Proof Theory

At the turn of the nineteenth century, mathematics exhibited a style of argumentation that was more explicitly computational than is common today. Over the course of the century, the introduction of abstract algebraic methods helped unify developments in analysis, number theory, geometry, and the theory of equations; and work by mathematicians like Dedekind, Cantor, and Hilbert towards the end of the century introduced set-theoretic language and infinitary methods that served to downplay or suppress computational content. This shift in emphasis away from calculation gave rise to concerns as to whether such methods were meaningful, or appropriate to mathematics. The discovery of paradoxes stemming from overly naive use of set-theoretic language and methods led to even more pressing concerns as to whether the modern methods were even consistent. This led to heated debates in the early twentieth century and what is sometimes called the “crisis of foundations.” In lectures presented in 1922, David Hilbert launched his Beweistheorie, or Proof Theory, which aimed to justify the use of modern methods and settle the problem of foundations once and for all. This, Hilbert argued, could be achieved as follows
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