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Logic in the early 20th century

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Y036-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved August 14, 2020, from

Article Summary

The creation of modern logic is one of the most stunning achievements of mathematics and philosophy in the twentieth century. Modern logic – sometimes called logistic, symbolic logic or mathematical logic – makes essential use of artificial symbolic languages.

Since Aristotle, logic has been a part of philosophy. Around 1850 the mathematician Boole began the modern development of symbolic logic. During the twentieth century, logic continued in philosophy departments, but it began to be seriously investigated and taught in mathematics departments as well. The most important examples of the latter were, from 1905 on, Hilbert at Göttingen and then, during the 1920s, Church at Princeton.

As the twentieth century began, there were several distinct logical traditions. Besides Aristotelian logic, there was an active tradition in algebraic logic initiated by Boole in the UK and continued by C.S. Peirce in the USA and Schröder in Germany. In Italy, Peano began in the Boolean tradition, but soon aimed higher: to express all major mathematical theorems in his symbolic logic. Finally, from 1879 to 1903, Frege consciously deviated from the Boolean tradition by creating a logic strong enough to construct the natural and real numbers. The Boole–Schröder tradition culminated in the work of Löwenheim (1915) and Skolem (1920) on the existence of a countable model for any first-order axiom system having a model.

Meanwhile, in 1900, Russell was strongly influenced by Peano’s logical symbolism. Russell used this as the basis for his own logic of relations, which led to his logicism: pure mathematics is a part of logic. But his discovery of Russell’s paradox in 1901 required him to build a new basis for logic. This culminated in his masterwork, Principia Mathematica, written with Whitehead, which offered the theory of types as a solution.

Hilbert came to logic from geometry, where models were used to prove consistency and independence results. He brought a strong concern with the axiomatic method and a rejection of the metaphysical goal of determining what numbers ‘really’ are. In his view, any objects that satisfied the axioms for numbers were numbers. He rejected the genetic method, favoured by Frege and Russell, which emphasized constructing numbers rather than giving axioms for them. In his 1917 lectures Hilbert was the first to introduce first-order logic as an explicit subsystem of all of logic (which, for him, was the theory of types) without the infinitely long formulas found in Löwenheim. In 1923 Skolem, directly influenced by Löwenheim, also abandoned those formulas, and argued that first-order logic is all of logic.

Influenced by Hilbert and Ackermann (1928), Gödel proved the completeness theorem for first-order logic (1929) as well as incompleteness theorems for arithmetic in first-order and higher-order logics (1931). These results were the true beginning of modern logic.

Citing this article:
Moore, Gregory H.. Logic in the early 20th century, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Y036-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2020 Routledge.

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