Carnegie Mellon University
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Hilbert's programs : 1917-1922

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journal contribution
posted on 1997-01-01, 00:00 authored by Sieg
Abstract: "Hilbert's finitist program was not created at the beginning of the twenties solely to counteract Brouwer's intuitionism, but rather emerged out of broad philosophical reflections on the foundations of mathematics and out of detailed logical work; that is evident from notes of lecture courses that were given by Hilbert and prepared in collaboration with Bernays during the period from 1917 to 1922. These notes reveal a dialectic progression from a critical logicism through a radical constructivism towards finitism; the progression has to be seen against the background of the stunning presentation of mathematical logic in the lectures given during the winter term 1917/18. In this paper, I sketch the connection of Hilbert's considerations to issues in the foundations of mathematics during the second half of the 19th century, describe the work that laid the basis of modern mathematical logic, and analyze the first steps in the new subject of proof theory. A broad revision of Hilbert's and Bernays's [sic] contributions to the foundational discussion in our century has long been overdue. It is almost scandalous that their carefully worked out notes have not been used yet to understand more accurately the evolution of modern logic in general and of Hilbert's Program in particular. One conclusion will be obvious: the dogmatic formalist Hilbert is a figment of historical (de)construction! Indeed, the study and analysis of these lectures reveal a depth of mathematical- logical achievement and of philosophical reflection that is remarkable. In the course of my presentation many questions are raised and many more can be explored; thus, I hope this paper will stimulate interest for new historical and systematic work."


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