Logica Universalis

, Volume 6, Issue 3–4, pp 553–586 | Cite as

In Defense of Logical Universalism: Taking Issue with Jean van Heijenoort

  • Philippe de Rouilhan


Van Heijenoort’s main contribution to history and philosophy of modern logic was his distinction between two basic views of logic, first, the absolutist, or universalist, view of the founding fathers, Frege, Peano, and Russell, which dominated the first, classical period of history of modern logic, and, second, the relativist, or model-theoretic, view, inherited from Boole, Schröder, and Löwenheim, which has dominated the second, contemporary period of that history. In my paper, I present the man Jean van Heijenoort (Sect. 1); then I describe his way of arguing for the second view (Sect. 2); and finally I come down in favor of the first view (Sect. 3). There, I specify the version of universalism for which I am prepared to argue (Sect. 3, introduction). Choosing ZFC to play the part of universal, logical (in a nowadays forgotten sense) system, I show, through an example, how the usual model theory can be naturally given its proper place, from the universalist point of view, in the logical framework of ZFC; I outline another, not rival but complementary, semantics for admissible extensions of ZFC in the very same logical framework; I propose a way to get universalism out of the predicaments in which universalists themselves believed it to be (Sect. 3.1). Thus, if universalists of the classical period did not, in fact, construct these semantics, it was not that their universalism forbade them, in principle, to do so. The historical defeat of universalism was not technical in character. Neither was it philosophical. Indeed, it was hardly more than the victory of technicism over the very possibility of a philosophical dispute (Sect. 3.2).

Mathematics Subject Classification

03A05 03-03 03Cxx A1A60 01A85 


Jean van Heijenoort philosophy of logic history of logic logical universalism model theory 


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  1. 1.ParisFrance

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