Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963
As the Warsaw school was recognised by Marxist-Leninists as their most formidable academic opponent, the best Marxist-Leninists writers participated in the concerted action directed against the school. It started in 1951 and continued for about three years before it was abandoned.
Marxist-Leninist criticism was carried out in a series of studies dealing separately with the views of Twardowski, Kotarbiński and Ajdukiewicz. The plan to extend this series to cover the works of Leśniewski, Łukasiewicz and Tarski never materialised. The latter were charged specifically with the responsibility for imposing upon formal logic some erroneous philosophical ideas which, in the opinion of Marxist-Leninists, exercised an unfavourable influence upon the development of logic.
Marxist-Leninists did not think much of Leśniewski and Łukasiewicz. The latter in particular was held in low esteem because of his religious convictions. Tarski was treated more kindly, though he was blamed for having reconciled himself ‘easily and lightly’ with the ‘impossibility of differentiating truth and falsehood in colloquial language’, or for expounding a theory which made the concept of truth in everyday language meaningless. The view imputed to Tarski cannot be found in his celebrated essay. Tarski is believed to have shown that the possibility of a consistent use of the expression ‘true sentence’ in everyday language seems to be questionable and that the possibility of constructing a correct definition of this expression is, therefore, also doubtful. Only if we assume that without a correct definition of ‘true sentence’ we cannot tell truth from falsehood, would the view ascribed to Tarski have followed from what he actually stated. But Tarski never made this assumption which is clearly a falsehood.
The gravamen attached to the Warsaw school as a whole can be reduced to three objections. The Warsaw school cultivated idealist semantics and made of language, abstracted from its insoluble connections with thought, with its social function as a means of intercourse between people, and, consequently, with the social history of man, the sole object of philosophical inquiry. Having made of language a source or the source of knowledge (Marxist-Leninists vacillated between these two versions without being aware that they were different), the Warsaw school believed that philosophical problems, and, in particular, the issue of idealism versus materialism, were questions of language that could be resolved by a linguistic analysis. Consequently, the Warsaw school was inclined to make the truth and falsehood of philosophical and scientific statements dependent on the rules of language, laid down arbitrarily, that is, by conventions. Finally, and this is in fact a conclusion implied by the two preceding objections, the Warsaw school was a congeries of foreign influences. The doctrine of the school was intimately bound up with English logical empiricism (Bertrand Russell), Austro-German neo-positivism (Schlick, Carnap, Neurath, Reichenbach, Frank and others), and the American cross-breed of pragmatism and neo-positivism (Ch. W. Morris). Since the idealist semantics and the semantical philosophy were the most perfidious, subtle and refined variety of the idealist reaction to dialectical materialism, the Polish progeny of these various trends could not be something different. The reputation enjoyed by the Warsaw school of having made an original contribution to philosophy was without foundation. This reputation was a myth to conceal, under an elaborate disguise, a cosmopolitan subjective idealism of foreign origin.
The characteristics common to the Warsaw school as a whole did not prevent its particular representatives from holding opinions which differed considerably from each other. Marxist-Leninists recognised this fact but they claimed that these differences only made more pronounced what was revealed by the general circumstances. The leading members of the Warsaw school were idealists both on account of having supported the common doctrine of the school and in their own right.
The Marxist-Leninist analysis of Twardowski’s views revealed two levels in them, described as those of a concealed and an overt professorial obscurantism, an idealist and positivistic theory of knowledge and a neo-scholastic metaphysics. They were blended together to form an eclectic jumble that was one more attempt to reconcile positivism and religion, science and theology.
To follow the Marxist-Leninist criticism, Twardowski’s basic standpoint must be recalled. It can best be described as psychologism, i.e., the conviction that psychology is the fundamental philosophical discipline. The emphasis placed upon the epistemological priority of the cognitive consciousness provided a basis for philosophical investigations. This empirical basis was contrasted with that of traditional metaphysics which used to lay down some abstract principles and to deduce from them what and how it is experienced.
The assertion of the priority of the cognitive consciousness established descriptive psychology as an autonomous discipline, irreducible to physiology, and the analysis of mental acts, which revealed their intentional character, led to the world of objects and made these objects the proper subject matter of philosophical inquiry. This initial standpoint could and did pave the way, in the course of time, for epistemological idealism, but Twardowski did not follow this line of development. Although he contributed by his investigations to the transformation of descriptive-psychological methods into Husserl’s transcendental analysis of pure consciousness, Twardowski himself inclined towards epistemological realism and was increasingly opposed to the emerging transcendental phenomenological method. Everything that is known must first be represented by mental acts, but the existence of objects, given in representations, is not dependent on these acts, on the cognising subject or pure consciousness. On the other hand, descriptive psychology refuted the view that conceived the content of mental acts as a ‘psychological reflection’ of their object. This was one of the important reasons why there was the need for philosophical investigations, which, making use of psychological descriptions, went beyond them and required specialised reflective techniques for the examination of the world of objects.
In the opinion of Marxist-Leninists this particular variety of psychologism was a continuation of subjective idealism from ‘ Berkeley and Hume to Avenarius and Twardowski’. To accept the epistemological priority of the cognitive consciousness, which Lenin and his followers failed to differentiate from the ontological priority, was to adopt an idealist principle. Twardowski abstracted thinking from matter, denied that matter is primary and mind secondary and that consciousness is a reflection of the external world. Under the disguise of empiricism and by means of a method that was to eliminate metaphysical speculations, Twardowski dismissed fundamental philosophical problems and materialism. Marxist-Leninists were not quite certain, whether Twardowski’s ideas should be classified as a dualistic conception of the mind-body relation or a positivist ‘senseless jumble of materialism and idealism’ on the lines of Avenarius’ ernpirio-criticism. They were sure, however, that Twardowski, prompted by the ‘hatred of materialism’, tried to destroy it by a declaration of war on metaphysics. In this respect he did not differ from Mach and Avenarius. His teaching was not, therefore, a ‘reaction against idealist metaphysics’, which, on the contrary, it either directly or indirectly supported, but a’reaction against materialism’ .
A common theme of the Marxist-Leninist criticism directed against particular thinkers of the Warsaw school was that upon the rejection of the naive, common sense view of the external world, including the copy theory of knowledge, everybody is entitled to create for himself another realm of being from which God, disembodied spirits, immortal souls, and ideal entities cannot be dislodged. The criticism of Twardowski made much use of this assumption and found its justice confirmed by Twardowski’s general theory of objects, and, in particular, of intentional objects.
Twardowski’s theory of objects is an ontological – what Meinong called eine daseinsfreie Wissenschaft – and not a metaphysical doctrine. He took a neutral attitude to problems of metaphysics and he claimed validity for his theory of objects irrespective of whether we adopt an idealist or realist standpoint in the theory of knowledge. Twardowski did not inquire into the nature of the external causes of our experiences, sensations, representations, and judgments, and was convinced that such an inquiry would not modify his psychological and ontological investigations.
Twardowski’s theory of objects has serious difficulties and might lead to contradictions, which prompted its sharp revision by logical and philosophical means undertaken by Leśniewski and Kotarbiński. In the development of the Warsaw school Twardowski’s theory of objects was the starting point of further investigations and prepared the way for much that came later, often in opposition to the initial ideas of the founder of the school. Historically, Twardowski’s theory of objects, Leśniewski’s ontology and Kotarbiński’s reism constitute a consecutive development of the same philosophic problem. This immanent development of thought passed unnoticed by Marxist-Leninist critics. They examined Twardowski’s views outside their historical settings and looked at them rather as a theory to be refuted than as a formulation of a problem to be solved. The objections which they raised against his theory of objects were not concerned with its shortcomings, but concentrated on some of its other aspects, offering an opening to criticism better suited to the purpose of the exegetic method.
Twardowski’s concept of object is of great generality. Things of the external world given in experience, intentional objects, which in some cases seem to coincide with things without being identical with them, abstract entities, anything at all that can be represented, are objects in Twardowski’s sense. If we say that things exist and that mental or ideal objects are not things, the latter cannot exist unless they are contradictory objects. Mental or ideal objects are not, however, pure figments of imagination, they are objective and real in some sense of these terms. If they do not exist, they subsist, and their subsistence is revealed by the descriptive analysis of mental acts. According to Marxist-Leninist criticism, Twardowski’s intentional objects and his theory of objects in general provide the link between his idealist and positivistic theory of knowledge and ‘fideistic metaphysics’. It is ‘fideistic metaphysics’ since it merges with theology and paves the way for the belief in God and the immortality of the soul.
