FOM: Godel's philosophical acuity vs. logical puritanism

Robert Tragesser RTragesser at
Sun Jan 23 10:22:02 EST 2000

        I for one found Harvey Friedman's [FOM Jan 17, 2000] 
appreciation of Godel wonderful;  the best brief appreciatione I've 
seen.  I particularly value his emphasis on the importance of Godel's 
philosophical acuity [and by implication,  the genuineness of that 
philosophical acuity] to his mathematical/foundational work. As well as 
the good question of the (details of) the connection between G's 
philosophical acuity and his technical achievments,  which question I'd 
like to see elaborated more.
        As FOMer's are likely aware,  there have been some violent 
protestations of major "analytic" philosophers against the very idea 
that Godel was philosophically acute (philosophical,  a philosopher).  
Some will remember at a Boston conference not so very long ago Burton 
Dreben in something like a towering rage denouncing the very idea of 
Godel as a philosopher.  It is one of the disappointments of the Godel 
volumes (especially the last) that introductory articles to some (but 
not all) of the papers in which G's philosophical acuity was most and 
specifically in evidence in effect "put down" G's philosophical 
        I privately (but now publically) and (I confess) somewhat 
fuzzily understand how there could be such violent,  spitting,  denial 
of philosophical sense to Godel by those philosophers in the following 
way.-- The Puritans not only had a puritanical attitude toward 
sexuality/sensuality and poetry and "colour"[=figuration,  metaphor,  
trope,  decoration (in the exact sense of that which has little to do 
with "decoration" in our sense],  more importantly they had a 
puritanical attiude toward mind/thought.  The tool or dogma by which 
they cut the mind (and therefore the world) down to their small and 
narrow size ("pure" is definitely the wrong word) was Ramist logic 
(albeit encased in a certain tradition) [N.B.,  Ramist logic textbooks, 
like those used in the early days at Harvard,  were illustrated with 
lines from the Bible -- other more worldly versions were illustrated 
with lines of typically classical poetry).  The tradition of logical 
philosophy/logical empiricism (logical cum analytic philosophy) is a 
continuation of that puritanism of the mind.  In contrast to the logical
practices of the philosophers in this puritanical tradition, Godel was 
more a poet of logic (the first poet of logic who was not a poet),  
fully alive to "the colours" of logic.
        In any case,  we do not yet have an appreciation of G's 
philosophical acuity.  Hao Wang tried,  but I think that he remained an 
outsider to philosophical thought,  though he struggled magnificently to
find his way in.  The best real start I know of is embodied in two books
by Brandeis philosophy Palle Yourgrau,  "Einstein and Godel" already 
out,  and _Gödel, Einstein and the Universe:  A Scientific Friendship 
and Its Consequences_,  forthcoming.  Yourgrau has a keenly developed --
definitely not puritanically narrow or cut down -- philosophical acuity.
 It's a start,  but a good start. 

robert tragesser
west(running)brook,  connecticut 

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