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Source: Nos, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Jun., 1992), pp. 149-180

Published by: Wiley

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Frege: TheRoyal Roadfrom Geometry'

MARK WILSON

Ohio State University

I would like to submit this mode of thinking to philosophers, who otherwise often

limit themselves to mathematicaltrivialities, for a considerationof its principles-

Felix Klein. (Klein 1925)

(i)

Ludwig Wittgensteinposed the question,"Whatgroundscan be given in favor of

our presumptionthat the propercontinuationof the "even number"series 2, 4, 6,

8 is 10, ratherthan, e.g., 62?" The tenor of Wittgenstein's discussion suggests

that, however he expected the worries raised by his examples to be dispersed,

their proper"philosophical"solution was not expected to effect the practice of

the working mathematician,anymore than the definitive resolutionof skeptical

doubts about the external world will force new methodology upon subatomic

physics. Within more sophisticatedcontexts, analogousworriesabout the proper

continuationof a mathematicalpractice can assume quite practicaldimensions.

Such cases occur when questions of "the proper setting" for a mathematical

question arise. For example, Leonhard Euler and other early mathematicians

claimed that the "sum" of the series 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 +. . . . ought to be 1/2, an

"howler"for which they are still roundly mocked by writers of the E.T. Bell

school. It is true that the familiarcalculus level approachto infinite summation

pioneeredby A-L. Cauchy does not grantthe Euler series a sum, yet it turnsout

(Hardy 1949) that a variety of generalizednotions of summationexist that fully

ratify the answer "1/2". Viewed retrospectively,these generalized treatments

appear to be "better settings" for the mathematicalcontexts in which Euler

originally employed his series manipulations.It is true that Euler never thought

of these generalized conceptions, but, by the same lights, he never thought of

Cauchy's account either. The Cauchy approachis nowadays "central"in that it

serves as the springboardfor the introductionof the generalizednotions, but this

consideration alone should not force us to evaluate Euler retrospectively as

149

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150 NOUS

making mistakes in the summation of series (by the lights of the generalized

notions, Eulerrarelymade errors).

The fact that "better settings" for old mathematical problems can be

uncoveredafter a long period of mathematicaldigestion raises unsettlingdoubts

about mathematicalcertainty.The mathematicianPhillip Davis, in an interesting

article that asks whether any proposition can be definitively established as

"mathematicallyimpossible",writes:

Whenplacedwithinabstractdeductivemathematical

structures,

impossibilitystate-

ments are simply definitions, axioms or theorems .... [But] in mathematicsthere is

a long andvitallyimportant

recordof impossibilities

beingbrokenby the introduc-

tionof structural

changes.Meaningin mathematicsderivesnotfromnakedsymbols

but from the relationshipbetween these symbols and the exterior world.... Insofar

as structures

areaddedto primitiveideasto makethemprecise,flexibilityis lost in

the process.In a numberof ways,then,the closerone comesto an assertionof an

absolute"no",the less is the meaningthatcan be assignedto this "no".(Davis

1987,pp. 176-7)

within, say, Principia Mathematica,the final arbitrationof the proper truthvalue

for "1 - 1 + 1 +.... has a sum"will not rest simply with the "nakedsymbols"of

the selected formalization, but will instead turn upon the question of which

formal setting best suits the "meaning"of the original mathematicalideas. The

discovery of the "best account"of original meaning may not emerge until long

after the fact. Davis' worry about the permanenceof mathematicalcertainty(or

impossibility) derives from the fact that, although the truth values of many

statementstransferunscathedinto the revised setting, the truth value of many

others do not. It seems impossible to predict the eventual fate of any claim in

advance, no matter how unshakableit may now seem. Wittgenstein's worries

about the future continuationof "2, 4, 6, . . ." may look as if they may hinge

upon questions whetherhumanbeings can unambiguouslyinternalizealgorithms

possessing infinitely many applications,but Davis' worries depend solely upon

semantical concerns: when can a formalization be established as "optimally

respectingthe innernature"of a certainclass of mathematicalnotions?

"Bettersettings"for old problemscame into their own duringthe nineteenth

century (althoughthe earlier introductionof the negative and complex numbers

can be viewed in this light also). It was discovered that a wide variety of

traditionalmathematicalendeavors could be greatly illuminated if their basic

questions were reset within richer domains of objects than had previously

seemed appropriate.For example, mathematicianshad long struggled with the

ratherintractableformulas for arc length along an ellipse or leminscate. Niels

Abel recognized that it was advantageousto study such functions (or, more

properly,theirinverses) over the complex numbers,even thoughthe "arclength"

of a path stretchingbetween 0 and 2i primafacie sounds like a ridiculousnotion.

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 151

quite simple manner if they are viewed as fundamentally defined upon a

doughnut of complex values rather than over the usual complex plane. Their

behaviorhad originally seemed complicatedbecause the core functionshad been

"projected"out of their naturaldomain into the "artificial"setting of real values

only. It is considerationsof this sort that led HermannWeyl to proclaim that

"Riemannsurfaces"(such as the doughnut)representedthe "nativeland, the only

soil in which the functionsgrow and thrive"(Weyl 1955).

The claim here is that the relevant mathematics achieves a simple and

harmoniousclosure only when viewed in the proper-often extended-setting.

One should comparesuch recastings-and the analogy was frequentlydrawnby

many nineteenth century mathematicians-to the completion of physical

explanationsby appealto unseen molecularstructures.When a branchof physics

or mathematicsis "reset"throughan expansion of its ontological territory,the

older explicationsof technicalvocabularyfrequentlycome underreview and are

modified to suit theirreconstitutedsurroundings.We noted that the new explica-

tions often reverse the truth-valuesof apparentlywell establishedpropositions.

Such reversalsdo not troublethe physicist much, but they are worrisometo our

sense of the permanence of mathematics. Davis' concern derives from this

source. When he assertsthat "meaningdoes not derive from naked symbols",he

is maintaining,quite correctly, that the "proper"definition of a mathematical

term should not rest upon the brutefact that earliermathematicianshad decided

that it should be explicated in such-and-suchmanner, but upon whether the

definition suits the realm in which the relevant objects optimally "grow and

thrive". In this respect, Davis' views about mathematicalmeaning resemble

some of the doctrines about the proper meaning of physical terms such as

"water"or "gold" expounded lately by Saul Kripke and Hilary Putnam. The

doctrine that an unsuspected setting secretly determinesthe "truemeaning"of

certain mathematicalvocabularymight well be labeled hidden essentialism, in

tributeto its similaritiesto essentialistclaims about"naturalkind terms".

