Russell's Logicism

In Russell Wahl (ed.), The Bloomsbury Companion to Bertrand Russell. London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 151-178 (2019)
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Bertrand Russell was one of the best-known proponents of logicism: the theory that mathematics reduces to, or is an extension of, logic. Russell argued for this thesis in his 1903 The Principles of Mathematics and attempted to demonstrate it formally in Principia Mathematica (PM 1910–1913; with A. N. Whitehead). Russell later described his work as a further “regressive” step in understanding the foundations of mathematics made possible by the late 19th century “arithmetization” of mathematics and Frege’s logical definitions of arithmetical concepts. The logical system of PM sought to improve on earlier attempts by solving the contradictions found in, e.g., Frege’s system, by employing a theory of types. In this article, I also consider and critically evaluate the most common objections to Russell’s logicism, including the claim that it is undermined by Gödel’s incompleteness results, and Putnam's charge of “if-thenism”. I suggest that if we are willing to accept a slightly revisionist account of what counts as a mathematical truth, these criticisms do not obviously refute Russell’s claim to have established that mathematical truths generally are a species of logical truth.

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Kevin Klement
University of Massachusetts, Amherst


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