FOM: Morris Kline

Martin Davis martind at
Fri Jan 2 00:30:59 EST 1998

At 01:13 PM 12/31/97 -0600, Lou van den Dries wrote:

>I am familiar with Kline's book, and value parts of it. But while it's
>a good source of information on the 19th century it really only covers
>ther 20th century till about 1910, except for the very last chapter,
>which I find the weakest of all. (But perhaps this is just an example
>of "familiarity breeds contempt".) Anyway, it's a pretty routine
>account, with the usual inordinater attention to marginal matters
>like paradoxes, and indeed some statements that I strongly disagree
>with, like the one Harvey mentions. I have to go now.

Morris Kline was my colleague at NYU for many years. He was a kind man, and
I always got on very well with him. He had played an important role in the
early days of the Courant Institute and was mourned by many when he died a
few years ago. However, when it came to foundational issues he truly didn't
have a clue. Every few months he'd come to me asking for an explanation of
the apparent paradox that while he knew how to prove that Peano's axioms
were categorical and that the same was true for the axioms for a complete
ordered field, nevertheless there were these non-standard models. Each time
I would explain as carefully and simply as I could, and each time it was as
though the previous time had not occurred. I believe that he never grasped
the concept of a formal logical system. 

I don't think that his opinions on foundational questions should be given
very much weight.

Martin Davis

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