This claim was substantiated by reference to a popular article, written by Twardowski in Vienna at an early stage of his career. He argued in it that our internal experience makes the belief about the thinking mind being a spiritual entity more probable than Bchner’s and Haeckel’s opinion which identifies the thinking subject with the brain. If we accept the former belief, we are faced with the question of how the soul came into being and the only satisfactory answer is that God created it. In this article Twardowski referred to psychology and internal experience; he did not make any use of his theory of objects. The latter was established by means of investigations to be accepted or rejected irrespective of whether we do or do not believe in God.
This was not how the Marxist-Leninists looked at the matter. They assume that every item of being is essentially determined by universal interrelationship. The same applies to what men believe, think and do. Moreover, by the same principle of universal interrelationship, thoughts and actions must be related to determinate social conditions and also be examined from the viewpoint of their social consequences. Various views, held by a thinker, are intrinsically related and support each other. If his views are erroneous, it is possible to trace them down to a common source and to identify one single fundamental error that pervades all his assumptions and conclusions, the propounded issues and their proposed solutions. The opinion according to which the sources of possible error are not manifold and do not vary from one problem to another, but, on the contrary, may and should be reduced to a unique source, will be called the ‘monistic fallacy’.
An instance of the monistic fallacy is the Marxist-Leninist view on the farreaching and all-pervading consequences of the belief in God. It is not possible to accept the evidence of science and to believe in God. The only scientific belief about God is that he does not exist. A scientific mind is an irreconcilably atheistic mind. ‘The neutrality of a philosopher in this question’, wrote Lenin, aiming his criticism at Mach and Avenarius, ‘is in itself servility to fideism’ .
The views of a man who believes in God’s existence cannot be valid, true and scientific, however rigorously they are formulated and established. They cannot be taken at their face value and their examination cannot be restricted to what they explicitly state in any particular case. They must be evaluated with respect to the thinker’s world outlook and their true meaning be revealed by laying bare the purpose which they serve within this outlook. When this is accomplished, it becomes evident that whatever he says, be it an examination of the conditions conducive to visual illusions, or an analysis of the term ‘percept’ or the adherence to genetic empirism or the formulation of a general theory of objects, is affected by or distorted for the sake of his belief in God. His views need not be considered on their own merits, since they are only an instrument that serves the purpose of justifying this belief. The evidence for such a contention is often left to the reader’s intuitive insight and unsupported by demonstrative grounds in its favour. This was actually the course adopted by the Marxist-Leninist critics with respect to Twardowski’s theory of objects.
Twardowski’s theory of objects was simply dismissed as a barren scholastic exercise and a worthless professorial artifice, unrelated to any genuine philosophical problem, whose sole purpose was to establish the realm of entia rationis, the supremacy of spirit, and, finally, the whole of theology. The elaborate construction, set up on empirical psychological foundations, had one supreme objective, namely, to provide the proofs of the immortality of the soul and of the creation of the world by God (Twardowski never spoke of such proofs and never indicated that they could be provided), to secure treuga Dei between science and religion, philosophy and the Church.
Thus, the legend about Twardowski was exploded and his life work shown in its true light. The man who was presented and honoured as the founder of scientific philosophy in Poland stood revealed as a philosophical ‘obscurantist of the extreme kind’, who indulged in the prevailing prejudice against materialism and was a supporter of clericalism and the Church.
Twardowski’s philosophy, argued his Marxist-Leninist critic, was firmly rooted in the tradition of medieval theological discussions, from which it borrowed its technique of careful conceptual distinctions and precise terminological definitions, its analytical and constructive skill. These, in principle praiseworthy, habits of thought were used to produce a learned philosophical gibberish, with no sense of relevance for genuine philosophical issues, and to oppose the growing influence of dialectical materialism. In the Warsaw school this medieval theological tradition was merged with modern positivistic and logistic trends. The facility with which it was achieved provides an illuminating testimony to the bourgeois partisan character of the whole Warsaw school. In the face of a common class enemy, dialectical materialism, the irreconcilable tendencies joined hands and supported each other.
Kotarbiński is a materialist. Nothing is a soul or a mind, every soul is a body. His materialism, or somatism, as he prefers to call it, is not in principle committed to the mechanistic hypothesis, of which Kotarbiński personally is not in favour. Mechanistic theories are not universally adequate, if by mechanistic theories are understood explanations formulated in terms of the spatial and temporal distribution of gravitating bodies, of the direction and velocity of their motions. Kotarbiński is not only an empiricist, suspicious of abstract entities -properties, relations, propositions, classes, numbers – but also a consistent nominalist, who spares no pains to restrict himself to a nominalistic language. A consistent materialistic outlook, as he understands it, should be formulated in terms of a nominalistic language under the penalty of transgressing its own principles. Tirelessly Kotarbiński exposes various substantialisations of modes of behaviour, hypostatisations of name-like expressions, and reifications of immanent representations or intentional objects. He shows how sentences involving references to a hypostatised or abstract entity can be translated into equivalent sentences containing no such references.
Kotarbiński is a radical realist in the theory of knowledge. The qualification ‘radical’ indicates that he denies the existence of sense data. His radical realism includes the ‘principle of tolerance’ with respect to the question whether the secondary qualities – to use for brevity’s sake the non-reistic language – are subjective modifications of the sentient body or characteristics of external objects. Although nothing is whiteness, sweetness or bitterness, a radical realist may say that a white or sweet or bitter thing exists now, here or there, and generally that things may be coloured, smelling, sounding, tasting, these statements being either true or false. Radical realism is not incompatible, therefore, with what a supporter of the copy theory of perception is inclined to say about the objects of the external world.
Kotarbiński is an atheist, and his materialism leaves no loophole for believing in the existence of disembodied spirits and God, the creator of the Universe. He is an empiricist in ethics and in his investigations of moral and social problems follows in Hume’s footsteps in trying to base his conclusions on a ‘cautious observation of human life’ as it appears ‘in the common course of the world’. His open-mindedness on the questions of morals is restricted only by few convictions, such as that truth, honesty, justice, kindness, modesty, care of the weak, are intrinsically good for man, and that they should not be treated lightly. His examinations of moral issues are inspired by a sympathetic understanding of human beings and by a keen appreciation of the qualities of the human personality. This may not tally with the popular idea of a materialist philosopher, but is not incompatible with the materialistic conception of man, unless materialism is equated with considering man to be a complicated mechanism or a piece of animated matter.
According to Marxist-Leninists, it would be a serious error to describe. Kotarbiński as a consistent materialist. This follows syllogistically from the premisses that only dialectical materialists are consistent materialists and Kotarbiński is not a dialectical materialist. The latter premiss is easy to establish. A dialectical materialist considers matter as primary, mind as secondary. Kotarbiński’s pansomatism is not equivalent to that assumption, disregards its importance, does not legislate away the possibility of panpsychism (matter might always have been sentient), and rejects as meaningless the assertion ‘every psychical phenomenon is identical with some physical phenomenon’. Moreover, the ‘principle of tolerance’ in the theory of knowledge militates against the copy theory of perception, for it allows for deviation from it. The principle in question constitutes an agnostic infringement upon the thesis of knowledge being a true reflection of the external world.
The materialistic content of Kotarbiński’s views, Marxist-Leninists said, is a variety of the metaphysical materialism in Engels’ sense, i.e., it is an antidialectical materialism. It does not contribute anything to the modern materialistic philosophy and judged by its standards it is an anachronism. Over and above their materialistic content Kotarbiński’s views include elements incompatible with materialism, namely, conventionalism, agnosticism, nominalism and an idealist semantics. Engels revealed ‘real idealism’, concealed under the surface of metaphysical materialism, in Feuerbach’s philosophy. Kotarbiński shared Feuerbach’s fate at the hands of his Marxist-Leninist critics.
Kotarbiński’s ‘real idealism’ reveals itself in a threefold way: in his semantical reism, which is one of the trends of idealist semantics; in his somatism and pansomatism which are a conventionalist doctrine; and in his nominalism which undermines the scientific world outlook and promotes the interpretation of scientific theories in terms of subjective idealism. It should be remembered that the objection of cultivating an idealist semantics was also raised against the Warsaw school as a whole. The first reason for describing Kotarbiński’s views as an eclectic compromise of materialism and idealism will be, therefore, considered at a later stage. Also the objection that nominalism is an anti-materialistic doctrine will be examined together with other Marxist-Leninist views on universals.
The assertion that Kotarbiński is at heart a conventionalist is solely based on his own statement to the effect that somatism and pansomatism are hypotheses which he accepts according to his inclination. It is hard to say what else his assumptions could have been. ‘Every soul is a body’ and ‘every object is a body’ are not analytic statements, for their denials are not self-contradictory. On the other hand, they do not refer to a finite class of individuals, that is to individuals to be found in an interval of time and a defined region of space, but to all individuals, irrespective of these restrictions. They are strictly universal statements, as distinguished from those merely numerically universal, in Popper’s sense. Being synthetic they cannot be a priori valid, they must be tested and be corrigible in the light of fresh evidence. Consequently, they are tentative universal statements or conjectures held on insufficient grounds. In this sense they can rightly be described as hypotheses.