Insofaras I can tell, most workingmathematicianssubscribe,in theirpractice,

to some form of "hidden essentialism" (although they might be reluctant to

accept this thesis explicitly). Mathematiciansare frequentlyquite scathingabout

colleagues who "don't work in the propersetting".The discovery of an optimal

mathematicalplacementcan representthe highest form of achievement-I have

recently heard it said that, whereas a complete proof of Fermat'stheoremmight

prove mathematically rather insignificant, the older partial results on this

problem (such as E.E. Kummer's)are "deep"in that they reveal hidden aspects

of the integers that become manifest only when they are imbeddedwithin richer

realmsof "idealnumbers".

Despite this de facto insistence upon the "proper"setting of mathematical

notions, the semi-"official"philosophy prevailing among most mathematicians

seems insufficient to ground the distinction between "better" and "worse"

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settings. The "official" position, dominant since the start of this century,

maintains that any self-consistent domain is equally worthy of mathematical

investigation; preference for a given domain is justified only by aesthetic

considerations,personal whim or its potential physical applications.Upon such

grounds, how can the mathematicianwho uncovers the "propersetting" for a

traditional problem be distinguished from the mathematician who simply

changes the topic? How can one give teeth to the conceit that certain mathe-

maticalconcepts (e.g., "ellipticfunction")cry out for particular settingsin which

"they grow and thrive"? With only the tools of the "official" philosophy,

preferencefor "bettersettings"simply devolves to becoming a matterof "I like it

better"or "Isn'tthis pretty?".

What one would ideally like, as an excellent pair of papers by Kenneth

Manders(Manders1987 and 1989) has made clear, is a deeper understandingof

mathematicalconcepts that relates the "meanings"of mathematicalconcepts to

the hiddenfactorsthatdrive disciplines into reconstitutedarrangements,regroup-

ings that in some richer way "better respect" the meanings of the concepts

involved. Although a richer account of mathematics'hidden essentialism seems

desirable, the bare mention of the term "meaning",with all of its attendant

vagaries, readily explains why mathematicians,when pressed about their essen-

tialist claims, frequentlybeat a hasty retreatto the limited verities of theirofficial

"any self consistent formalism is equally worthy of study" philosophy. Yet,

lacking a richeraccount of continuityof meaning throughchange of setting, the

very idea of "mathematicalprogress" falls prey to Davis' worry-is every

mathematicalclaim potentially subject to some reconstitutionof domain that

might reverseour currentestimationof its truth-value?

Let us now turn to what was probablythe most notorious case of "domain

extension"arisingwithin the nineteenthcentury.

(ii)

After 1820, geometry under the lead of Jean-VictorPoncelet grew into a much

stranger subject than could be expected simply from an acquaintance with

schoolbook Euclid. By most standardsof comparison,the world of the so-called

"projective geometer" is considerably more bizarre2 than non-Euclidean

geometryper se. Why? The projectiveschool decided that space should contain

many more points and lines than usual. These extra "extensionelements" stem

from two basic sources:To any plane, one adds extra points located along a line

at infinity and also a full complementof "imaginarypoints" whose coordinates

are allowed to be complex numbers.3Most of these imaginarypoints don't even

have the grace to hide away at infinity; some of them hover at ratherpeculiar

nearbydistances.

The additionof these extra elements would be unproblematicif they merely

served as technical devices to streamline proofs pertaining to the original

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 153

in such a fashion. Paul Benacerraf4writes that:

The points "at infinity"are introducedas a convenience to make simpler and more

elegant the theoryof the things you really care about. (Benacerraf1989b, p. 406)

space displaces Euclideanspace as the primaryfocus of interestin complexified

projectivegeometry. For example, one of its great theoremstells us that on any

cubic surface exactly 27 lines can be inscribed, but the theorem does not

determinewhich of these lines are "real".

Rather than thinking of the extra points as "conveniences",the projective

geometers saw the additionsas revealing the "trueworld"in which geometrical

figures live. Familiarfigures such as circles and spheres have parts that extend

into the unseen portionsof six dimensionalcomplex space, so that when we see

an Euclidean circle, we perceive only a portion of the full figure (nineteenth

centurygeometersliked to claim thatwe see the full shape of geometricalfigures

in the mannerof the shadows in Plato's cave). This way of proceeding is still

prettymuch the normin algebraicgeometrytoday.

This recasting of geometrical ontology representsone of the most striking

manifestationsof "hidden essentialism"to be found in the nineteenth century.

The projective school regarded these changes as "growing organically"-a

phrase drawn from the geometer Jacob Steiner-out of the original world of

Euclideangeometry.The questionposed in the previous section was: how might

we make sense of the claim that such revisions grow "organically"out of prior

practice-how can it be meaningfullyclaimed that geometricalconcepts cry out

for the extended, projective setting? For a variety of reasons we have tended to

avoid seriousengagementwith these sorts of questionin 20th centuryphilosophy

of mathematics.Witness a modem geometry text (Rosenblatt 1963, p. 16)5 on

the topic of the extension elements:

to add points to space? And, even if we may be permittedto do so, must we not

differentiatebetween the 'ordinary'points, which we see as dots on the paper, and

the 'ideal points' which are constructsof our imagination?".

Planes, straightlines, and points are the entities about which certain postulates are

made but which are otherwise undefined. Hence, we can give the name "point"to

anything which conforms to our postulates about points and which suits our

convenience to designate as "point". In short, all our geometry (indeed, all our

mathematics)deals with constructsof our imagination;and an "ideal"point is on

precisely the same footing, from this point of view, as an "ordinary"point.

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154 NOUS

But it is hard to see from this response why the projective additions are

especially "natural"to geometry; why shouldn't we instead add inaccessible

cardinalsor pineapples to Euclid? Such a weak apology for the extension ele-

ments leaves one wide open to Phillip Davis' kind of worry.One might dress up

Rosenbaum's answer somewhat, but most modem defenses of the extension

elements come down to being simply a matter of "the projective changes are

particularlypretty"or the like.

