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Russell & Whitehead's "Principia Mathematica"

1910 to 1913
Bindings of the first editions of Principia Mathematica
Bindings of the first editions of Principia Mathematica

From 1910 to 1913 British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic Bertrand Russell and English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead published Principia mathematica in three volumes, taking up the task — first attempted in Russell's never completed Principles of Mathematics (1903) — of proving the logical basis of all mathematics by deducing the whole body of mathematical doctrine from a small number of primitive ideas and principles of logical inference. To do so Russell and Whitehead devised a complex but precise system of symbols that enabled them to sidestep the ambiguities of ordinary language, and to give an outstanding exposition of sentential logic.  Russell and Whitehead did not entirely achieve their goal -- certain of their theories and axioms were found to be unsatisfactory-- but their failures inspired further investigation of both their own and rival theories, and possibly contributed more to the development of mathematical logic than their complete success would have done.

Cambridge University Press issued 750 copies of the first volume of this work. Disappointed with the sales of that volume, which could not have found a large audience at the time, the publishers reduced the printings of Volumes II and III to 500 copies. Thus the complete set is more difficult to find than copies of Volume I.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1868.

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