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Rudolf Karnap (18 May 1891 – 14 September 1970) was born in Ronsdorf, Germany. German philosopher, one of the most important exponents of the Circle of Vienna, a philosophical group formed by Moritz Schlick, in which philosophers Kurt Gedel and Otto Neurat stand out. Karnap has been Professor of Philosophy at various universities (Vienna and Prague) throughout his career. Before the outbreak of World War II, he moved to the United States where he continued to teach in Chicago, Princeton and Los Angeles. In terms of his contribution to neo-positivism, the construction of logical systems and discursive analysis is considered one of the most relevant philosophers of the twentieth century.

Early years

Son of Johannes Karnap and Anna Dorpfeld. Karnap was born into a modest West German family, which gave him a good upbringing. He started his academic education at Bartender’s Gymnasium. Between 1910 and 1914 he studied philosophy, mathematics and traditional logic at the universities of Jena and Freiburg. During his studies at the University of Jena, he was a student of the mathematician Gottlobe Frege, then known for his research into mathematical logic, and became one of the most remarkable representatives of his time; Frege’s work had a profound influence on Karnap’s research.

After the outbreak of the First World War he went to the University of Berlin where he continued his philosophical education. He then obtained his doctorate at the University of Jena, where he defended his thesis on the concept of space, which he divided into three types: physical space, intuitive space and formal space. Since then, he has researched topics such as time and causality and discussed theories of symbolic and physical logic.

Carnap and Wiener Kreis

At the end of the 1920s he started working as a professor of philosophy in Vienna, where he joined the Vienna Circle. A philosophical group based on the empirical logic of Moritz Schlick, who invited Karnap to participate in the meetings and the research of the circle. At the time, the group was striving for a global scientific perspective that would allow the rigour of the exact sciences to be applied to philosophical theories and their research, an idea that was at odds with the philosophical approach of the time, which was based on checks and balances based on conclusions drawn through informal or rigorous language and which paved the way for all doubt.

In 1929 the Circle presented its Scientific Manifesto for Peace: The Circle of Vienna, written by Otto Neurat. There were the signatures of Karnap and Hans Khan. In its manifesto, De Cirkel describes the principles of non-psychivism and its opposition to meaningless metaphysics, emphasizing the importance of verifiability; these approaches are inspired by Wittgenstein’s work in the Logical Philosophical Treatise.

In this period the philosopher studied philosophical problems and the language in which they are solved. Since these problems are related to the misuse of language, he has carried out several studies to test this approach, trying to construct logical systems that can prevent ambiguity and misuse of language. At the same time, he focused on the analysis of the scientific discourse, one of the most remarkable works on these subjects: Logical structure of the world (1928), overcoming metaphysics through the logical analysis of language (1931) and the logical syntax of language (1934). In the mid 1930s he moved to the United States, driven by the rise of Nazism in Germany. When he settled down, he began working as a professor at the University of Chicago, where he stayed until the early 1950s.

In these years he wrote studies on semantics (1942-47), meaning and necessity (1947) and the logical foundations of probability (1950). In the first two books he studied the formal and conceptual aspects of language, and in the book Logical foundations he studied probability theory, distinguishing between statistics and logic, thus making an important contribution to statistics. From 1952 to 1954 he taught at the University of Princeton before moving to California, where he was appointed professor at the University of California. He worked until the 1960s.

In the last years of his career Karnap published among others Inleiding tot de Symbolische Logica (1954), the philosophy of Della Scienza: An anthology (1964) and the philosophical foundations of physics (1966). Throughout his academic career Karnap defended and promoted the principles of mathematical or symbolic logic with which he tried to create a scientific perspective on the world.

After a long and brilliant academic career, Karnap died on the 14th. September 1970 in Los Angeles, California. Download…

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