This paper investigates the way in which Rudolf Carnap drew on Gestalt psychological notions when defining the basic elements of his constitutional system. I argue that while Carnap's conceptualization of basic experience was compatible with ideas articulated by members of the Berlin/Frankfurt school of Gestalt psychology, his formal analysis of the relationship between two basic experiences (“recollection of similarity”) was not. This is consistent, given that Carnap's aim was to provide a unified reconstruction of scientific knowledge, as opposed to the mental processes by which we gain knowledge about the world. It is this last point that put him in marked contrast to some of the older epistemological literature, which he cited when pointing to the complex character of basic experience. While this literature had the explicit goal of overcoming metaphysical presuppositions by means of an analysis of consciousness, Carnap viewed these attempts as still carrying metaphysical baggage. By choosing the autopsychological basis, he expressed his intellectual depth to their antimetaphysical impetus. By insisting on the metaphysical neutrality of his system, he emphasized that he was carrying out a project in which they had not succeeded.

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Author notes

Uljana Feest received a master's degree in psychology from the University of Frankfurt (Germany) in 1994, and a PhD in history and philosophy of science from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003. She was a research scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin from 2003–2006, and is currently an assistant professor at the Institute of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, and History of Science and Technology at the Technical University, Berlin. Her interests fall into the history and philosophy of psychology and the human sciences as well as the history of the philosophy of science. She is currently engaged in two research projects, one dealing with the epistemology of experimentation in psychology, the other with the relationship between psychology and philosophy in the late 19th and early 20th century.