Event Detail

Fri Nov 21, 2014
60 Evans Hall, 4–6 PM
Logic Colloquium
Juliet Floyd (Boston University)
The Sheffer Box

In May 2012, with the help of Bernard Linsky, I discovered a missing box of original documents and research materials pertaining to the work of H.M. Sheffer (1882-1964), the logician known for his strokes. The box had been assembled and saved by Burton Dreben, with whom I worked on Sheffer in 1988. This talk will report on my assembly and analysis of these primary resource materials.

Sheffer is of interest for our understanding of the reception of logic in the United States: the work of Frege, Russell, Zermelo, the early Wittgenstein, and others. A student of Royce, William James, Huntington, and Russell, he made some contributions to the algebra of logic tradition, though his own “general theory of notational relativity” never reached mathematical fruition. He influenced many, including C.H. Langford, and, slightly and indirectly, Zermelo. In addition, however, the philosophical strands of his thinking form an interesting comparison and contrast to those of his contemporaries Wittgenstein and C.I. Lewis, on whom he lectured at Harvard, and those of Emil Post, with whom Sheffer corresponded about his “general theory of notational relativity”.

Sheffer took down the only extant notes of Bertrand Russell’s 1910 lectures at Cambridge University, and these, now being edited by Bernard Linsky, are among the materials I shall discuss. Other materials in the box included correspondence with Russell in which Sheffer describes meeting with Frege, Peano, Hadamard and others in 1911; notes of Sheffer’s spring 1922 logic lectures at Harvard, taken down by Marvin Farber; Farber’s correspondence with Sheffer concerning his work with Zermelo in 1923, as well as other lecture notes of relevance to our understanding of the history and presentation of logic in the United States the 1910s and 1920s.