A hypothesis in the above sense, argued the Marxist-Leninists, is a much too flimsy foundation for a world outlook. ‘To be held on insufficient grounds’ means, in their opinion, the same as ‘to be held arbitrarily’, and to accept something according to one’s disposition is to accept it by the fiat of one’s whim. They clearly hold a belief to be a mere state of mind, a purely psychological fact with no objective significance. The factual and terminological confusions, of which this argument makes use, are apparent.
To believe in p is a state of mind, in which we are ready to assert p. But seldom, if ever, do we believe something with no reason whatsoever and our disposition to believe p varies in degree, according to the nature and extent of evidence for p. The evidence might be irrational or rational, and in the latter case it can have a wide range of reliability. A reliable or warranted belief is not arbitrary or dependent on anybody’s whim. As long, however, as the evidence is not conclusive, it remains a belief, accepted according to one’s inclination, that is to say, according to one’s knowledge of the subject-matter and one’s ability to bring the evidence to bear upon a belief. A warranted belief p induces the state of mind of believing what p states to be the case.
The distinction between the belief in the psychological and epistemological sense does not satisfy Marxist-Leninists. For they seem to assume that dialectical materialism in an ‘objective truth’ which is superior to a warranted belief. Moreover, to say that a world picture is based on a warranted belief is to concede that it cannot be absolutely true and a perfectly faithful reflection of reality determined by the nature of the external world. If this viewpoint is accepted, it might appear that Kotarbiński abandons the claim to knowledge of objective reality and resorts to an arbitrary logical construction. This construction combines conventionalism with subjective idealism. For in somatism, based on semantic reism, genuine questions of fact are resolved by linguistic conventions and ‘laws of Nature’ are replaced by a free creation of the mind.
Underlying this criticism is a conception of knowledge which may be called ‘epistemological absolutism’. According to this conception only absolutely certain knowledge is genuine knowledge, to be sharply differentiated from true or warranted beliefs, which being corrigible and sometimes false are unreliable knowledge or no knowledge at all in its proper sense. This is not to be understood as a linguistic rule. An epistemological absolutist does not wish to say that in the use of the verb ‘to know’ he follows the rule: what is not true cannot be said to be known. For there can be no doubt that the verb ‘to know’ is sometimes used in conformity with this rule irrespective of whether the speaker is or is not an epistemological absolutist. What the latter asserts has nothing to do with linguistic rules alone. An epistemological absolutist believes as a matter of fact that that which is known cannot be false and that to deny it is to make a self-contradictory statement. This again should not be understood to mean that whatever is known is an analytical truth. For some epistemological absolutists would not restrict knowledge, as they understand it, to necessary, that is, analytic truths. When they say: ‘what is known must be true’, they mean: ‘what is known is indubitable’. The conclusion to be drawn therefrom is that if what was held to be certainly true proves to be a falsehood, it was not knowledge but a belief mistaken for knowledge, for it is impossible to know what is not the case. Knowledge provides incontrovertible truths, belief is a state of mind, supported merely by the individual’s fallible sense of being right. Consequently, though held to be warranted, it may turn out to be false and since no genuine knowledge can ever be false, no belief is genuine knowledge, whatever evidence it may claim. For if one can believe something to be true and admit without contradiction that what is believed may be subject to doubt or false, what is believed cannot be knowledge. It would be self-contradictory to say that what is known may be false.
Epistemological absolutism is an ancient doctrine, at least as old as the philosophy of Parmenides and Plato Theaetetus. From the first moment of its appearance it was faced by numerous serious difficulties which it tried to avoid by restricting the scope of what can be certainly known. Plato, the Stoics, Bertrand Russell, or G. E. Moore, however different were their respective starting points and conclusions, all took this course. In the case of Marxist-Leninist no such restrictive measures seem to have been taken. Absolutely certain knowledge is attainable not only in logic, mathematics, and, generally, in the deductive sciences, but also in natural science and philosophy. This is a position hard to defend and to justify. For there is a strong prima facie case for asserting that it is very doubtful whether there are any indubitable empirical statements. If there are any, the question of how to find and distinguish them from those which are mere beliefs, acquires a crucial importance. Generally stated, the basic difficulty, by which epistemological absolutism is confronted, is as follows: what is the procedure for distinguishing certain knowledge from mere belief, by what criterion can the former be differentiated from the latter, and what is the difference between merely believing something to be true which is eventually found to be false and falsely believing to know when one does not know.
We can, of course, accept a linguistic rule for the use of the term ‘certainly true’, by which it may be predicated of propositions even if there is no effective means of discovering whether they are certainly true. There are such rules probably in all natural languages to serve didactic, moral, and some other purposes, to keep before the mind’s eye the intrinsic value of truth in man’s search for knowledge. But the meaning of ‘true’ or ‘certainly true’ governed by this rule does not refer to a characteristic of particular propositions, but rather to absolute truth’ of the metaphysician from Plato to Frege. It provides us with the conviction, of which William James wrote, that there is a truth to be discovered by experiment and studies, which inspires us with the determination to strive for it in our thinking lives. It is an idea that regulates behaviour without determining the sought for characteristics of knowledge. For what is claimed as ‘knowledge’ in any particular case hardly ever comes close to this elevated ideal, and is, as a rule, corrigible, capable of being improved upon, made more reliable. ‘Truth and error, like all concepts, which are expressed in polar opposites, have absolute validity only in an extremely limited field’, wrote Engels. This is a sound observation and Marxist-Leninists are right in recalling it frequently, although often solely by way of an introduction to the inclusion of their own views in the limited field corresponding to the first of the above mentioned polar opposites.
For the purpose of obtaining reliable knowledge we need some general method for discovering whether a proposition is true. There can be no doubt that we can with some success distinguish what can from what cannot be proved, as well as warranted beliefs from unwarranted ones, and warranted beliefs from each other according to their respective degree of justification, the nature and extent of evidence in their favour. But we do not know how to proceed in order to discover what is certainly true among various competitive views, all of which, outside logic and mathematics, are liable to be false. To say that in the case of knowledge we know that we know, provides no solution, for it either involves a regressus in infinitum or renders the answer circular (in the manner similar to the Platonic Socrates’ proof to the effect that Theaetetus’definition of knowledge being a rationally justified belief was circular). If a false or a corrigible belief is mistakenly held to be certainly true, this error can be ascertained in due course by a post mortem examination. But an examination of this sort can only reveal what was not certainly true, without being able to indicate by what it should be replaced and how we should set about it. To equate reliable knowledge with what is certainly true does not seem to secure any advantages over the opinion that we have always to start with beliefs held on inconclusive grounds, which we test, refute, and replace by others in the light of the available evidence. While no advantages are gained in this course, many and considerable disadvantages are incurred.
It has been pointed out that strictly universal synthetic statements, for instance of reism, somatism, and pansomatism, are necessarily conjectures. The same applies to the assumptions of dialectical materialism, which, too, are clearly strictly universal synthetic statements. The claim that they are not conjectures but incontrovertible truths cannot be established otherwise than by an a priori fiat. For if they were certainly true, we could not know it. What can be logically inferred from them does not depend on whether they are or are not certainly true. Their explanatory power is not affected in the slightest by the finality attached to them, and, in this respect, nothing would be changed if instead of being proclaimed certainly true they were held to be but warranted beliefs. The advantages to be drawn from the identification of knowledge with infallible knowledge lie outside the sphere where the search for truth is pursued. Only when metaphysical beliefs function, in a disguised form, as moral and political rules, is their epistemological significance affected in accordance as to whether they are considered to be certain knowledge or warranted belief. For in the former case their effective regulative power gains considerably from being endowed with the privilege of infallibility.
It has been said that a critical and scientific attitude is not so much opposed to the dogmatic and pre-critical attitude as superimposed upon the latter. For criticism presupposes beliefs accepted on inconclusive evidence, which, to be tested, refuted and improved upon must be initially held, as it were, dogmatically. Moreover, to pursue the efforts of establishing more and more reliable beliefs and conjectures, we must have an understanding of what being certainly true is. The failures of attaining certainty result in the delimitation of the two realms of rationality, of rational certainty restricted to the deductive sciences, and of warranted beliefs never conclusively established and comprising practically all the knowledge outside the deductive sciences.
If this view is accepted, epistemological absolutism should be considered a residue of the pre-critical stage in philosophical and methodological thinking. This concerns both its identification of genuine knowledge with certainly true knowledge and its disposition to assert dogmatically what can only be tentatively, though rationally, asserted.
