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Mathematics and Logic

With the development of symbolic logic by George Boole and Augustus De Morgan in the 19th cent., logic has been studied in more purely mathematical terms, and mathematical symbols have replaced ordinary language. Reference to external interpretations of the symbols (formulated in ordinary language) was also rejected by the formalist movement of the early 20th cent. Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, in Principia Mathematica (3 vol., 1910–13), attempted to develop logical theory as the basis for mathematics. Pure formal logic attempts to prove that a logical system is dependent only on the perceptual recognition and valid manipulation of symbols and requires no interpretive reference to content.

Intuitionism, rejecting such formalism, holds that words and formulas have significance only as a reflection of activity in the mind. Thus a theorem has meaning only if it represents a mental construction of a mathematical or logical entity. Kurt Gödel, in the 1930s, brought forth his "incompleteness theorem," which demonstrates that an infinitude of propositions that are underivable from the axioms of a system nevertheless have the value of true within the system. Neither these Gödel Propositions, as they are called, nor their negations are provable. One implication for the modern logician is that Aristotle's law of the excluded middle ( either A or not A ) is neither so simple nor so self-evident as it once seemed.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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