’s theory of the formation of concepts, and defending, in the end, Cassirer’s theory. The discussion supports the claim that “Begriffstheorie was a topic where philosophers of quite different orientations met. It exemplifies that once upon a time philosophers, who today are classified as belonging to allegedly quite different traditions, were engaged in discussing similar problems.” (p.179).

 

Denmark played a foundational role for Logical Empiricism in the Nordic Countries mainly through the work of Jørgen Jørgensen, who started his philosophical career with a break from neo-Kantianism that would have been critically received in Sweden. Jørgensen was important in the diffusion of the style of analytic philosophy and the strict interest in the analysis of scientific languages. He also had a promotional role in organizing the Second Congress for the Unity of Science in Copenaghen in 1936. In the paper, “Jørgen Jørgensen and Logical Positivism” Carl Henrik Koch offers a wide analysis of the work of Jørgensen, showing also the relevant connections between Jørgensen and the members of the Vienna Circle, met in 1930 at the 7th international congress of Philosophy in Oxford. After having been invited by Reichenbach in Berlin to give a lecture, Jørgensen arranged for both Carnap and Neurath to give lectures in Copenagen. He suggested to Carnap the title of Die Logische Sintax der Sprache, a book that Jørgensen reviewed in Erkenntnis.

 

In the thirties Jørgensen was a full a member of the neopositivistic movement, participating to the organizing committee of the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science and being an associate editor of the Library of Unified Science (with Carnap, Frank and Morris). He had already done a profound work of reformation of the teaching of philosophy at the University of Copenaghen, where wide space was given to the science, including formal tools of logic and mathematics. He opposed Dilthey’s emphatic distinction between natural sciences and human sciences, stressing the similarity of method in both of them: the unity of science is methodological. Given these attitudes, it is easy to understand how Jørgensen’s ideas were welcomed by Neurath, who in 1938 wrote that “Jørgensen emphasises that all the complicated and most important scientific theorizing starts with the experience and language of our daily life, that we also have to test all the theoretical results of all the sciences by means of the same aids. Jøgensen givens in his lectures not only a program of the Unity of Science but also shows this Unity as an actuality”. (p.166)

 

 

The Netherlands and Iceland   

 

The Nordic countries are closely linked by history and, for all of them except Finland also by linguistic connections (and even Finland has Swedish as a minority language). In addition, some other countries bear important similarities to the Nordic countries. The Netherlands, for example, exhibits some similarities in philosophical culture, whose explanation might be of interest. Therefore, also if the anthology of northern countries does not have a space for it, some remarks may complete the landscape. It is reasonable then to devote some attention to the development of the Signific group, one of the main factors that helped to provide some kind of common core with the Nordic countries. A discussion can be found in a paper by Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen (“Significs and the Origin of Analytic Philosophy”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 70, 2009), on which I rely in what follows.

 

Significs was a circle founded in 1922 by Frederick van Eeden (1860-1932), Jan Brouwer (1881-1966), Gerrit Mannoury (1867-1956) and Jacques van Ginneken (1877-1945). It was composed mainly of mathematicians with strong political interests (in socialist or communist ideas) and philosophical interests in natural language and in psychology. This last aspect is mainly due to the founder Van Eeden, who had contact with William James (1842-1910) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Among those who participated in the Signific group we may mention the mathematician David Van Dantzig (1900-1959) and the journalist Jacob Israël de Haan (1881-1924), a Jewish communist who was assassinated probably for his anti-zionist stance. The connection between the Signific and the Vienna Circles were mainly through Brouwer’s teacher, Gerrit Mannoury, who was in close contact with Neurath and contributed to the forums associated with the Vienna Circle and the Unity of Science movement. Although Mannoury and Brouwer had strong theoretical differences in the philosophy of mathematics, Mannoury accepted Brouwer’s claim of the supremacy of intuitionistic logic in the analysis of natural language, as compared with classical logic (Frege-Peano-Russell). Brouwer himself, as is well known, gave a talk in Vienna that strongly influenced the transition to a new phase of Wittgenstin’s thought. Another link was through Fredrik Waismann (1896-1959), who, together with Otto Neurath, was members of the International Group for the Study of Significs from the 1930s.

