FOM: FOM/Godel/Wittgenstein

jk jkennedy at
Fri Mar 6 14:22:17 EST 1998

This is a comment on an issue on FOM of a few months ago:

It seems that the dispute between advocates of Wittgenstein on the one
hand, and those who
defend Godel's philosophical work on the other, centers about their being
completely  polarized
on the issue of what questions are genuinely philosophical questions. E.g.,
the question: Is truth the same as proof? Is this a philosophical question?

Though the Wittgenstein position seems to me to be well explored, very few
people  (Warren Goldfarb, Hao Wang) have explored Godel's view of the
matter. As an incentive to this, I think the following "philosophical
theorem" of Godel's bears recalling. The theorem is: either any precisely
formulated question, from ANY domain whatsoever (so including philosophy),
admits a precise solution, arising from a correct analysis of the concepts
involved, (what Goldfarb has called Godels's "epistemological optimism,"
what I would simply call scholasticism ), or there are propositions which
are "essentially unsolvable" in nature. The conclusion of the theorem is
that some kind of platonistic viewpoint is necessary, since this is implied
by each disjunct. (This theorem, which I have restated somewhat, appears in
a draft of the paper "On Diophantine Propositons" in the Godel Nachlass at

That Godel refers to this as a theorem suggests that 1.) Godel thought the
theorem to have been proved, and 2.) the use of "precise methods" to
determine the truth of philosophical assertions is the only correct way to
proceed in philosophy as elsewhere.

I think it is very profound but at the same time not at all well
understood, the conjunction in Godel of  the Platonism on the one hand,
the "scholasticism" or "epistemological optimism" on the other.

Juliette Kennedy
Mathematics Department
Bucknell University

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