'Metamathematics' in Transition

History and Philosophy of Logic 32 (4):333 - 358 (2011)
Abstract
In this paper, we trace the conceptual history of the term ?metamathematics? in the nineteenth century. It is well known that Hilbert introduced the term for his proof-theoretic enterprise in about 1922. But he was verifiably inspired by an earlier usage of the phrase in the 1870s. After outlining Hilbert's understanding of the term, we will explore the lines of inducement and elucidate the different meanings of ?metamathematics? in the final decades of the nineteenth century. Finally, we will investigate the earlier occurrences and come to the conclusion that the conceptual prehistory of the Hilbertian notion of metamathematics dates back to 1870, whereas the history of the word starts in 1799 at the latest. What is this: metamathematics? It is something amazing everybody, [?] since it makes the mind dizzy and withdraws thinking its sole fulcrum.1 1 Brunner 1898, p. 832: ?Was ist das: Metamathematik? Es ist etwas, was einen Jeden in das äusserste Staunen versetzt, [?] was das Gehirn schwindlig macht und dem Denken seinen einzigen Stütz- und Angelpunkt zu entziehen droht?
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