 

Notwithstanding the persecution of communists, most of these authors did not leave the Netherlands and represented an element of continuity in the kind of philosophical culture – with its links with the analysis of language and logic – that is still typically found in Dutch departments of philosophy and in centers like the Association for Logic, Language and Information (FOLLI). Therefore, although not, strictly speaking, “part” of the Nordic countries, the Netherlands evidently represent a historical continuity with the past of Northern Europe, continuity which – as mentioned earlier – was broken in Germany, Poland and southern Europe.

 

But there is still a gap in the analysis of Nordic Countries presented in the volume here discussed: what about Iceland? It is true, as Manninen and Stadler evidently assume, that there does not appear to have been any very direct or robust connection between Icelandic philosophers and the Vienna Circle. Research reveals mostly negatives, but with some relevant positives, not reported in Manninen and Stadler’s volume.

 

The University of Iceland was founded in 1911, at which time few Icelandic scholars had philosophical training, although Guðmundur Finnbogason (1873-1944) and Ágúst H. Bjarnason (1875-1952) studied philosophy and psychology at the University of Copenhagen.

 

Wittgenstein visited Iceland in 1912 with his friend David Pinsent and spent much of the time instructing Pinsent in aspects of what was to become an important part of the Vienna Circle’s philosophy. However, Wittgenstein did not interact with any Icelandic philosophers during his visit, or later, as far as we know.

 

Philosophy was not taught as a degree subject in Iceland until 1972. Prior to that, philosophy professorsthe first of them being Ágúst H. Bjarnasonwere, for most of the time, in charge of a course in philosophical propaedeutics, following a Norwegian model and therefore with a link to the tradition fostered by Arne Naess.

 

After the establishment of a B.A. degree program in philosophy at the University of Iceland in 1972 and the assumption of the professorship by the Belgian-educated Páll Skúlason (1945- ) in 1975, the Philosophy Department of the University of Iceland has grown to eight members, with interests and specializations in both Analytic and Continental philosophy, and in the history of philosophy, in a friendly mixture.  

 

Þorsteinn Gylfason (1942-2005), who from 1972 until his death taught philosophy at the University of Iceland, was an undergraduate at Harvard and later a student of Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) at Oxford. He was personally and philosophically acquainted with Peter Geach (1916-) and Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001)—both students of Wittgenstein—and with Willard van Orman Quine (1908-2000), whose thought was, as is well known, directly influenced by that of Wittgenstein. All of these philosophers paid philosophical visits to Iceland at Þorsteinn’s behest and interacted with Icelandic philosophers. Þorsteinn himself taught and wrote robustly about Wittgenstein.

 

Mikael M. Karlsson (1943- ), who is Professor Emeritus at the University of Iceland, where he has taught for nearly 40 years was, from early in his career, an admirer of the late Wesley Salmon (1925-2001) and was Salmon’s informal colleague at the University of Pittsburgh. Karlsson has taught and written about certain of Salmon’s ideas. Salmon wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1950 under Hans Reichenbach, who had founded the so-called Berlin Circle, a philosophical group whose orientation was similar to that of its Austrian counterpart; and, in many respects, Salmon continued and developed the work of Reichenbach. This is perhaps a weak, and rather indirect, link with the Vienna Circle, but is not entirely negligible. Mikael M. Karlsson has also been heavily influenced by Quine, both through Quine’s writings and through personal interaction; and he was likewise an advisee of Stephen Toulmin (1922-2009), who was influenced significantly by Wittgenstein while at Cambridge.

 

With these indirect links, Icelandic philosophy, too, can claim some connection with the philosophers of the Vienna Circle. The particular geographical position of Iceland, between US and Europe, is another element of the connection with analytic philosophy, although the term is not so relevant in countries where there is a continuity of philosophical tradition from the pre-war environment. The term “analytic philosophy” is not a sound category and is typically avoided in the Nordic countries and in the US, where the tradition stemming from the Vienna Circle has a strong grounding, although—as Hillary Putnam has remarked—the term may be useful in southern countries or in Central and Eastern Europe, where connections with the tradition were severed after the Second World War. These last remarks bring us to the general background behind the publication of this volume.