I don't pretend to have a better answer to such worries myself, but many

nineteenth century mathematiciansthought that they did. A variety of rather

sophisticatedattemptsto rationalizethe changes in geometry were set forth. For

various historical reasons, most of us today are unaware of these discussions,

their importancehaving been pushed out of view by the later debates over non-

Euclideangeometry. But the controversyover the projectiverevisions is philo-

sophicallyjust as interestingas the non-Euclideanchallenge, althoughcompletely

differentin character.The question was not whetherestablishedEuclideantheo-

rems of geometrycould be reversedby an empiricallyconfirmablenon-Euclidean

competitor, but whether internal factors might drive Euclidean geometry to

reconstitute itself within a richer domain of objects in which various older

theorems fail. The projective threat to Euclidean certainty came from within,

ratherthanfrom without.

The central purpose of this paper is to show that Gottlob Frege's celebrated

logicism grew up in the shadow of these debates and that the more obscureparts

of his philosophy-his context principle,for example-can be betterunderstood

when viewed in this geometricalperspective.Frege's context principle,by way

of reminder,is:

[Never] ask for the meaning of a word in isolation, but only in the context of a

proposition... It is enough if the propositiontaken as a whole has a sense; it is this

thatconfers on its partsalso theircontent. (Frege 1884, p. 72)

This is one of those slogans that have deeply influenced a lot of famous later

philosophers,althoughfew of them seem to agree upon what it means!

In any case, the linkage between Frege and geometry is scarcely made

obvious within Frege's betterknown writings.However, Frege did much work in

complexified projective geometry and was undoubtedlyfamiliar with the doc-

trines outlined here. I'll attemptto tell a story here that links the philosophical

traditionsin geometryto Frege's publishedopinions.

(iii)

Let us first ask what factors led geometers to place Euclidean geometry in its

strange projective setting? We will concentrate upon the complex extension

points (which are the most interesting).The original impetus for adding these

came from the successes of analytic geometry in the fashion of Descartes. Here

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 155

of algebraicmanipulationsupon equationsbased upon numericalcoordinates.At

first blush, the method looks unpleasantlyroundabout.Suppose line L cuts a

coplanarcircle C. The Cartesianmethod asks that our circle be assigned some

equation, say, "x2 + (y-1)2 = 26". This requires C to be calibratedwith two

arbitrarilyselected coordinatelines X and Y. Likewise, line L must also be tied

to X and Y by an equation such as "y=O".The geometrical relationship of

"intersection"is replaced,in the Cartesianscheme, by the algebraic operationof

"substitution".Thus if "y=O"is substitutedinto the equationfor the circle and the

result is solved, we find the intersectionpoints <-5,0> and <5,0>. This algebraic

treatment of "intersection" seems cumbersome for two reasons: (i) The

procedurerelies upon additionalfigures (the lines X and Y) that seem completely

extraneous,from a geometricalpoint of view, to the originalfigures C and L. (ii)

The Cartesiantreatmentof any iteratedseries of geometricalrelationshipsis apt

to culminatein rathermessy algebra.

So much for disadvantagesof analytic geometry; what are its advantages?

The answerreason is that a single Cartesiancalculationcan often cover a multi-

tude of cases whose traditional(often called "synthetic")treatmentwould require

separate proofs. Let us survey quickly two cases that display this Cartesian

economy and, at the same time, introducesome concepts we shall need later.

CASE 1: Let us begin with an intersectingcircle C and line L, as above. We

have already found the two points <-5,0> and <5,0> that representL's inter-

sections with C. Now set up the map 0 from x -* x' along the line defined by the

relation xx'=(+5)2. In traditionalgeometrical terms, 0 representsa "harmonic

division"of the points <x,O>and <xI, O>by the intersections<-5,0> and <5,0>.

A map like 0 is called an involutionbecause it has the propertythat it returnsto

itself after one cycle. Note how 4 "nests" around the two intersectionpoints,

which representO's sole fixed points, i.e., places where a point maps to itself

under0. By a furtheroperation(projectingfrom the top of the circle), this involu-

tion along the line transfersnaturallyto a second involution P intertwiningthe

points aroundthe circle (the algebrathatconstructs P from 4 is rathermessy and

won't be detailed here). The circle map ' turnsout to have a very simple con-

struction:x will map to x' just in case x' lies at the otherend of x's cord in some

bundleof lines emergingfrom a common focus c (in the jargon,c is the "pole"of

the line y=O).c has many prettyproperties,among them this: Find, by the usual

calculus rules, the equations for the circle's tangents at the fixed points. The

intersectionpoint of these two tangentswill, in fact, prove to be our "pole"c.

CASE2: In the foregoing procedure,we tacitly assumed that the substitution

of the line equationinto the circle equationgives real roots, such as the ?5 of our

example. But suppose our line does not intersect the circle, as happens if we

select the line y = -5. Here the Cartesiansubstitutionproceduregives the roots

? W1O, suggesting the ridiculous "points of intersection" <-i410,-5> and

<ial1O,-5>.But let us retain the courage of our calculations and continue our

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156 NOUS

Figure 1

1 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~1

F 2e Pole

Figure 2

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 157

representsan involution along the line, but now an overlapping map with no

apparentfixed points. Along the circle, the inducedmap v is also an involution,

but now constructedfrom a pole inside the circle. The pole and line retain the

same prettypropertiesas in case 1, including the fact that the "pole"is still the

intersectionof tangentlines to the circle (albeit "imaginary"tangents).Somehow

blind algebraicperseverancehas led us to sound geometric constructionssimilar

to those in the first case, despite the fact that our intermediatecalculationsnow

route throughthe absurd"intersectionpoints",<?l1O,-5>. This is one of those

cases where it seems, to paraphraseEuler, that our pencil has surpassed our

geometricalunderstandingin intelligence.

Figure 3

Pole

Figure4

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158 NOUS

a traditionalEuclidean point of view, look completely different (and would

requirecompletely different proofs to establish). And this advantagemaintains

itself quite generally-the algebraic techniques unify Euclidean situations that

were traditionallyregardedas distinct.

