FOM: Dedekind and 'liberal' terminology
walter.felscher at uni-tuebingen.de
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
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.
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