Anita Burdman Feferman and Solomon Feferman: Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic

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Author: Manuel Bremer
Date: Dec. 2009
From: Philosophy in Review(Vol. 29, Issue 6)
Publisher: University of Victoria
Document Type: Book review
Length: 2,265 words

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Anita Burdman Feferman and Solomon Feferman

Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic.

New York: Cambridge University Press 2008.

Pp. 432.

US$45.00 (cloth ISBN-13: 978-0-521-80240-6); US$24.99 (paper ISBN-13: 978-0-521-71401-3).

Hartry Field

Saving Truth From Paradox.

New York: Oxford University Press 2008.

Pp. 406.

US$110.00 (cloth ISBN-13: 978-0-19-923075-4); US$40.00 (paper ISBN-13: 978-0-19-923074-7).

Alfred Tarksi considered himself to be 'the greatest living sane logician', expressing simultaneously 'supreme confidence in his talent' (1) as well as a criticism of life-long rival Godel (who developed strange habits like wearing a mask). Tarski is mostly known by philosophers for his work in semantics (justifying the study of truth in a formal fashion) and Tarski's Theorem (that languages with basic means of self-reference cannot contain their own truth predicate). His work, besides these classics, comprehended wide areas of logic. With others he invented meta-mathematics as the study of properties of formal systems themselves (e.g. decidability, soundness, independence of axioms). He invented decision procedures, number theories, types of algebras --and a lot more. After the Second World War he made the University of California into the world's centre for logic. Famous logicians (like Dana Scott or Richard Montague) studied logic with Tarski.

Tarski's biography by Anita and Solomon Feferman is now available in a paperback edition. They write from the perspective of former Tarski students. Students knew Tarski from late night sessions carefully re-working single phrases of publications, with Tarski himself staying awake on coffee and amphetamines, urging them on. The Fefermans euphemistically describe a person others may consider an egocentric megalomaniac. Some of the behaviors they describe as 'a life-long need for women' (158, 178, 196, 200) nowadays would be filed under 'sexual harassment' (of students). What is more interesting about this book is less the admiration for the person of the great logician one may share or not, but the insightful view into the early days of analytic semantic theory (before the Second World War) and Tarski's empire building in logic (after the Second World War). Even the story of a logic genius shows itself to depend on many chance events. Most dramatically, Tarski left only on the eve of the Second World War to tour the USA. Had he stayed and converted to Catholicism, being of Jewish descent (originally named 'Teitelbaum') he most certainly would have been killed like many other Polish logicians famous nowadays for single theorems (like Lindenbaum or Presburger), as they were murdered by the German occupants. For the whole war he had to fear for his family, his wife and children, other family members and colleagues.

The Fefermans not only picture the biography of Tarski, but also set out, in six 'Interludes' beside the biographic narration, some of Tarski's major achievements and areas of work. Thus, students and readers interested in the history of analytic philosophy and logic, even if they are only vaguely familiar with the areas with which Tarski's name is associated, will certainly benefit from this book.

Tarski's treatment of the notion of truth and its paradoxes superseded the...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Bremer, Manuel. "Anita Burdman Feferman and Solomon Feferman: Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic." Philosophy in Review, vol. 29, no. 6, Dec. 2009, pp. 404+. Accessed 17 Aug. 2022.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A387953546