Now there were some mathematicians6who believed that the rules of

complex algebra possessed some sort of universal validity as "rules of

thought"-these calculationsalways lead to sound results, in whateverfield they

are applied-even if the formulas generated by the rules seem completely

uninterpretable.On this view, the complex points look as if they were, in

HermannHankel's phrase, "gifts from algebra".I might remarkthat one of the

best philosophers of my acquaintancewas driven to philosophy after having

received this kind of "justification"when he encounteredcomplex numbers in

his engineeringcourses!

In any event, this answerwas commonly rejectedas restingupon a confusion.

CharlotteAngas Scott7wrote:

even to encourage,a slipshod identificationof the field of geometrywith the field of

algebra.(Scott 1900a, p. 163)

And

It is far too much the custom now to rely on the analogy of algebra to justify the

introductionof imaginaries into geometry. Analogy, however, is no justification

unless we first prove the exact correspondenceof the fields of investigation. In

analytical geometry the identificationof the two fields is permissible, and is easily

explained; but in pure geometry any reference to algebra, expressed or implied, is

irrelevantand misleading.(Scott 1900b, p. 307)

That is, formulas like "x2 + (y-1)2 = 26" carry two distinct interpretations:(i)

they are "about"circles and (ii) they are "about"the relationship of various

number pairs <x,y>. The steps in our Cartesiancalculation are quite unexcep-

tionable interpretedover the field of complex numbers,so if geometricalinter-

pretationis eschewed, there is no danger of unsoundness.It is only under the

geometricalinterpretationthat the reasoningappearsunsound.Scott's complaint

is thatthese two interpretationswere often confused8.

(iv)

Duringthe nineteenthcentury,severalnoteworthyattemptswere made to explain

the successes of the Cartesiancalculationsin exclusively geometricalterms.The

first was due to the great originatorof projectivegeometry, Poncelet. He agreed

that the Cartesian achievements revealed a deep unity in our two cases but

denied that this unity traced to any "universalityof algebra".Rather he gave

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 159

4- 5

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

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160 NOUS

namely, the extension elements. Poncelet picturedthe relationshipof cases (1)

and (2) in cinemagraphicterms as follows: Pull the line of figure 7 upward,

throughthe degeneratemiddle case, to its final position in figure 5. As the line

moves upward,its "pole" is pulled inside the circle and becomes crossed. The

induced involutions on both the line and circle gradually change in character

from that of being nested, as in the first diagram,to being overlapping,as in the

last diagram.The involution's fixed points move together along the line until

they fuse and vanish.

It certainly looks as if some permanentinterconnectionbetween circle and

line, ratherlike a mechanical linkage, persists through these modifications. In

sympathywith this feeling, ratherthanregardingthe fixed points as absentin the

last diagram,why not regardthem as simply invisible9, having been pulled up

into a higher plane by the transformationsleading to figure 5? The intersection

points should be regardedas always governing the interactionsbetween circle

and line, but they can no longer be "seen" when they become imaginary

(althoughthey can always be broughtinto view by dragging the figure back to

diagram7). Poncelet arguedthat in cases when a form persisted,but the accom-

panying objects vanished, one ought to postulate new elements according to a

generalprincipleof so-called continuityor persistenceof form. Thus Poncelet:

figureby insensibledegreesby imposingon certainpartsof the figurea continuous

butotherwisearbitrary movement;is it not evidentthatthe propertiesandrelations

foundfor the firstsystemremainapplicableto successivestatesof the system....

[even]whenthoseobjectscease to have a positive,absoluteexistence,a physical

existence?. . . Now this principle,regardedas an axiomby the wisest mathe-

maticians, one can call the principle or law of continuity. (Poncelet 1987,

p. 543 (orderrearranged))

But once the requiredobjects are postulated by the "law of persistence of

form", the original success of the algebraic Cartesianmethods can be seen as

stemmingfrom a kind of accident, viz., it so happensthat a partialisomorphism

exists between the proper, expanded set of geometrical objects and algebraic

formula involving complex numbers. But the isomorphism is not completely

exact, for the algebraicformula permit many distinctionsthat have no inherent

geometric significance whatsoever. Poncelet felt that if one directly reasoned

geometrically about the extension elements, without taking an unnecessary

detourthroughthe realm of the complex numbers,one might improve upon the

successes of the Cartesiantechniques while avoiding the clumsy crutch of the

algebraic methods10.Labeling the "hidden elements" of genuine geometry as

"gifts from algebra" is an injustice akin to crediting Christian, rather than

Cyrano, with the authorshipof the letters to Roxana. Poncelet's idea was that

geometry should be pursuedsynthetically,with the imaginarypoints postulated

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FREGE: THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 161

following the law of continuityin the same spirit as the existence of parallelsis

posited in Euclid. The accidental tie to numericalrealms exploited in analytic

geometryshouldbe avoided as an unnecessarydiversion.

Note that the "principleof continuity" supplies an answer to the dilemma

discussed at the startof this paper.Whateverits shortcomingsin termsof clarity,

the "continuity"principle representsthe new projective elements as the natural

outgrowth of the domain of traditionalgeometry. This "organic"connection

through"continuity"gives one the right, thoughtPoncelet, to claim that the new

extension elements representthe correct extension of Euclidean geometry. The

new elements are added to complete the mechanism that makes Euclidean

geometry work. Accordingly, the "ideal" elements are "just as real" as the

original elements of geometry, even though we can form no visual picture of

what the imaginaryelements look like (of course, nineteenthcenturywriterslike

Frege would have expressed this claim as: "we can form no intuition of the

imaginaryelements").

(v)

So much for Poncelet. Between 1847 and 1860, the Germangeometer G.K.C.

von Staudtbroughta new perspectiveto the dilemma of the extension elements

(von Staudt 1847 and 1856). Ratherthan postulatingnew entities in Poncelet's

manner,von Staudtelected to define the extension elements in termsof accepted

Euclideanideas, so thatcomplexified projectivegeometrywould standsimply as

an extension by definitions of the old field. This idea alone would not be novel;

von Staudt's originality lay in the particularstrategy he followed in achieving

this end. Since there are no regular Euclidean objects that can adequately

substitute for the complex points, von Staudt was forced to rely upon some

unexpectedmaterials.In fact, he selected abstractconcepts to supplythe missing

material.His reasoningwent roughlyas follows:

"We are familiar with cases where assertionsabout concepts or relationsare

accordedwith an object-likestatus,as when we say "Personhoodis possessed by

Socrates", ratherthan "Socrates is a person". Consider "personhood"to be a

concept-objectderived from the concept "is a person".From this point of view,

consider the innocent-looking claim: "Line L has the overlapping involution

(defined by xx'=-10) on it". Once again, we have convertedwhat is essentially a

relation ("x maps to x' by the rule xx' =-10") into a "concept-object""the

involutionon L defined by xx'=-10". Recall that Poncelet postulatednew points

to correspondto the missing "fixed points"of such a relationon the groundsthat

the involution relation "persists"along the line althoughits normalfixed points

vanish. But ratherthan following Poncelet and viewing this process as one of

postulation, why not simply define the desired imaginarypoints as the concept-

objects denotedby phraseslike "theinvolutionon L"?"

