FOM: Godel's philosophical acuity vs. logical puritanism

Neil Tennant neilt at
Sun Jan 23 23:23:13 EST 2000

On Sun, 23 Jan 2000, Robert Tragesser wrote:

> 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 
> ...
> 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.

I find it difficult to make sense of this claim, and to the extent that
I can, I would disagree with it.

The logical positivists of the Vienna Circle were greatly interested in
Godel's ideas, and nurtured the tradition of formal logic that was being
established by his work in the wake of Frege. They were guilty of no
puritanism, whether of the mind or of the body. They were
interdisciplinary, iconoclastic, rigorous, and well-disposed to logical
*invention*. Godel had no more sympathetic an expositor (whatever his
shortcomings may have been in that regard) than Carnap, one of whose most
famous methodological principles was the Principle of Tolerance.
The positivists were deeply interested also in Brouwer's ideas about logic
and mathematics. So: in both classical and intuitionistic logic and
mathematics, the two main areas of Godel's accomplishments, the Vienna
Circle (and related groups, such as Menger's colloquium) provided
sympathetic stimulus.

At one meeting of the Vienna Circle, Tarski spoke on the paradoxes. Godel
and Carnap were present. Carnap let Nagel know what he was missing, by not
being at that meeting. Nagel was at the time travelling around Europe with
"his lady", as the Carnap and Ina referred to her when gently ribbing him.
Ina (Carnap's second wife) had written a tongue-in-cheek letter to Nagel,
mischievously reinforcing all his anxieties (as an inexperienced and not 
very worldly young American) as to whether he would be able
to tour around Europe with a young woman to whom he was not married. 
When Nagel learned what he had missed, he sent a card from Genoa saying
"That's what comes from having a social life!" And
Carnap married Ina only after their move to Prague, much later. Now, who
are the Puritans exactly?! [I mention here only the most *anodyne* of
evidence for the positivists' bohemian love of life. Both intellectually
and sexually they were remarkably exuberant. I cannot divulge more.
Interested readers will have to wait for the (probably posthumous)
publication of my novel `The Vienna Circle: Sex, Death and Philosophy'.]

When logical positivism developed into logical empiricism, there was no
significant shift of attitude regarding the importance of Godel's work. As
late as 1954, Carnap was making still respectful notes about Godel's
*philosophical* views, from conversations with him at Princeton. Their
mutual intellectual confiding dated back at least to 1929, when Godel
broke the news of his incompleteness theorems to Carnap in a Viennese

Could Robert Tragesser perhaps supply some quotations from well-known
positivists/empiricists that would reveal their Puritanism, and lack of
appreciation for Godel's "poetry" in logic?  Then, could he explain what
this "poetry" was? Epic? Sonnets? Haikus? Did Godel write his formulae in
iambic pentameter?

Neil Tennant

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