In the opinion of Marxist-Leninists, Ajdukiewicz was the most consistent representative of the Warsaw school. In Kotarbiński’s reism and pansomatism the conventionalist and idealist ingredients are concealed and have to be extricated from their intricate and misleading shell, in Ajdukiewicz’s radical conventionalism they are striking. Moreover, Ajdukiewicz stood closest to the neo-positivism of the Vienna Circle. He can be credited with the distinction of having produced the crowning achievement in the development of thought which started with Bertrand Russell’s logical atomism, and which through the logic of science of the Vienna Circle attained its perfection in Ajdukiewicz’s radical conventionalism. Ajdukiewicz’s views provide the best opportunity of studying the idealist semantics and the semantical philosophy, for which the Warsaw school gained its reputation.
Before the Marxist-Leninist criticism of the idealist semantics is examined two preliminary points must be taken up. They concern the relation of the Warsaw school to the Vienna Circle and the movement of logical empiricism in general, and the meaning attached to the term ‘idealist semantics’, of which so much use, clearly derogatory in its expressive function, was made by the Marxist-Leninists. At that time, apart from its technical sense, different in the Marxian and nonMarxian tradition, ‘idealist’ also meant ‘being incompatible with Marxist-Leninist and reactionary’, or ‘unscientific’ tout court.
The assertion that the Warsaw school was not a native growth but one of foreign inspiration, mainly implanted by the Austro-German neopositivistic revival, disregards the time factor. The Warsaw school never published a programme like Wissenschaftliche Weltauffassung: Der Wiener Kreis (1929) that marked the international appearance of the Vienna Circle. Nor was it ever formally organised and active as a collective body as the Vienna Circle was in the ‘thirties, publishing a periodical of its own and various series of monographic publications, arranging international meetings and congresses of like-minded thinkers. The Warsaw group was an informal body which in the late ‘twenties, roughly at the same time as the Vienna Circle, acquired collectively distinctive characteristics. The endowed it with some cohesion and group identity, apparent to outsiders. Both the Vienna Circle and the Warsaw school existed much earlier than the time of their public appearance would indicate, each of them little aware of the existence of the other and each following its own course of development. Mach, Russell and Wittgenstein are recognised as thinkers whose influence on the Vienna Circle was the most significant. In the case of the Warsaw school the influence of Brentano, Frege and Russell was predominant. The origin and the formative years of the Warsaw school, already reviewed, testify to the fact that the influence of these and many other thinkers, duly recognised by those who benefited from it, did not preclude the school from following its own line of development.
The co-operation between the Vienna Circle and some thinkers of the Warsaw school established in the ‘thirties had a stimulating effect on both sides and increased the channels of mutual influence. J?rgen J?rgensen, a logical empiricist himself and its historian, emphasised an especially lively and fruitful exchange of thought between Carnap, Gödel and Tarski. Among those who on the Polish side participated in the international meetings (Prague, Paris, Copenhagen) and contributed to Erkenntnis were Ajdukiewicz, Chwistek, Hosiasson, Jaśkowski, Kokoszyńska, Lukasiewicz, and Zawirski. These contacts led to the recognition of the kinship between the two schools and also of their mutual differences. At the International Congress of Scientific Philosophy in Paris (1935) and at the Second International Congress for the Unity of Science, held in Copenhagen in 1936, these differences became pronounced. They did not affect the high reputation which the Vienna Circle, and later logical empiricism, continued to enjoy in Poland before and also after the war.
Nobody in Poland accepted the conception of philosophy propounded by Carnap in Logische Syntax der Sprache. The replacement of the ‘inextricable tangle of problems which is known as philosophy’ by the logic of science was expressly rejected by Lukasiewicz who analysed and criticised it at length. On the other hand, problems in which, for instance, Kotarbiński was interested were declared by Carnap to be of non-cognitive character. The epistemological controversies concerning the reality of the external world or the disputes about the universals between the nominalists and the realists were rejected by Carnap as battles about pseudo-statements, dealing with pseudo-problems. Ajdukiewicz opposed Carnap’s view that a language is unequivocally determined by its vocabulary and syntactical rules. Signs or words and expressions of a language must be used according to definite rules if they are to have meaning, that is, if they are to serve the purpose of communication. He called them meaning rules of the language and the manner in which he conceived them led ultimately to the establishment of pragmatics. His ideas were opposed by the Vienna Circle and objections were raised that Ajdukiewicz was trying to infect a formal study of language with psychologism. Tarski’s investigations, initiated in 1929 and inspired by Leśniewski’s lectures delivered ten years earlier, revealed that the concept of truth can be defined only in terms of a language essentially richer than that considered by the logical syntax of language, since it must contain both the expressions of the object language and the terms used in the structural description of the language. Only on the basis of this richer metalanguage can various concepts, such as meaning, naming, denotation, connotation, extension, and truth be defined in a materially adequate and formally correct manner. These various concepts are the subject-matter of semantics which was unknown to and for a few years disregarded by the Vienna Circle. All these questions were not minor quarrels dividing thinkers in agreement on all essential principles – like the differences between Schlick, Neurath, Carnap, and Hempel on the subject of the protocol-sentences – but reflected some basic differences.
These differences originated in the philosophical background and resulted from an immanent development of thought, different in Vienna and in Warsaw. A staunch adherence to epistemological realism was an unmistakable trait of the Warsaw school. There was associated with it a conception of truth that conceives it not as the correspondence between a sentence and an experience but as that between a sentence and a fact or occurrence. With the logical theory of correspondence, as distinguished from the epistemological one, there was combined the emphasis upon the referential function of language, upon the existence of the extra-linguistic reality, from which language should not be divorced, since it does not constitute an independent realm. Consequently, if everyday language is not sufficiently precise for the purpose of philosophical investigations, its revision cannot be undertaken as if there were no extra-linguistic occurrences to determine the structure of language and as if the latter could be artificially reconstructed on some premisses of its own. The same applied to formal logical systems. For the Warsaw school the acceptance of Carnap’s ‘principle of tolerance’ was inconceivable. To paraphrase Carnap’s saying, there are morals in logic, and there are not only internal but also external problems of existence. The conventionalist interpretation of logical and scientific systems ignores the fact that these systems reveal something about the external world, and, if they do, it is the philosopher’s or logician’s business to set up prohibitions instead of being satisfied with decisions concerned merely with the efficiency of the instrument used. An abstract linguistic or logical instrument might be in some way effective and yet be useless as a means of establishing a system of clearly true propositions.
The epistemological attitude which characterised the thinking of the Warsaw school exercised a restricting influence upon what was common to the movement sensu largo, to which both the Vienna Circle and the Warsaw school belonged. It is widely accepted that this movement should be described rather by a common tendency to make philosophy a scientific discipline and by a common technique of investigation, derived from formal logic and procedures used in science, than by common views and principles. These common methodological conceptions and techniques were bound, however, to produce vastly different results, for the manner of their application was determined in Vienna and Warsaw by different epistemological presuppositions. This was what actually happened. If the methodological aspect and the general purpose are disregarded, the increasing divergence of definite views, held by the Vienna Circle and the Warsaw school, becomes predominant. They were clearly two independent branches within the same movement, each of them with a distinct character and contribution of its own. Their differences did not preclude co-operation which reflected their endeavour to emancipate philosophy from parochialism. To say that the Warsaw school was nothing but a Polish version of the Viennese neopositivism, eclectically enriched by some English and American ingredients, is not an adequate account of the philosophical development in Austria and Poland in the inter-war period.
Marxist-Leninists propounded the above assertion as self-evident and made practically no attempt to substantiate it by showing the similarity or identity of particular views held by the Vienna Circle and the Warsaw school respectively. The basic differences escaped their notice and when they could not be ignored, as in the case of Ajdukiewicz’s criticism of Carnap’s syntactical theory of meaning, its nature and import were misunderstood and declared to be minor family differences of opinion, insignificant in comparison with the fundamental affinity of the two schools. This appraisal of the Viennese and Warsaw thinkers was dominated by the evaluation of their views in terms of the alleged social and political significance, which was the same in both cases. Since the Vienna Circle propagated its views with considerable zeal and the impact was felt all over the world, an evaluation in terms of the social and political significance was bound to assign the role of leader to the Vienna Circle and that of the follower to the Warsaw school.