This is von Staudt's basic idea but, strictly speaking, it doesn't quite work.

We actually need to constructtwo imaginarypoints from every involution along

a line (each involution has two fixed points, albeit occasionally "double"ones).

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162 NOUS

"senses"-that is, the two "arrow"directions in which the involution can be

taken to act as a function. Such "involutions with a direction" can still be

regarded as "concept-objects", but concept-objects constructed by more

complicatedmeans than simple "personhood"or "involution".

I have adopted the funny hyphenated term "concept-object"to represent

whateverobject it is thatwe plan to extractlogically from an originatingconcept.

Frege, in his practice,invariablyutilizes the concepts' extensions-that is, sets-

as the selected concept-objects.But he also notes thatmore intensional"concept-

objects"might have been used in their stead, a topic to which we will return.I

believe that Frege is best understood if the actual jump into set theory is

postponeduntil the last possible moment.

In an allied manner,ratherthan positing that new points exist where parallel

lines meet, von Staudtproposeddefining a "pointat infinity"directlyin termsof

a concept-object derivable from the relation "x is parallel to L". In this case,

however, too many concept-objectswill be generatedif the criterionof identity

for concept-objects is held to follow the usual identification conditions for

concepts, for such a procedure will create a distinct concept-object for each

concept of the form "parallelto . . . ", even when substituentsL and L' represent

lines parallelto one another.Only one concept-objectought to stem from L and

U; otherwiseunwantedpoints at infinity will be produced.If we follow Frege in

utilizing the extension of "parallelto L" as the appropriateconcept-object,the

problem of an overabundanceof points at infinity vanishes. But there is no

necessity in this choice; a variety of alternativestrategies work with "concept-

objects"more intensionalthanraw sets, yet still producea propercomplementof

points at infinity. Insofar as I can determine, von Staudt's own discussion is

silent upon such questions of intensionality-he simply assumes that a common

concept-objectcan be extractedfrom the "form"common to all parallellines. In

this case, the desired concept-object possesses a familiar name, viz., "the

directionof L", even if someone might wish to debate the question of its exact

"intensional"statusfurther(I'll returnto these issues of "intensionality"later).

Prima facie, the reconstructionof a thought into "concept-object"format

seems as if it ought to be a process falling within the domainof logic. Certainly,

many logic texts of the period included sections on "abstraction"that read as if

they ought to embrace conversions of this sort. But nobody before von Staudt

had tried to define "concrete" objects like points in terms of these abstract

entities. Whereas Poncelet believed that new elements should be postulatedto

meet the demands of "persistenceof form", von Staudt saw that the persisting

forms themselves, reconstituted in concept-object guise, could serve as the

desired extension elements. Complexified geometry is now viewed as a logical

outgrowth of traditionalgeometry. Accordingly, we have obtained a second

explanationof the "naturalness"of the projectiveextensions.

In order to establish the claim that projective geometry is a non-creative

reorganizationof Euclidean geometry, von Staudt needed to supply more than

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 163

this initial set of definitions. All of the notions utilized in projective geometry

must be redefined and its theorems shown to be transcriptions,under the

definitions, of regular Euclidean statements (albeit involving concept-objects).

Thus von Staudthad to redefine what a line is (to allow for the imaginaryones)

and then to redefine "lies upon".Armed with such definitions, claims like "two

points always lie upon some line" needed to be proven, even though, in the

originalEuclideanrealm,this propositionis an axiom.

(vi)

the betterrationalizationof the extension elements, due to its precision and non-

creativecharacter.Frege was almost certainlyamong their number.I'll postpone

my own appraisalof the approachuntil section (xi).

As with Poncelet, these results were not taken to show that the ideal points

were "fictions" or any less "real"than the regular points. The "real"and the

"ideal"form interconnectedpartsof the hiddenstructurethatlies behindthe facts

of Euclideangeometry. It is an accidentalfeatureof the way we happento learn

aboutEuclideangeometry that some of its partsappearto us clothed in intuitive

garb and some do not. As a result, we originally detect the presence of the ideal

elements only through the rigid relationships they induce upon the visible

objects. But anotherclass of beings might directly intuit the imaginaries,rather

thanthe reals.

Such claims have a long traditionin projective geometry, stretching back

before von Staudt's time. It was recognized that if one wanted a mental picture

of the extension elements, one could do so by shifting the "sensuousappearance"

of familiarelements over to the invisible ones (Laguerrewas an early proponent

of such methods-see (Coolidge 1924)). For example, one can use line-like

representationsto paint a useful picture of the real points at infinity. Although

there is no single visual representationwherein all of the elements of geometry

appearsimultaneouslyin intuitive garb, by accepting suitablecompromises,any

desired element can be pictured at the expense of others. Von Staudt's

innovation was to recognize that, as long as complex points were to be

"invisible"anyway, why not allow them to be abstract?Or, more exactly, why

not hold that the distinction between "abstract"and "concrete" object is

somewhatconventional,dependingupon our epistemologicalpoint of entry into

the relevantdomainof knowledge?

It is importantto recognize that Frege frequentlyendorsedtheses of this sort.

In the Grundlagen,Frege claims that two mathematiciansmight fully agree on

the content of projectivetheorems,despite the fact that one "intuits"geometrical

points as "looking like points"and the other as "lookinglike lines" (Frege 1884,

pp. 35-6)1 1. Frege also published some experiments,in the style of Laguerre,

that transferredthe intuitive appearanceof lines to selected imaginary points

(Frege 1873).

