Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2018
A definition of a property P is impredicative if it quantifies over a domain to which P belongs. Due to influential arguments by Ramsey and Gödel, impredicative mathematics is often thought to possess special metaphysical commitments. The reason is that an impredicative definition of a property P does not have its intended meaning unless P exists, suggesting that the existence of P cannot depend on its explicit definition. Carnap (1937 , p. 164) argues, however, that accepting impredicative definitions amounts to choosing a “form of language” and is free from metaphysical implications. This article explains this view in its historical context. I discuss the development of Carnap’s thought on the foundations of mathematics from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, concluding with an account of Carnap’s (1937 ) non-Platonistic defense of impredicativity. This discussion is also important for understanding Carnap’s influential views on ontology more generally, since Carnap’s (1937 ) view, according to which accepting impredicative definitions amounts to choosing a “form of language”, is an early precursor of the view that Carnap presents in “Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology” (1956 ), according to which referring to abstract entities amounts to accepting a “linguistic framework”.