Bulletin of Symbolic Logic

Research Article

The Road to Modern Logic—An Interpretation

José Ferreirós

Departamento de Filosofía Y Lógica, Universidad De Sevilla, Camilo José Cela s/n, E-41018 Sevilla, Spain, E-mail: jmferre@cica.es


This paper aims to outline an analysis and interpretation of the process that led to First-Order Logic and its consolidation as a core system of modern logic. We begin with an historical overview of landmarks along the road to modern logic, and proceed to a philosophical discussion casting doubt on the possibility of a purely rational justification of the actual delimitation of First-Order Logic. On this basis, we advance the thesis that a certain historical tradition was essential to the emergence of modern logic; this traditional context is analyzed as consisting in some guiding principles and, particularly, a set of exemplars (i.e., paradigmatic instances). Then, we proceed to interpret the historical course of development reviewed in section 1, which can broadly be described as a two-phased movement of expansion and then restriction of the scope of logical theory. We shall try to pinpoint ambivalencies in the process, and the main motives for subsequent changes. Among the latter, one may emphasize the spirit of modern axiomatics, the situation of foundational insecurity in the 1920s, the resulting desire to find systems well-behaved from a proof-theoretical point of view, and the metatheoretical results of the 1930s. Not surprisingly, the mathematical and, more specifically, the foundational context in which First-Order Logic matured will be seen to have played a primary role in its shaping.

Mathematical logic is what logic, through twenty-five centuries and a few transformations, has become today. (Jean van Heijenoort)

(Received June 23 2000)

(Received July 12 2001)


1   Preliminary versions of this paper were read at Madrid, Göttingen and Mainz. I would like to thank participants in those talks for their reactions, and also Andreas Blass and an unknown referee for their suggestions and corrections.