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that i'the only source of geometricaltruthlies in geometricalintuition".By this,

Frege means only that our entire body of geometry knowledge stems from facts

reported to us by "intuition".In agreement with Poncelet, Frege holds that

geometrical data bear no essential relation to any facts about numbers except

through"accidental"isomorphisms.On the other hand, althoughall of thefacts

of geometry must be reportedto us in intuition,it does not follow that all of the

objects proper to geometry must appear in intuitive garb-in particular,the

"invisible"complex points will not. Although the corpus of geometricalfacts is

fixed, their contents may be carved up to reveal unexpectedobjects such as the

imaginarypoints, which logic is able to extractfrom geometricalfact in the guise

of von Staudt'sconcept-objects.

Recognizing thatFrege views geometry in this fashion gives a deeperreading

to assertionslike:

Time and time again we are led by our thoughtbeyond the scope of our imagination,

without therebyforfeiting the supportwe need for our inferences.Even if, as seems

to be the case, it is impossible for men such as we to think without-ideas, it is still

possible for their connection with what we are thinkingof to be entirely superficial,

arbitraryand conventional.(Frege 1884, p. 72)

"support"the otherwise uninterpretablesteps in the Cartesianreasoningpattern

discussed above providea nice exemplarof what Frege has in mind.12

On such a reading, Frege intends to reject not only "psychologism"in the

usual sense, but the deeperpresumptionthat definitionalpracticein mathematics

must respect the "intuitivetrappings"of a mathematicalobject, even in a field

such as geometry. Although Frege had not drawn the tone/sense/reference

distinction at the time of the Grundlagen,these geometrical examples suggest

that much of what we might naively regard as the "sense" of a mathematical

assertion would in fact have been assigned by Frege to "tone" (or some other

"non-objective"category). Likewise, although the "sense" of a propositioncan

always be computedas a functionof the "senses"of its componentphrases,such

a decomposition should not be regarded as unique-witness the constant

propositional content shared by an orthodox Euclidean statement and its

reparsingin terms of extension elements. Thus I agree with the commentators

who feel Frege had a "holistic"conception of propositionalcontent, ratherthan

one structurallyconstructedfrom the senses of its componentparts.

Another aspect of von Staudt's approachhad long standing antecedents in

geometry-viz., the tendencyto conceive of objects in theirconcept-like aspects

and vice versa. Thus Julius Plucker noted the following: in suitable (homo-

geneous) coordinates,the equationfor a line looks like Ax + By + Cz =0. If a

point (a, b, c) lies upon the line, it satisfies the equation,i.e., Aa + Bb + Cc = 0.

We normally regard this as a case of the function (frequentlycalled a "form")

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 165

Plucker realized that the action could be also seen in reverse: a,b and c are

viewed as coefficients in a function now operatingon the line-object (A, B, C).

That is, the common thought"Aa + Bb + Cc = 0" can be carved up into distinct

functionsand objects, dependingupon one's point of view13.The termsA, B and

C representeither a functionor a line dependingupon how the thoughtis carved

up-in Frege's terminology,whether"(A, B, C)" is regardedin an "unsaturated"

or "saturated"way. This insight of Plucker'sprovedvery importantin unraveling

the mysteries of so-called "duality"in projectivegeometry (I might mentionthat

the purely synthetic work of Jacob Steiner, in rather different ways, also

contributedto the tendency to look for the function-likequalities of geometrical

objects such as points, lines and circles).

In general terms, nineteenth century geometers tended to conceptualize

mathematical entities in terms of the roles they play with respect to their

surroundings.The intersectionsof a circle and line form the basis arounda wide

variety of other geometrical constructions hover (viz., circular and linear

involutions, pole and polar pairs, etc.). When the same clustering of behaviors

occur in the apparent absence of the "fixed points" that generate the

constructions,it is proper, claimed Poncelet, to postulate the missing "inter-

sections".Von Staudtwould have said: The fixed points evaluate the behaviorof

the other constructionsin their neighborhood.If we continue to make identical

evaluations in the absence of regular points, it is permissible to regard the

evaluatingconcept itself as a new "object",for it serves the same basic purposes

that regular objects do. Frege's own discussions of "objecthood"often carry a

similar"roleplaying"emphasis14.

While on the subject of von Staudt's contributions,he also worked out an

isomorphismthat aligned a system of coordinatenames such as <6 + i, 9, -2i>

with his expanded set of geometrical points. Here von Staudt achieved a

remarkablegain in clarity-he showed that a mappingto so-called "projective"

coordinates can be set up without relying upon the metrical attributesof the

underlying geometry. In so doing, he was able to not only account for the

successes of analytic geometry (when the complex calculations mirrorgenuine

geometricalrelations),but also for its failures (e.g., why the principleof duality

fails when metrical relations are involved). The realization that coordinate

numbers can be meaningfully assigned to geometry without recourse to any

notion of "magnitude"(= metric)was, I believe, an importantstimulusto Frege's

views of number.

(vii)

These geometrical considerationsgive us some sense of the freedom to rework

preexisting mathematicsthat Frege wished to defend. This freedom supplies a

way of legitimating the projective revisions without destroying geometry's

claims to permanenceand certainty.Let's now turnto Frege's own work on the

classical numbersystems.

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166 NOUS

whetheralgebraiccalculationsinvolving complex quantitieswill supply correct

results within a particular field of endeavor-remember our perplexed

philosopher/engineer!Rather than seeing the rules of complex algebra as

unquestionable"leadingprinciples",capableof extractingsoundresultsfrom any

subject matter whatsoever, Frege viewed the general status of complex

calculationsin the terms that Poncelet and von Staudtadvocatedfor geometry-

the manipulationswork only if the field of complex numbers isomorphically

mirrorsstructurespre-existentin the subjectunderinvestigation15.The question

becomes: exactly what sort of structureis requiredfor the valid applicationof

reasoninginvolving complex numbers?

In Frege's time, it was frequentlypresumedthat the notion of real numberis

somehow "abstracted"from the notion of distance along a geometrical line.

Likewise, the notion of complex quantity "abstracts"from vector magnitude

within a two-dimensionalGaussian array.The trouble with "abstraction",as is

familiar from the stock problems of delineating a unique concept by merely

ostendinga groupof objects, is thatit is often unclearwhich featuresare retained

and which abandonedafter the "abstraction".The stock answer presumedthat

some bare notion of "magnitude"was the vital residue left after the abstraction.

