Reading Notes

R010100: Russell's Mathematical Journey

Monk, Ray.  Bertrand Russell.  The Great Philosophers Series, no. 7.  Phoenix, London; Rutledge, NY (London: 1997, New York: 1999).  ISBN 0-415-92386-7 pbk.  58pp.
     This tiny book amazes me.  Rather than attempt a biography, Monk focuses on one theme of Russell's life: his adventure with mathematics and the drive to reduce all of mathematics to logic, crystallized as a pristine whole of pure beauty -- the ultimate achievement of rational thought.  Retracing the inspiration, successes, and ultimate defeat of that program, interpolating through the stages of Russell's own writings, Monk provides us with a glimpse of the integrity of a life committed to taking a major philosophical inquiry to an unwanted and discouraging conclusion.  In retracing the path of Russell's mathematical passion, Monk provides brief thumbnails of the major concepts that illuminated the route to today's mathematical logic and its foundational construction: one that in itself demonstrates the impossibility of a purely logical system that resolves all of mathematics as a wonder of deductive reasoning.  dh: 2001-01-02.

A version of the above précis is available on

Last updated 2001-02-11-08:45 -0800 (pst)

Here we want to create a chronology of Russell's development of mathematical logic, the people who inspired him at different stages, and the key concepts and perspectives that occured at each major point.  We can use Monk's progression and then deepen it as we dig into Russell's work directly. 

Time Period Development Description
1883: age 11 Power of deductive systems.  A concern for reliance on axioms as premises for mathematics.  Desire to found all knowledge on a foundation like Euclid's. Love for mathematics inspired by Euclid's geometry.  The prospect of knowing something with complete certainty, once and for all.
  Platonic idealism.  Elevation of Pythagorous as the kind of philosopher to become. Belief in eternal and exact truth of mathematics being about ideals.
1900: age 38 Principia Mathematica completed  

created 2001-01-02-22:56 -0800 (pst) by orcmid
$$Author: Orcmid $
$$Date: 03-05-25 10:50 $
$$Revision: 8 $