Frege, Hankel, and Formalism in the Foundations
Frege says, at the end of a discussion of formalism in the Foundations of Arithmetic, that his own foundational program “could be called formal” but is “completely different” from the view he has just criticized. This essay examines Frege’s relationship to Hermann Hankel, his main formalist interlocutor in the Foundations, in order to make sense of these claims. The investigation reveals a surprising result: Frege’s foundational program actually has quite a lot in common with Hankel’s. This undercuts Frege’s claim that his own view is completely different from Hankel’s formalism, and motivates a closer examination of where the differences lie. On the interpretation offered here, Frege shares important parts of the formalist perspective, but differs in recognizing a kind of content for arithmetical terms which can only be made available via proof from prior postulates.
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