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Cohen 1954 Characteristica

Cohen 1954 Characteristica

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Mind Association
On the Project of a Universal CharacterAuthor(s): Jonathan CohenReviewed work(s):Source:
Mind,
New Series, Vol. 63, No. 249 (Jan., 1954), pp. 49-63Published by:
on behalf of the
Stable URL:
Accessed: 01/02/2012 13:13
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IV.-ON THEPROJECT OFAUNIVERSALCHARACTER
BY
JONATHANCOHEN
I
DURING
thelast thirtyyearsor sothepracticehas grownupamong logicians of attributing heproject of auniversalcharacter oLe;bniz aloneamongeventeenthenturyhinkers.Thisattributions tobe found, ornstance, n L. S.Stebbing'sModernntroductionoLogic,1n Cohen ndNagel's IntroductiontoLogicandScientificethod,2n M.Black's NatureofMathe-matics,3n J.H.Woodger'sAxiomaticMethod n
Biology,4
andin0.Neurath's ntroductoryrticle nthe Internationaln-cyclopaedia fUnifiedcience.5 And itdates, I suspect,fromthepublicationof C.I. Lewis's Surveyof Symbolic ogicin1918.Lewis mentioned hat LeibnizacknowledgeddebtinthisconnexionoRaymondLully, AthanasiusKircher,GeorgeDalgarno and JohnWilkins. But heconsidered heirwritingscontained "littlewhich is directly o thepoint
.6
In thisLewiswas obviouslyightwith regard oLeibniz'sconceptionof acalculus ofreasoning, ut wrong, s I shalltrytoshow,withregard o theprojectof a universalharacter,hich eems infact o have been anintellectualommonplacenseventeenth-centuryWesternurope. Thissomewhat-neglectedy-way fphilosophical istory sworth briefeview,think,notonlyinorder o fixmoreprecisely he respectnwhichLeibniz wastheonly seventeenth enturyprecursorf modernsymboliclogicians, ut also becauseitdrawsattentiono anearlywide-spread philosophicalmuddlebout the constructionfartificiallanguages.Lewis'ssummaryfLeibniz'sowndeas,basedon L.Couturat'sLaLogiquedeLeibniz, squitesufficiento show how muchLeibniz'sprojecthadincommonwith hoseofprevioushinkersonthesubject. Hisuniversalcharacter,nwhichhewasenthusiasticallynterestedromtheageofeighteen(1664),was to fillhreemain roles.Itwouldbe whatmoderninguistscallan"internationaluxiliary anguage, enablingmen ofdifferent ations to communicatewithoneanother.Itwould
'Pp.483ff.
2P.
112.3P.17.
4P.
13.5Vol.i,no.1,p.16.6P.5,n.5.449
 
50
JONATHANCOHEN:
providewhatLewiscalls a"logistictreatmentf sciencengeneral,simplifiedystemfymbolismor hexactexpressionof all- ctualandpossibleknowledge.And it would servesaninstrumentf discoveryanddemonstration.The firsttwopurposescouldbe achievedon Leibniz'sviewbydevisingnotationn whicheachsingleorbasicsymbolrepresentedsimple onceptnd complexotionswerexpressedy combiningthe appropriateymbolsnon:ewayor another.Thenumberffundamentalymbolswouldthusbe assmallas thenumber fprimitiveoncepts nhumanthought,o thatthenotation,togetherwith ts vocalisation,ouldbe learntnafewweeks.Moreover,hroughoutheworldciencewouldbedevelopedntheformof asingle,unifiedncyclopaedia,cientistswouldbeableto attainthesamedegreeofrigournmetaphysicsandmoralsasingeometryand analytics,andnothingchimericalould verbewrittenown.However, eibnizneverdid muchhimself odevelopthissystemfsymbolismhoughhewasconstantlyrgingtherso do so.He elaboratednlyfew of themanyanalysesof complexnotionswhichwould berequiredn ordero establishwhichonceptshouldberegardedsprimitive.Andhe learntnoughbouttwo systemsf notationto see thattheywouldnotservehispurpose.Theearlierofthesewas basedonthedivisionofconceptsnto classes inaccordancewiththeirdegreeofcomplexity.Anyconceptcouldthenbe symbolisedyafractionfwhichhedenominatorindicatedhenumberftheclassand thenumeratorhenumberofheconceptn thatlass.LaterLeibnizonsideredymbolisingprimitiveonceptsy primenumbersnd complexonceptsbytheappropriateproduct,so thatlogicalsynthesiswouldberepresentedyarithmeticalmultiplicationndlogicalanaly-sisbyresolutionntoprimeactors.But besides beingan international nd scientificanguage.Leibniz'sniversal haracterwasalsoto servesan instrumentofdiscoveryriddemonstrationyexhibiting hemplicationsfwhatwasalreadyknown. It was tosee ntothe"inner ature"ofthingsikea"newtelescope ,andguideourreasoningsikean"Ariadne'shread .Leibnizttempted o devisecalculuswhichwouldoperatentheformulaefhischaracterothisnd.It is thesefragmentsfacalculus,expressednanotation ofconceptvariablesndlogicalconstants,ndnot atallrestrictedinpossiblepplicationo Leibniz'sowncharacter,hichustifytheclaim thatLeibnizanticipatedBoole.Ishalltryto showthat, apartfromomeminordetails,tisonlythisconceptionof alogicalcalculusasanancillaryohisuniversalharacter

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