The term ‘semantics’ is used by Marxist-Leninists so broadly that like some other of their technical terms it becomes meaningless. They do not differentiate semantics from logical syntax, or fail to appreciate the difference. Consequently, what they say about semantics may be occasionally true, if ‘seffiantics’ means ‘logical syntax’, but false if ‘semantics’ has its proper meaning. For the same reason their critical arguments are often irrelevant, and conclusions hardly ever follow from premisses. They make confusions worse by using ‘semantics’ in a non-technical sense of this term, in which any examination of language, including terminological definitions, is called ‘semantics’. Finally, they do not discriminate between semantics in Tarski’s sense and the ‘general semantics’ of Alfred Korzybski and Stuart Chase, as if to accept the former logically implied the acceptance of the latter. In Tarki’s own words, they confuse a ‘sober and modest discipline which has no pretensions of being a universal patent-medicine for all the ills and diseases of mankind’ with that claiming to be a ‘remedy for decayed teeth or illusions of grandeur or class conflicts’ . The fact that Korzybski adopted the term ‘semantics’ after it had been used by Polish philosophers is not convincing proof that his and Tarski’s semantics are the same thing. There is not a word to be found in the Marxist-Leninist writings on the subject which would allow one to say with confidence that they realise the difference between the sober kind of semantics and the adventures in pseudo-science, also practised under the name of ‘semantics’, and that they are aware of the criticism which the practitioners of the former made of the latter.
If the term ‘semantics’ is used with all these connotations, we never know what we are talking about. There is then no wonder that Ajdukiewicz’s contribution to semiotic by supplementing syntax with a rudimentary pragmatics was dismissed as a minor ‘semantical’ modification; the significance of Tarski’s semantics for our systematic knowledge of language was disregarded, and Carnap’s views on language in Introduction to Semantics and Meaning and Necessity were held to be an immaterial reformulation of those pronounced in Logische Syntax der Sprache.
Marxist-Leninists recognise ‘semantics’ as a legitimate discipline provided that it satisfies the conditions specified by Stalin in Marxism and Problems of Linguistics. Semantics is a means of making thought and speech precise. It is concerned with the ‘meaning aspect of linguistic expressions’, and as such, it constitutes a branch of linguistics. A specifically materialistic semantics never separates language from thought or thought from language (Marr committed the latter error), nor a study of language from the investigations of the physiological processes of thinking. Thinking always proceeds along two parallel lines, thinking always being accompanied by its linguistic expressions and a significant use of language involving thoughts and ideas. The insistence on the ‘unity’ of thought and language seems to be prompted by the belief that should there be thoughts unexpressed or which cannot be expressed in words, it might suggest that thinking and understanding are an inner mental process which is concealed underneath its linguistic expressions and goes on behind it, something rather spiritual than material. The correlated linguistic expressions, which are clearly something material, do not invalidate this suggestion but blunt its sharp edge.
Moreover, language is an instrument of communication and of understanding. To separate language, from the world of Nature and society, to divorce a study of language from the social history of man, is to fail to study language in a scientific manner. Language being primarily a social phenomenon embraces all fields of man’s activity and reflects in its vocabulary, in its semantical and pragmatical rules, the social and historical changes of the society which uses this language. The manner in which the world is depicted by means of language is, therefore, dependent on the social determination of language, and to treat language, freed from this dependence, as an adequate model either of the world or of thought is to fall into the snares of idealism.
A materialist semantics seems to merge with what Carnap called ‘descriptive pragmatics’, the examination of the historical, social and psychological (physiological) determinations of the language within the community in which this language is used. This comprehensive study of language would require the co-operation of specialists of numerous disciplines – descriptive semantics and comparative philology, social history, social psychology and sociology, history of literature and history of science, methodology and logic. At the present moment such a scheme is utopian, hardly connected with what is and can be done in a scientific study of language. At present not much more than an examination of various types of discourse, the clarification of the concepts required for this examination and the formulation of principles underlying such studies can be undertaken.
This is ignored, however, by the Marxist-Leninist critics of contemporary studies of language by logical methods. They look into the distant future and come to the conclusion that theoretical and general semantics in Tarski’s sense or Carnap’s pure semantics are idealist. Tarski, Carnap and their various followers, including the Warsaw school thinkers, do not consider the ‘meaning aspect’ of language in its relation to the psychological (physiological) processes of thinking, they treat language in false abstraction and disregard its function as a social means of communication and expression of thought. These two omissions are characteristic features of every idealist semantics.
The third reason why Tarski’s and Carnap’s semantics, as well as that of Ajdukiewicz and Kotarbiński, was considered to be idealist, is a little more specific but also more bedevilled by the variety of meanings in which the term .semantics’ is used by Marxist-Leninists. They say that semantics which treats language as an autonomous realm, to be investigated without reference to extralinguistic reality, is necessarily idealist.
The first two objections raise a very dubious point. It is yet to be shown, instead of taking it for granted, that a study of language, if it is to yield valuable results, neither should nor could be separated from the social history of man and from the psychology (physiology) of thinking. Protagoras ignored them entirely when he gave the first classification of the parts of speech and of tenses. Generally, grammar and logical syntax seem to provide the evidence that the separation of language from extra-linguistic considerations can increase our knowledge in a limited field. The grammarian would not have been able to examine the consecutio temporum, if at every step he had to consider the dependence of language upon the higher activities of the nervous system and the transformations of society. The changes of the linguistic syntax and vocabulary in their social and historical settings are studied by the philologists and nothing would be pined by duplicating their research. The fact that the communicative function of language is not considered in the logical syntax does not reflect unfavourably upon it. No progress could be made, if everybody dealt with everything. Evidently, it would be a serious error, if it were denied that language is a means of communication, but this no sane person would ever dream of doing. The communicative function of language does require the examination of the relation between thought and language. In so far as this question concerns the philosopher, it is investigated by semantical methods, and, above all, in pragmatics. The term ‘pragmatics’ was only coined later, but the interest in the problems of pragmatics is older than this term. The questions of pragmatics were discussed by the Warsaw school thinkers in their numerous contributions published in the inter-war period, and especially by Ajdukiewicz. Marxist-Leninists, who subjected Ajdukiewicz’s writings to severe criticism, seemed to have been entirely unaware of this fact. Ajdukiewicz concentrated on the problems of the usage of language, its dependence on circumstances and the wider context in which the speaker is placed. In these studies Ajdukiewicz could not and did not separate language from thought. The puzzling question is how his Marxist-Leninist readers could have ignored it.
The assumption that underlies the philosophy of language is the inseparability of thought and language. This does not mean that there are no thoughts which fail to acquire a linguistic expression, that bare thoughts ‘free of the linguistic material’ do not exist (a point, which Stalin made in his pronouncement on linguistics and which from then on was incorporated into the body of beliefs accepted by all Marxist-Leninists). The essential connection between thought and language, emphasised by the philosophers of language, is a narrower one. They point out that only thoughts which can be expressed in language, and this means ‘communicable to others’, are philosophically significant. Moreover, if the inseparable connection between thought and language were not assumed, one of the important reasons which has prompted the philosopher to study language would disappear. For the investigations of language began as investigations of thought and thinking, the former being an expression of the latter and better suited for study in view of its public character which thought does not possess.
The sociological principle, which, according to Marxist-Leninists, should never be forgotten in ‘semantical inquiry’, might be true, but whether it is true or not is hard to decide, since practically no corroborating evidence is ever provided. Neither is it clear why the protest against divorcing language from thought and the firm adherence to the pronouncement: ‘There is no language without thought’, should immunise us against the virus of idealism. It appears that the Wittgensteinian question as to whether language and thought are or are not distinguishable, as well as whether language is or is not an adequate model of the world, should be discussed on their own ground. The philosophic and sociological problems should be kept separate until more is known about them.
While the first two Marxist-Leninist objections against ‘idealist semantics’ seem to be off the point, the third is self-contradictory. For it is self-contradictory to assert that ‘idealist semantics’ treats language as an autonomous realm and investigates it without reference to extra-linguistic reality. If the term ‘semantics’ carries its technical meaning, semantics is the study of the relations between words and compound expressions on the one hand, and their designata or referents, things, facts, non-verbal occurrences, on the other. Therefore, semantics can never treat language as an autonomous realm, divorce it from extra-linguistic facts and lose track of the outside world. This particular Marxist-Leninist objection against ‘idealist semantics’ does not make sense, unless it confuses ‘semantics’ with ‘logical syntax’ and ‘syntactical theory of meaning’. In this case, however, the objection of being idealist does not apply to semantics, but to syntax. To find fault with logical syntax on account of its failure to consider non-verbal occurrences is as unreasonable as to take exception to the theory of numbers for not considering continuous magnitudes.
