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Russell's Reasons for Logicism

From: Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 44, Number 2, April 2006
pp. 267-292 | 10.1353/hph.2006.0029


What is at stake philosophically for Russell in espousing logicism? Peter Hylton has argued that Russell has a narrowly metaphysical motive for defending logicism. He maintains that for Russell in the early years of the twentieth century "logicism was the basis for a complex argument against idealism, of both the Kantian and the non-Kantian varieties." In particular, Russell was interested in refuting certain Idealist views on the nature of truth, by showing that mathematics could be true in an unqualified sense. By contrast, I argue that the purposes for which Russell intends to use logicism are chiefly epistemological and mathematical in nature, and that the refutation of post-Kantian idealism is not among them. Russell uses logicism to give an account of the character of mathematics and of mathematical knowledge that is compatible with what he takes to be the uncontroversial status of this science as true, certain and exact. The unqualified truth of mathematics is a starting point for Russell, not a destination.

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