Wittgenstein and finitism

Synthese 105 (2):141 - 176 (1995)
Abstract
In this paper, elementary but hitherto overlooked connections are established between Wittgenstein's remarks on mathematics, written during his transitional period, and free-variable finitism. After giving a brief description of theTractatus Logico-Philosophicus on quantifiers and generality, I present in the first section Wittgenstein's rejection of quantification theory and his account of general arithmetical propositions, to use modern jargon, as claims (as opposed to statements). As in Skolem's primitive recursive arithmetic and Goodstein's equational calculus, Wittgenstein represented generality by the use of free variables. This has the effect that negation of unbounded universal and existential propositions cannot be expressed. This is claimed in the second section to be the basis for Wittgenstein's criticism of the universal validity of the law of excluded middle. In the last section, there is a brief discussion of Wittgenstein's remarks on real numbers. These show a preference, in line with finitism, for a recursive version of the continuum.
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