The Marxist-Leninist idea of semantics was not only vague and confused, but also bore a very remote resemblance to what semantics was and how it was practised in the Warsaw school. Consequently, the same discrepancy can be observed when the Marxist-Leninists proceeded to the criticism of the application of semantical methods to philosophical problems, to the criticism of . semantical philosophy’, as they used to call it. Their contention was that ‘idealist semantics’ having abstracted language from its natural integument made of the ‘bare linguistic material’ its sole subject-matter of investigation. An erroneous theory of language led to an erroneous philosophy, ‘idealist semantics’was transformed into a ‘semantical philosophy’, infecting the latter with idealism and conventionalism. The chief purpose of ‘semantical philosophy’ was to show that the dispute between materialism and idealism was a meaningless controversy, and, generally, that fundamental differences dividing various world outlooks could be satisfactorily resolved by linguistic analysis. The Viennese invention of ‘semantical philosophy’ is a modern incarnation of Mach’s teaching. In his own time Mach tried to combat ‘natural-scientific materialism’ by eliminating metaphysics from natural science. In a similar manner ‘semantical philosophy’ claims to have transcended the dispute of materialism and idealism and thus made dialectical materialism an obsolete doctrine. The metaphysical agnosticism of Mach, of the Vienna Circle, and of the Warsaw school was not a genuine philosophical attitude. It is a sophistical artifice which provides the basis for formulating a reactionary ideology masquerading as a scientific method.
The relation of Marxist-Leninist philosophy to the ‘semantical philosophy’ of the Warsaw school was presented in terms of polar opposites. While Marxist-Leninists recommended that philosophers should attend to the nature of thought, of knowledge, of the world as a whole, the Warsaw school thinkers investigated the use of language, which, in their opinion, offered panacea for philosophical controversies and disputes between different world outlooks. For instance, Kotarbiński considered that the essential fault of idealism was its wrong semantical conception and that the most effective remedy for it was better semantics, namely, semantical reism. Thus, he suggested that the differences of opinion about matters of fact were only linguistic disputes to be settled by a revision of the rules of language. The latter were conceived as conventions accepted for didactic purposes, and arrived at by arbitrary decisions. The revisions of the rules of language accomplished in semantical reism made it possible to dispose of a great many philosophical questions which proved to be pseudo-problems arising from linguistic confusions. Among questions relegated to oblivion by means of semantical methods were fundamental problem of philosophy, such as the problem of the mind-body relation.
Some presuppositions underlying the general Marxist-Leninist appraisal of linguistic philosophy do not differ from those widely accepted in the Warsaw school. They found expression in the critical attitude, assumed by the Warsaw school, to some doctrines of the Vienna Circle and to Carnap’s logic of science. While emphasising the fruitfulness of the approach to philosophical problems by way of the study of language, the Warsaw school firmly refused to identify philosophy with the latter. For the truth of a proposition is not determined, either exclusively or even mainly, by linguistic criteria. While we can employ different languages subject to different syntactical and other rules, the choice between them cannot rest on a convention, if the language is to serve adequately the cognitive purpose. It is the subject-matter under investigations which should determine the choice of language. Ultimately knowledge increases and its concepts are clarified under the impact of new experience. It is new experience that prompts revision of some part or of the whole structure of language, and not vice versa. The clarification of the formal structure of language may be helpful, but it is not a substitute for the study of the empirical reference of language.
These ideas seemed also to inspire some of the Marxist-Leninist criticism, paradoxically directed against the Warsaw school. Various factors were responsible for this paradox, but probably one of the most important was methodological conservatism. It revealed itself in arbitrary prohibitions concerning the manner of investigating the use of language, in a dogmatic legislation of some principles and procedures, and in the utter inability to understand novel views and to follow their application. The Marxist-Leninist criticism of Kotarbiński’s reism, of Ajdukiewicz’s semantical epistemology and radical conventionalism will illustrate these points.
It is evidently true to say, as the Marxist-Leninists did, that Kotarbiński’s semantical reism is logically prior to somatism. But the formulation of semantical reism was prompted by somatism and was to provide a language adequate to some insight into the nature of reality. The non-verbal facts were Kotarbiński’s starting point and determined the semantical revision of language. The procedure, novel at that time, with which semantical reism supplied him, consisted in the use of its rules for the reformulation of some classical philosophical problems in a manner which, whatever other disadvantages it might have had, was clear and precise. Although Kotarbiński was not the first to notice that traditional philosophy was plagued by misunderstandings about language and that correct use of language cannot be taken for granted, he was certainly one of the first who devised a general method of dealing with the linguistic aspect of philosophical problems. While his analytical procedure was applied to thought and knowledge as expressed in language, its justice was ultimately based on ontological assumptions and matters of fact. Kotarbiński never entertained the idea that thought and knowledge are merely the use of language. To affix the derogatory label of idealism and conventionalism to reism is to miss the point and to mistake unctuous sermonising for a competent argument.
The brunt of the Marxist-Leninist criticism concerned with ‘semantical philosophy’ was borne by Ajdukiewicz. It was Ajdukiewicz who was alleged to have reduced philosophical inquiry to the concern with the use of language, to have identified philosophy with the syntactical analysis of language, and to have made of language ‘the only subject-matter of investiption’ . As it stands, this assertion is not only incorrect, but also absurd in its implications. It is true that Carnap once propounded the view that the philosopher should apply himself solely to the logical analysis of language. But Carnap differentiated logical and object questions, the latter being concerned with extralinguistic objects, their properties and relations, to be studied by empirical methods. Only the former are questions concerned with linguistic expressions, refer to sentences, terms, and theories (which, of course, refer themselves to objects), and have language as its exclusive subject-matter of investigation. Ajdukiewicz never embraced Carnap’s theory. At the time when Carnap’s views, expounded in Logische Syntax der Sprache, held wide sway in the world, the most significant single contribution of the Warsaw school to philosophy was its staunch defence of the position that the meaning of linguistic expressions is not determined solely by the syntactical rules of language and is not, therefore, ultimately a matter of convention. Consequently, philosophy could not be replaced by the logic of science. This contribution was due to Tarski and Ajdukiewicz; the former supplied the semantical method of investigation and the latter the pragmatical approach to the definition of meaning. Neither semantics nor pragmatics can, or do, abstract language from its reference to non-verbal reality. They both bring out the intimate connection, severed by Carnap, between language and non-linguistic occurrences to be considered in philosophical investigations.
To substantiate the claim that Ajdukiewicz reduced the dispute between the idealist and materialistic world outlooks to a controversy about language to be resolved by purely linguistic methods, Marxist-Leninists referred to his semantical epistemology. Semantical epistemology consists in the application of modes of procedure modelled on semantical methods to epistemological problems, of which Ajdukiewicz took advantage in a series of studies intended to refute transcendental and subjective idealism in the theory of knowledge. Marxist-Leninists argued that semantical epistemology rests on the assumption that every epistemological object sentence can be translated into a ‘sentence about sentence’, and this implies, that epistemology can be reduced to the logical syntax of language. Consequently, the question whether things exist independently of the experiencing mind or are rather a bundle of qualities whose existence depends on their being known is decided by purely verbal means and on the ground of linguistic considerations.
The Marxist-Leninist criticism of semantical epistemology seems to be uninformed and the conclusions reached unjustifiable. The translation of epistemological sentences into ‘sentences about sentences’, mistakenly identified with syntactical sentences (which are only a subclass of the former), and the alleged reduction of epistemology to the logical syntax of language constituted no part of Ajdukiewicz’s objective. Not every metalinguistic sentence is a syntactical statement, and not every epistemological sentence is translatable into the metalanguage. In epistemology there are real object sentences, not merely pseudo-object ones, which do not concern words or sentences but extra-linguistic objects. Semantical epistemology does not undertake, either, the programme of translating sentences of the material mode of speech into sentences of the formal mode (by which, for instance, Carnap tried to show that though the theses of phenomenalism and realism in the theory of knowledge seem to be incompatible as long as they are formulated in the material mode, there is no inconsistency between them any more upon their being translated into the formal mode). Ajdukiewicz did not reject this method of translation altogether since there is little doubt that it is often an effective method of formulating, in a meaningful and clear manner, the essence of a given problem which appears ambiguous and confused as long as it is discussed in the material mode of speech. But he did not consider translatability into the formal mode as the ‘touchstone for all philosophical sentences’ by means of which they are either shown to be syntactical or are relegated outside the realm of meaningful expressions. Semantical epistemology is a study of the problems of knowledge in their logical and linguistic aspects. It is concerned with sentences and not with judgments or sentence utterances which report directly what is experienced. The examination of epistemological sentences does not abrogate the right of these direct reports to priority in reflecting our experience of the world and does not legislate them away as unreal or nonexistent. On this account semantical epistemology cannot resolve any nonlinguistic question concerning the ‘relation of experience to reality’. It can, however, lay bare the structure and rules of meaning by which the language of different epistemological standpoints is determined and draw conclusions concerning the validity of claims made by the representatives of these standpoints.