As we noted, von Staudtshowed that useful calculationswith complex numbers

work within a geometry that contains no notion of magnitudewhatsoever-so

somethinghad to be wrong in the "abstraction"view.

Frege concluded,in agreementwith several other figures of his time, that real

and complex numbers serve only as a means to mark the places that given

relationsoccupy within largerfamilies of allied relations,families structuredby

relations of "addition"or "composition"and containing selected unit relations,

(By a family of relations,I mean somethinglike the collection;"x is 1 ft from y",

"x is 2 feet from y", etc.). Two relationswithin two differentfields-within the

fields of distance and angle16, say-should be assigned the same real number

only if the two relations correlate under the unique isomorphismbetween the

fields that preserves"addition"and aligns the two unit relations.The important

project,then, is to isolate what sort of structurea field of relationsmust have in

orderthat,e.g., the real numberscan be mappedonto them.

Accordingly, ratherthan regardingr as "abstracted"from concrete distances,

why not view the constructionin the crisp mannerof von Staudt-i.e., r is the

concept-object derived from the concept of two relations falling at the same

place within their respective families? Or, alternatively,a real or complex num-

ber serves as an "evaluator"of position within a family of relations.Such a story

gives a cleaner account of the intellectual processes involved in constructing

numbersystems than is suggested by vague appeals to "abstraction".We noted

that contemporaneouslogic books usually treatedthis as a process within their

ken; Frege instead saw "abstraction"as a hazy perceptionof the precise logical

process involved in converting a thought involving a concept into a thought

involving a concept-object(Frege's codificationof this logical move became his

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 167

Frege's logicism starts (although it doesn't conclude) with this assimilationof

number to von Staudt's treatmentof the extension objects within geometry.

Numbers are the concept-objectslogically induced by the comparativestudy of

families of relations.

It is always important,I think,to keep Frege's uniformapproachto the higher

number systems firmly in mind, for it is only within this wider context that

delimitingthe properrangeof applicationof a numbersystem seems a genuinely

urgent project. Few of Frege's contemporarieswould have puzzled whether

reasoning involving integers alone was likely to prove sound, but it was quite

otherwise with the complex numbers.We noted the rathermysterioussuccesses

of complex reasoningin analytic geometry;such inexplicabletriumphs(coupled

with some equally mysterious failures) occurred across the entire face of

nineteenth century science. We tend to miss the urgency of the general

applicationproblem if we only read the Grundlagen(as opposed to the earlier

writings where an especial concern with complex reasoning is more marked).

Such considerationslead me to presume that Frege must have roughed out his

basic approachto the highernumbersrelativelyearly in his development.

(viii)

of Frege's philosophical remarks in the Grundlagen can be clarified. Many

commentatorshave found the discussion leading up to the definition of "natural

number"to be puzzling. Hans Sluga writes:

termsof extensionsof contextsin the generalcontextof Frege'sthought.He had

originallyreasonedthatnumbersas logicalobjectshadto be definedcontextually

[atthe startof partIV]... Butthe conclusionof thatsectionwasthatthe attempted

definitionwhichfulfilledthatconditioncouldnot legitimatelybe adopted.(Sluga

1980,p. 127)

But if numbers are concept-objects induced in the von Staudt manner over

appropriatefamilies of relations,this confusion about"contextualdefinition"can

be sortedout. That Frege has the von Staudtanalogy in mind is suggestedby the

statementhe providesof his overall objectives:

such thateach side of it is a number.We tirethereforeproposingnot to define

identityspeciallyfor this case, butto use the conceptof identity,takenas already

known,as a meansfor arrivingat thatwhichis to be regardedas beingidentical.

Admittedly,this seemsto be a veryoddkindof definition,to whichlogicianshave

notyet paidenoughattention; butthatit is notaltogetherunheardof, maybe shown

by a few examples.(Frege1884,p. 74)

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168 NOUS

fact, his chief example turns out to be von Staudt's definition of the points at

infinity in terms of the relation"x is parallelto y". Unfortunately,Frege chooses

to characterizethe account as providinga definitionfor the object "the direction

of line L" rather than "the point at infinity correspondingto L". There are

reasons why Frege wrote in this fashion, but the unsuspectingreaderis scarcely

alertedto the geometricalsignificanceof the "direction"concept-object.

In general, Frege often makes puzzling allusions to the radical natureof his

"logical"procedures,as when he writes:

a priori, can, solely fromthe contentthatresultsfromits own constitution,bring

forthjudgmentsthatat firstsightappearto be possibleonly on the basisof some

intuition.Thiscan be comparedwithcondensation, throughwhichit is possibleto

transformthe air thatto a child'sconsciousnessappearsas nothinginto a visible

fluidthatformsdrops.(Frege1879,p . 55)

What does this have to do with his account of numbers? In von Staudt's

treatmentof geometry, our logical ability to reconstitutejudgments in terms of

concept-objectsreally does give the appearanceof pulling invisible points out of

empty air. Assimilating Frege's treatmentof numberto von Staudt's approach,

Frege's radical metaphors begin to seem more appropriate.Certainly, von

Staudt's trick of granting abstractconcept-objects such as "the direction of a

line" with the same mathematical"reality"as points at infinity was widely

regarded,in mid-nineteenthcentury,as a mathematicalgambit "borderingupon

impudence"17.Frege liked the gambit, and used it for his numbers,but in the

numericalcontext the shock value of the move was greatly diminished.Only by

recognizing that Frege's "directions"are really "points at infinity" can one

regainan appreciationof the radicalwork thatthe context principlewas meantto

accomplishwithin mathematics.

The apparentlyconflicting strandsof approvaland disapprovalof "contextual

definitions"found in Frege's thought trace to this: Any clear-cut propertycan

serve as the grounds for extracting a definite concept-object. As such, the

concept-objectcan be expected to possess the full range of propertiesnaturalto

abstractobjects-it must representa "self subsistentobject, subject to the usual

laws of identity"and the other featuresthat Frege so often emphasized.On the

other hand, these abstractobjects do not stand to regularpoints and lines in the

spatial relations needed in projective geometry. As long as we adhere to the

originalmeaningof "lies upon",concept-objectslike "thedirectionof L" or "the

involution 0" will lie upon no lines whatsoever-abstract objects do not possess

spatiallocations. Yet we saw that phraseslike "p lies upon L" can be redefined

so that all the claims of complexified projectivegeometry are validatedfor con-

cept-objects. But these furtherdefinitions must be done piecemeal-it is this

piecemeal quality that replaces what used to be regarded as "contextual

definition".