 

 

The Analytic tradition and the Continental Break

 

It is well known that World War II had a disastrous impact upon the development European philosophy during the second half of the twentieth century, an impact that has lasted until today. The war destroyed the wonderful net of connections among philosophers and among other academics: the Vienna Circle, the Berlin Circle, Significs, the Peano School, and the Warsaw School interacting on the European Continent, with strong ties also to Great Britain. With these connections largely destroyed by the war, the great debates in the philosophy of logic, language and science were abandoned, and Continental philosophy became heavily pervaded by hermeneutics under the influence of Heidegger, amalgamated with remnants of Marxism and phenomenology.

 

Many of the best philosophers from Austria, Poland and Germany left Europe during the Nazi period and developed their careers in the United States, where their contribution to the development of American philosophy was enormous (just think of Rudolf Carnap, Kurt Gödel, Carl Hempel, Hans Reichenbach and Alfred Tarski), or alternatively in Great Britain (think of Wittgenstein, Waismann and Popper).

 

There was a mainstream of European philosophy that was stimulated by the discovery of the new logic and was greatly interested in the development of science. Why did the Nordic countries — in contrast to the southern countries and Central Europe — resist what may be called “deviation” from the mainstream of European philosophy? Why was the analytic tradition that began, bloomed and expanded in pre-war Europe preserved after the war only in the Nordic countries?

 

The continuity with the analytic tradition in philosophical research and teaching in the Nordic countries is no longer a mystery, given the detailed history of the influential philosophical figures in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark in the post-war period presented in this anthology. Part of the reason for the continuity and robustness of the “Nordic circle” of philosophy is simply the fact that Nordic philosophers did not abandon Europe and kept the links among themselves alive within the Nordic sphere, while central and Southern Europe, deprived of many of their best philosophers, abandoned the neopositivist tradition, and the analytic style connected with it, and probably threw out the baby with the bath water.

 

The concentration of the present book on the specific relations of the Nordic countries with the Vienna Circle runs the risk of lapsing into an historical survey of old theories and missing the general framework which developed from the lively connections among European philosophical centers. I think there is a way of reading this book not only for the purpose of registering the links with the Vienna Circle, but to better understand the uniqueness of the contemporary Nordic tradition in philosophy as compared with other parts of Europe. The close and direct connections between Vienna Circle and some of the founders of philosophy in the Nordic countries help us to better understand the reasons for the continuity of philosophical tradition that came to link the Nordic countries more closely to American philosophy than to Continental philosophy so-called, although in fact there is nothing more “Continental” than analytic philosophy. The book reveals hidden connections, is full of details and quotations from personal communications and theoretical debates and helps us to understand the absolutely unique situation of philosophy in the Nordic countries after the Second World War, as compared with other parts of Europe. The anthology therefore represent part of a wider history of philosophy in Europe and gives Nordic countries a primacy of continuity of the European philosophical tradition in contrast to the “deviation” of the Continental philosophy (I refer to the thesis of Tugendhat, according to whom analytic philosophy is the proper heir of the great tradition of philosophy since Aristotle). But, due also to the return of the old traditions implanted in the US, the analytic style of philosophy is now coming back to its original home; and it is reassuring to see that not only central Europe and Eastern Europe, but also Southern countries, under the initiative of European Society for Analytic Philosophy, are beginning to recover their connections with the great European tradition, through a series of meetings devoted to fostering analytic philosophy – These are called “Latin Meetings in Analytic Philosophy”. This “Southern circle” recalls the tradition of meetings within the Nordic sphere that played an important role in the past and that have continued, and developed, up to the present day.

 

It looks as if “Mediterranean” Europe is “recovering” from a long period of philosophical turmoil and is ready to re-build and reinforce its broken connections with the past, following the example of the Nordic countries.