The relevance of this new method, in particular of its application to the dispute with epistemological idealism, is apparent. The thesis of epistemological idealism has a paradoxical characteristic; it offends our common sense and is supported by an argument extremely hard to refute. While it is doubtful whether semantical epistemology provides its final refutation, it does account for its puzzling quality and undermines the tenability of the idealistic thesis.
On the other hand, the test of practice, on which Marxist-Leninists rely, is unlikely to make any impression on a staunch idealist. Berkeley did not intend to refute the beliefs of common sense, to persuade ordinary men that they are mistaken when they claim to see a chair and to sit on it or to deride Newton for having discovered the law of gravity. What Berkeley said has no bearing on how the world appears from the common sense viewpoint, does not cause any events different from those expected by Newton to occur, and, generally, is not falsified by whatever facts of experience are established by the common or scientific man. On this account the argument of practice leaves the idealist undisturbed. He must be challenged on his own ground, that is, his intention of describing familiar facts in a simple manner, free from confusion and puzzles, for which he blames the realist philosopher, must be shown to be failing to accomplish this task. This is what semantical epistemology set out to achieve. It points out that the idealist manner of description cannot possibly fit familiar facts for it can never reach them on account of the vocabulary and linguistic rules that determine the language of the idealist.
The permanent contribution to the philosophy of science, made by conventionalist philosophy, is its clarification of the relation between theory and observation. According to conventionalist philosophy, no theory is unambiguously determined by experience. Most philosophers would agree with this opinion, although they would differ in what manner the ambiguity is in fact or should be either reduced or removed. Ajdukiewicz’s radical conventionalism is an extension of the non-controversial central idea of conventionalist philosophy to every statement. He believes that no part of our knowledge of the world is unambiguously determined by experience alone. This is the less extreme formulation of radical conventionalism, to which Ajdukiewicz continues to adhere upon the rejection of its more extreme version.
To be communicated, the content of experience must acquire verbal articulation, be expressed in some language. This happens, e.g., when somebody looking out of the window and observing a regular fall of white flakes utters the sentence: ‘it is snowing’. Such direct reports raise the question, what is the reason for sentence utterances expressing and conveying something of the speaker’s experience. For it is clear that the experience itself is much richer than its verbal articulation and that the speaker fails to express and convey it in all its fullness. A direct report is selective in what it refers to and communicates to others. But granted that we should distinguish what is communicable from what C. I. Lewis called the ‘adventitious and purely personal’ in reported experience, the question remains, how the identifiable content of experience can find its way into the expressions uttered by different speakers and be understood by all. For their situational context is never exactly the same and even that of the same speaker changes with every movement in space and time. Every individual report is, therefore, ambiguous in its referential meaning and varies in this respect from one speaker to another. This was what so much impressed PoincarÉ, when he emphasised the infinity of facts that a report of experience can suit.
Ajdukiewicz took the view that it is not the experience alone that determines the objective, communicable content of expressions, but also some definite meanings, phrase- or sentence-meanings, with which the sentence utterance is endowed. Linguistic expressions are the vehicles, as it were, of the concepts which constitute and determine their meaning. The totality of meanings of a language, which form a complicated pattern of interrelated categories, is called the conceptual apparatus of this language. The central idea of radical conventionalism in its weaker version can now be formulated a little more precisely. Our knowledge of the world is determined by experience and the conceptual apparatus of the language in which experience is directly or indirectly reported and verbally articulated. The choice of conceptual apparatus may be made in one way or another, and in this sense its choice is a matter of convention. The choice of conceptual apparatus determines the kind of questions, which we are able to put to Nature, and thus also the perspective from which Nature and the world in general is viewed.
What Ajdukiewicz calls ‘meaning’ is close to what Frege called ‘Gedanke’, the objective content of thought as distinct from the content of particular acts of thinking and judging, the ‘common property of many’ which is independent of the individual’s privacy of feeling and imagery. The mode of existence of these objective contents, apprehended whenever we understand an expression, is a problem that he did not undertake to resolve in all its complexities. The question he set out to answer was how expressions and sentences have a definite meaning and how the ‘community of meanings’. their objectivity of some sort, is established within a language. Science and everyday life presuppose that thoughts and knowledge can be communicated. A satisfactory theory of meaning should provide the necessary conditions of mutual understanding and thus explain the fact that the meaning of an expression may be something communicable.
From this viewpoint the theories of meaning existing at that time were inadequate; they failed to achieve the indicated objective. If the meaning of a sentence is ultimately reduced to the content of the ‘given’ in the immediate experience, as Carnap suggested about that time, or to Schlick Konstatierungen or Neurath’s protocol-sentences, fixed by convention, its communicability becomes doubtful. On the other hand, the attempts to show that language mirrors, as it were, the logical structure of the world, that expressions have meaning because they denote objects, and that to learn the meaning of an expression is to discover what it denotes, provide at best only a partial solution of the problem. Ajdukiewicz pointed out that the meaning of an expression should be distinguished from its connotation, if it has got one, which is not always the case. A meaningful expression may have no denotatum and two expressions with a different meaning may denote the same object. These things had been known to Frege but at that time they were not common knowledge, as they have become to-day. At the time when Ajdukiewicz tried to formulate a systematic theory of meaning, the view that all significant expressions are of one variety and that they are all cast in one basic mould, to which Professor Ryle gave the name “’Fido’-Fido principle” , was still prevalent.
Ajdukiewicz’s belief that it is incorrect to identify the meaning of an expression with its denotatum provided one of the important reasons why he felt that the establishment of semantical relations between linguistic expressions and the extra-linguistic reality is an inadequate basis for a theory of meaning. He concluded that neither a purely syntactical nor a semantical theory of meaning is able to explain the communicative function of language.
The objective content, the identifiable common constituent of expressions spoken or written by different persons, is communicable owing to the fact that we follow in the use of expressions certain specifiable meaning-giving rules of language. The examination of the contextual usages of an expression advocated by various analytical thinkers as the best means of establishing its meaning, is done in a haphazard manner and cannot provide a basis for systematic investigations on the structure of language. Its replacement by the study of meaninggiving rules offers a more fruitful approach. If adequately specified, they constitute the necessary conditions for communication and mutual understanding. The evidence for the existence of these rules is provided by the fact that we accept some sentences and reject others, either conditionally or unconditionally, because they do or do not conform to the way they should be formulated. We refer to these rules if we claim that a word has been misused or used in the prescribed sense. Three different kinds of rules are characteristic to every language. axiomatic, deductive, and empirical meaning-giving rules.
Each conceptual apparatus is bound up with a definite set of meaning-giving rules, to which the meanings of the expressions of a language conform. The latter make explicit the structural relationship, the interrelatedness of the former.We can expand the conceptual apparatus by adding new rules of meaning and the rules can be enriched by the introduction of a new concept. The rules of meaning of the language S together with data of experience determine a set of sentences of this language, which will be called ‘theses of the language S’. The theses constitute a component and restrictive part of the knowledge that can be gained by making use of this language. Given certain data of experience there are problems which cannot arise at all unless the change of the conceptual apparatus and of the corresponding rules of meaning is accomplished. These circumstances acquire a special significance in the so-called closed and connected languages. In such a language all the rules of meaning, including the empirical ones, are unequivocally determined, and its conceptual apparatus cannot be enlarged and enriched. The set of theses of a given language, that is to say, the set of sentences of a given language which are determined by its meaning rules and data of experience, is called the ‘world picture’ or the ‘world perspective’ of that language.
The concept of the world picture leads to three important conclusions. The effort to gain new knowledge does not place the man ‘so to speak, in front of a heap of factual material’. His world perspective and conceptual apparatus are restrictive and selective, though not absolutely, since both the rules of meaning and the conceptual apparatus may be altered. Second, we never accept an isolated sentence, but a whole system of them, interrelated by their conceptual apparatus and rules of meaning associated with the latter. Third, no world perspective can be singled out as true and none of its sentences can be accepted as true or rejected as false except by those who make use of this world perspective. For each world perspective has its own rule of meaning that determines the use of the word ‘true’; it applies only to sentences of which this world perspective is composed. Nobody can, as it were, step out of his world perspective to predicate truth and falsehood of sentences belonging to another world perspective.
The last of these conclusions applies only to world pictures formulated in terms of different closed and connected languages. Open languages, that is, languages which can be enriched and expanded by the addition of new concepts and meaning-giving rules, confront us with a different situation. An open language does not preclude the possibility that on the foundations of the same data of experience there might coexist different but not incompatible world perspectives, whose respective advantages must be evaluated by means of some other criteria than those of agreement with reality only. They are the criteria of consistency, completeness, rationality and empirical testability. The task of an epistemologist is to give his attention to the changes introduced into the conceptual apparatus and the corresponding world picture of science and to investigate the reasons which prompt these changes.
