FOM: Dedekind and 'liberal' terminology

Walter Felscher walter.felscher at
Sat Mar 14 14:55:13 EST 1998

Dear Mr. Hersh,

please, accept my apologies for writing formulations which caused you 
sadness and discouragement. I was definitely not my intentiton to produce 
this effect. 

When I wrote that 

                          Of course, I am aware that authors such
       as Mr. Hersh will immediately conclude that Dedekind's voice
       here is that of the liberal German bourgeois of his time.
       Which, of course, explains nothing.

it was, indeed, in order to state the pointlessness, of the conclusion 
mentioned in the first of these two sentences, for a discussion of 
Dedekind's mathematical and philosophical writings about numbers. 

On the other hand, I do hold that Dedekind's "voice", his style, when 
explaining his views as quoted  -  and also when writing that numbers are 
"freie Sch"opfungen des menschlichen Geistes" as mentioned by Mr. Tait  - 
is that of a German liberal bourgeois of the 1880ies. This seems to me 
simply the result of a stylistic analysis; what would be silly - or at least 
unjustified - would be an attempt to draw conclusions relating style and 

Can it be that one of our misunderstandings comes from different meanings 
we attribute to the words 'liberal' and 'bourgeois' in this connection ? 
In the 1880ies, we had in Germany two sorts of liberals: (1) the 'classical' 
ones, emphasizing the idea of constitutionality, among which we count 
such men as Mommsen and Virchow, and (2) the 'national' ones, emphasizing 
national unity and prepared to accept the Bismarckian destruction of 
traditional virtues in the name of progress; of course, over the years group 
(2) developed into the majority. I have no documentation from which to 
conclude to which of the two groups Dedekind might be counted - but to 
one of them the sometimes rector of the Brauschweig Polytechnic will have 

And in any case: German liberals of the 1880ies, in their political 
attitudes, were miles apart from the US liberals of our decades.  

Yours sincerely

Walter Felscher

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