I've been reading a bit of Leo Strauss recently, as he's supposed to have been such a huge malign influence. I still haven't gotten far enough to have much original to say about his ideas; so far, I only note that his reading of Plato is careful and clever (which doesn't always equal right, but I'm sure he's right about some of the things he's said in what I've read so far, and wrong about others), while in his reading of 20th century figures he has an annoying habit of making controversial interpretations without a hint of a citation to support them. I also can't help but find it odd that he seems to consider Heidegger one of the greats of the 20th century, perhaps the greatest philosopher of that time. Apart from my own feeling that this absurdly overestimates Heidegger, a Jew having such admiration for a Nazi* introduces further strangeness. Perhaps this is one of the places where one should seek the esoteric meaning intended by Strauss himself, since he is infamous for interpreting other philosophers as having esoteric doctrines hidden beneath their surface claims.
In any event, thinking about Heidegger and esoteric doctrines brought to my mind Carnap's "Overthrow of Metaphysics Through the Logical Analysis of Language," which I have long thought to have been under-appreciated. I do not think that the Straussian notion that philosophers sometimes have concealed some of their intentions because of conflicts with political orthodoxy to be absurd (though I question some of the examples attributed to him), and I've long thought Carnap was almost certainly an example of this. His exceedingly dry, technical, meticulous writing ensured that if he did challenge the political orthodoxy, the challenge would be difficult to find, and more interestingly difficult to respond to, since responding to Carnap with polemic seems so inappropriate, and beating Carnap on technical points is, to put it mildly, challenging.
So, in the "Overthrow", Carnap states that he is going to show that all metaphysics is meaningless. Metaphysics includes all of value theory. Thus, it is implied that Carnap can't be engaged in anything like value theory himself; no dangerous value judgments ahead. In fact, this implication is false, for what we value is heavily influenced by our understanding of the relevant facts, but while Carnap was surely aware of this, he was equally aware that making value judgments explicit usually hinders understanding.
So, all of value theory counts as metaphysics. What else counts? In the course of the text, a number of examples get passing references; a word or two a piece. Only a tiny handful of philosophers are mentioned by name. Hegel gets passing unfavorable mentions. Kant gets mentioned a couple of times and Wittgenstein once, perhaps because it is illegal to write philosophy in German without mentioning Kant, and failing to mention Wittgenstein was similarly contrary to the rules of the Vienna circle at the time. Nothing of substance is said about any of those three. On the other hand, Descartes gets an unfavorable paragraph, Nietzsche gets an anstonishing favorable paragraph, and Heidegger is the only philosopher to whom multiple pages are devoted, all harshly critical.
As Ayer would later do in Language, Truth, and Logic, Carnap claims that his example of nonsensical metaphysics is chosen at random. I doubt that Ayer really made his choice randomly; likely he was simply imitating Carnap's conceit, for he was something of a Carnap disciple at the time. I am quite sure that Carnap's choice was anything but random. For the explicit purposes of the essay, the example is perfect; it is precisely Carnap's thesis that Heidegger writes about nothing, that his words have no meaning, and to illustrate this, he selects a passage in which Heidegger writes about nothing, the Heideggerian opposition to being.
The other philosopher who gets any attentive criticism at all is Descartes. His paragraph on Descartes criticizes the cogito, but elsewhere he mentions the defects in ontological arguments, and while he names no names in his discussion of theology, Carnap also devotes considerable space to theological matters. He presents his distinction between the mythological, metaphysical, and theological views of religion. The metaphysical interpretations are, of course, meaningless. The mythological interpretations are empirically testable, and he does not bother to say that they are empirically disconfirmed. The theological interpretations waver between the other two as convenient, escaping the criticisms of each via a retreat to the other.
Of course, religion is also a source of value judgments, a fact which gets no explicit attention whatever in Carnap's presentation. He merely emphasizes the factual problems of religion, in such a way as to invite the inference that religion is utterly without value. His final commentary on metaphysics, with which theology has been linked, further strengthens that reading. His explicit criticism of metaphysics as an expression of values is that metaphysics is ill-suited to the task, but it is here that I think Carnap is perhaps most disingenuous. Given what we actually know about Carnap's own values, the alternative interpretation suggests itself that the problem with much metaphysics is that it expresses bad values.
This would help make sense of the puzzling paragraph about Nietzsche. Again, Carnap's reference to Nietzsche is extremely favorable. Officially, this is because Nietzsche was never confused as to whether he was advancing values or engaged in factual investigations, but why mention Nietzsche at all if this was his only virtue? Nietzsche is most famous for criticizing theological values; I suggest that in mentioning Nietzsche favorably, Carnap may be endorsing this famous Nietzschean criticism.
Of course, Heidegger is Carnap's main target, and Heidegger is not normally viewed as much of a theologian. Thus, if the esoteric message of the "Overthrow" is anti-theological, the metaphysics of Heidegger must be seen as some sort of pseudo-theology, endorsing similarly problematic values by other means. If this was indeed Carnap's view of Heidegger, he was not alone in developing such a view. He may, however, have been the first. The reader will have to judge for herself whether it is a problem for my interpretation of the "Overthrow" as a criticism of Heidegger's values that it was written a few years before Heidegger's infamous "Rector's Address"; this could either be evidence of Carnap's great insight, or evidence that my interpretation involves projection and hindsight.
* It is unfortunate how the overuse of Hitler and Nazi metaphors in hyperbole makes it difficult to talk about early 20th century figures who were Nazis in non-metaphorical senses. Admittedly, Heidegger was not without his disagreements with Nazi orthodoxy (he resigned as rector of the University of
Heidelberg Freiberg in protest at being ordered to fire Jewish professors), but he was committed to National Socialism; his admiration for the party continued after the war, when it had ceased to be expedient.