Ajdukiewicz did not provide the definition of the term ‘true sentence’ which would do justice to the intuitions expressed by the correspondence theory of truth. He did not deny, either explicitly or implicitly, that this definition cannot be given at all, and, in fact, he took care to differentiate between the expressions: ‘true sentence in the language S’ and ‘sentence accepted as true by the speaker of the language S” . The meaning-giving rules are essentially rules of pragmatics, and the definition of a ‘true sentence’ cannot be given in terms of pragmatics. The question, however, arises whether a radical conventionalist cannot do without the classical concept of truth, which, he might add, is by no means unambiguous and in everyday language fraught with the dangers of antinomies.
The answer to the above question seems to be in the affirmative.
The Marxist-Leninist critics were not interested at all in Ajdukiewicz’s theory of meaning and concentrated on its epistemological consequences. This was not the best course to take if the philosophical issues involved were to be seriously examined. For Ajdukiewicz formulated the thesis of radical conventionalism, in its stronger and weaker versions, on the basis of his theory of meaning and it is not really possible to dissociate one from the other.
Marxist-Leninists emphasised two points in Ajdukiewicz’s theories, one of which led to the conclusion that radical conventionalism was a trivial and the other that it was an absurd doctrine. Both arguments were inspired by some erroneous ideas about Ajdukiewicz’s conception of language and about what can or cannot be inferred from it.
They argued that according to radical conventionalism our picture of the world is determined not only by experience, but also by the conceptual apparatus. The choice of the conceptual apparatus is ‘utterly arbitrary’. Therefore, ran the conclusion, any picture of the world is also an ‘utterly arbitrary creation of the mind’. If a mass of terminological distinctions, elaborate definitions, and logical subtleties is overlooked, there remains a trivial core, undistinguishable from Berkeleyan idealism. No amount of logical finesse can conceal the fact that radical conventionalism is a variety of subjectivism and relativism of an extreme kind.
On the other hand, if radical conventionalism is right, the criteria of a meaningful use of expressions of the language S also determine the truth value of the sentences in the language S. A sentence p, formulated in conformity with the rules of meaning valid in the language S, is a true sentence in the language S. Moreover, according to radical conventionalism the conceptual apparatus and the rules of meaning, associated with it, are arbitrary. We can choose them, therefore, in such a manner that in the language S 1 ‘∼ p’ is a thesis of the language S 1. The sentence ∼ p is, therefore, a true sentence in the language S 1. This is, however, absurd, and, if it were not, a still greater absurdity follows from it. For if ‘p’ is a true sentence in the language S and ‘∼ p’ is a true sentence in the language S 1, and the truth of a sentence consists in its agreement with reality, it would follow that not only the picture of the world but the world itself too is a free creation of the mind, changeable at will according to the language we choose for its description.
The doctrine which Ajdukiewicz’s critics proved to be trivial, false and utterly absurd, bears no resemblance to radical conventionalism. They made use of some of its concepts in a manner which is precisely excluded by radical conventionalism. The doctrine against which they turned was trivial, false, and absurd, but this doctrine is not that of radical conventionalism, and the easy victory over it was that over a man of straw. Their argument also failed to reveal the reason which prompted them to reject Ajdukiewicz’s theories.
The epistemological conclusions of radical conventionalism am clearly incompatible with the Marxist basic conviction that knowledge is an authentic reflection of the outside world, having the validity of ‘objective truth’. The concern with truth is one of the central preoccupations in the Marxist-Leninist approach to philosophy. Any view that seems to question in any manner the possibility of discovering ‘permanent’ or ‘objective truth’ is rejected forthwith. In particular, truth does not depend in any way on the language in which it is expressed, on its logical structure, on precise definitions and careful considerations of the use of words, since this would make of truth something arbitrary and dependent on human conventions. ‘Convention’, as Marxist-Leninists understand this term, is synonymous with ‘something utterly arbitrary’ or ‘freely invented’. This is a confusion against which PoincarÉ, warned in his polemical exchanges with Le Roy, who was inclined to consider a convention as a pure creation of the mind, unrestrained in any manner by experience. For Marxist-Leninists it is self-evident that if conventions played any role in the formulation of knowledge, knowledge would lack objective validity and would be a subjective product of our fancies and whims.
Epistemological absolutism, which again appears to inspire Marxist-Leninist criticism, is responsible for treating lightly all the linguistic and logical considerations involved in the search for truth. For truth reveals itself in the faithful correspondence between things and occurrences on the one hand, judgments and sentences on the other, and this relationship is invariant with respect to the signs and symbols in terms of which this correspondence is stated. Truth is something that is already there and is something to be discovered by observing, thinking, and acting, by subjecting the conclusions obtained again and again to the test of observation, thought and action. Seen against this background of the absolutist conviction, radical conventionalism appears as a futile and abortive attempt to apply human inventions and constructions to what cannot be thus discovered. Radical conventionalism may neither deny nor imply the denial of the existence of ‘objective truth’, but this is a ‘useless and empty declaration’, since it does not try to indicate how to discover it or even how to differentiate a true proposition from a false one. Conventionalism is a betrayal of science and philosophy. It gives up the attainability of absolute truth and surrenders it to an agnostic scepticism and irrationalism.
The reasons why epistemological absolutism is a barren doctrine have already been briefly touched upon and its clash with radical conventionalism provides an opportunity to add one more comment. The common characteristic of the absolutist tendency in philosophy is not only the conviction that a given system has attained the highest knowledge and certainty, corrigible in detail and infallible in its essential features, but also that all other philosophical systems are collections of false beliefs. This conviction may vary, however, in intensity and the supporters of epistemological absolutism may show very different degrees of dogmatism. If in Marxism-Leninism this conviction is revealed with excessive self-confidence, this seems to be partly due to some of its methodological peculiarities. For the pursuit of those aspects of the ‘objective truth’ which have not yet been discovered is so severely restricted by various prohibitions, imposed either uncritically or in ignorance of the actual procedures practised in logic, methodology, and natural science, that ultimately nothing new can be discovered and a few ossified and useless dogmas remain in the field. This is bound to happen when all the approaches leading to the re-examination of the sources of knowledge and of the accepted criteria of warranted beliefs are closed one by one.
These prohibitions are made impregnable by being presented as means of salvation from doctrines hostile to the search for knowledge, whose unmasking and destruction takes precedence in importance over the efforts of discovering what is the ‘objective truth’. The philosophical ogres of idealism, conventionalism, agnosticism, semantical philosophy, operated by some unidentifiable causal agents, referred to by invidious epithets, hamper a genuine understanding of what Marxist-Leninists disagree with and prevent them from seeing what are the issues whose solutions they wish to criticise. The Marxist-Leninist criticism of radical conventionalism, in which one misunderstanding or misconception supports another and helps to produce more and more startling paralogism is an illuminating instance of these habits of thought and of their methodological roots.
Ajdukiewicz’s patient and detailed answer, to the criticism of his views and Schaff’s final retort closed the long drawn out controversy between Marxist-Leninist and the Warsaw school. Its outcome was not encouraging. Not a single member of the Warsaw school was persuaded that the objections against his particular views or against methods common to the school as a whole were either pertinent or justified. The outsiders and also some Marxist-Leninists were unwilling to accept the verdict that thinkers who differed from Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy were thereby shown to be entirely wrong and to have nothing but nonsense to say. For the fact that the criticised views failed to satisfy the Marxist-Leninists was not proof that these views were mistaken. The conviction that a statement is true or false does not logically imply its truth or falsehood. What the Marxist-Leninists kept on repeating, namely, that they themselves were right and their opponents wrong, implied nothing but that this was their view.
Marxist-Leninists recognised their failure more in sadness than in anger. In his final summing up Schaff stated that no useful purpose would have been served by continuing the discussion, since the leading representatives of the school persisted in upholding their respective positions. The most significant advantage gained from the discussion was a greater precision in defining the standpoint of Marxism-Leninism and that of the Warsaw school, which disclosed their irreducible irreconcilability. While all the initial objections against the Warsaw school were upheld, namely its bourgeois liberal mentality, its socially reactionary and philosophically idealist and conventionalist character, a note of moderation was conspicuous in the final summing up.
It is hard to say whether, and, if so, to what extent, the intellectual temper cultivated in the Warsaw school contributed to this outcome. If it can be believed that absence of dogmatism, tolerance, diffidence of final solutions and incontrovertible truths can be conveyed and affect the opposite intellectual attitudes, the role played by the thinkers of the Warsaw school must be considered as one of the decisive educational influences that was increasingly civilising the philosophical and intellectual climate in Poland during the Stalinist period.