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 169

understood as a recognition that von Staudt's procedures do justice to the

insights displayed in standard applications of "contextual definition", while

simultaneouslyavoiding the false illusion they engenderof unbridledcreativity

over the originaldomain.

On this reading, Frege's "context principle" can be seen as serving two

purposes:(1) to supportthe claim thatconversionof a thoughtto one involving a

concept-object does not change the underlying thought, despite the different

pictureof the thoughtthat the reorganizationmay convey; (2) to emphasize that

concept-objectsshould be regardedas possessing the same "objective"status as

any other mathematicalobject. One gets a better feel for the radical import of

these claims within von Staudt's original framework, where the "intuitive

contents"of geometrical propositionsseem to be disregardedin a surprisingly

high-handedway. Numbers being ratherremote objects to begin with, Frege's

applicationsof von Staudt'smethods do not trampleupon the claims of expected

arithmeticalcontentin so shamelessa fashion.

(ix)

These observationsare not sufficient to carryus completely to Frege's logicism.

Although the bare creation of numericalconcept-objectsis sanctionedby pure

logic, this does not entail that their non-trivial behavior-e.g., how the

"addition" relation acts-is determined by logic alone. Such facts will be

determinedby the behaviorof the basic objects that make up the extensions of

the relevant concept-objects.In von Staudt's setting, the non-trivialbehaviorof

the points at infinity-e.g., which lines they lie upon-is determinedby the

behavior of the objects-the parallel lines-lying in the extensions associated

with the points. But notice this: the behavior of the points at infinity is

completely dictatedby the behaviorof a much smallersubset of objects thanare

found in the complete extensions. Suppose we want to know whether three

points at infinity a, b, and c lie upon a common line. Ratherthan worryingabout

all of the parallellines definitionallyassociated with a, select the single line La

passing throughthe origin as representative.We can likewise concentrateupon

the representativesLb and Lc. a, b, and c can now be determinedto be collinear

or not by examining the relationshipsamong La, Lb and Lc. In short, our points

at infinity will behave properly if the selected "representatives"do; we can

ignore what happenswith the rest.

Consider any of the standardsystems of numbers, say the naturalnumbers.

Any system of relations that spawns these numbers as concept-objectscan be

considered as a representative of the collection of numbers. Frege had the

brilliantidea thatone might be able to construct"representatives" for each of the

classical numbersystems within the ontology of pure logic alone. For the natural

numbers,his "representativestructure"is well-known;his approachto the reals

(and, presumably,the unpublishedtreatmentof the complex numbers)follows a

similar pattern. By the observationsjust made, the behavior of these logical

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170 NOUS

concept-objects-we don't have to look at all systems of relationsthat count as

"representatives" of our numbers.

Fromthis point of view, geometry,ratherthanlogic, could have been selected

as the basis for inducing the correct behavior upon Frege's numbers.

Epistemologically, however, it is preferableto utilize a logical representative,

because logic alone fixes how such objects act, whereas both logic and

geometrical intuition are needed to determinehow geometricalentities behave.

The existence of logical exemplars for each of the classical number systems

means that the facts about these numericalconcept-objectscan settled by appeal

to truths of logic alone-no higher source of knowledge is needed to get the

numbersbehavingproperly.Frege discussed what might happenif the imaginary

numberi were defined in a deviantmannerin termsof some concreteobject such

as the moon or a second of time:

Against the particularsense we have proposedto assign to "i", many objections can

of course be brought.By it, we are importinginto arithmeticsomethingquite foreign

to it, namely time. The second stands in absolutely no intrinsic relation to the real

numbers. Propositions proved by the aid of real numbers would become . . .

syntheticjudgments,unless we could find some other proof for them or some other

sense for i. We must at least first make the attemptto show that all propositionsof

arithmeticare analytic.(Frege 1884, p. 112)

for "i",syntheticfacts abouttime must be cited in orderto show thatthe complex

numbersbehave properly.This specialized reliance on synthetic facts ought to

make one worry whether complex reasoning could serve as adequate"leading

principles" in domains of inquiry that possess no analogue of the required

synthetic facts. Why should one think that Dirchlet's results on the distribution

of primes, obtained using reasoning over the complex numbers, have any

validity, given that no "time"is found among the integers? Or that Clebsch's

complex techniques in elasticity have any validity, given that this branch of

physics involves no temporalprocesses either?Frege put the point this way:

logically the content as made sensible in the symbols and, if we wish to apply our

calculus to physics, how to effect the transitionto the phenomena.It is, however, a

mistake to see in such applications the real sense of the propositions; in any

applicationa large part of their generality is always lost, and a particularelement

enters in, which in other applicationsis replacedby otherparticularelements. (Frege

1884, p. 22)

(x)

naturalnumbers, under analysis, should turn out secretly to represent unique

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 171

that the number 3 must be identified with the collection of all 3-membered

concepts in orderto embraceall of 3's potentialapplications.Indeed, this claim

looks plausible only if one is tempted to suppose that 3 represents an

"abstraction"from 3-memberedsets, as Frege assuredlydid not. More generally,

the Frege/von Staudtapproachto definitionalpracticeis rathersophisticatedand

does not obviously succumb to the familiar difficulties scouted in (Benacerraf

1989b).

This latitude in the treatment of number may surprise many of Frege's

readers,due to such passages as:

definite and unique object of scientific study. There are not divers numbersone, but

only one. (Frege 1884, p. 49)

number 3 ought to be set up, not that a wide variety of objects couldn't have

been selected as suitable. Looking back at von Staudt, one recognizes that

imaginarypoints could have been equally well defined in terms on involutions

aroundcircles ratherthan along lines, a fact thatFrege explicitly notes19.But one

should not define imaginary points simultaneouslyin terms of both kinds of

involution,for too many imaginarypoints will then be produced.

I stress these facts because it is easy to become confused about two different

methodological strands that are potentially involved in constructions like

Frege's. On the one hand, we have the von Staudt idea that the work of

"concrete"mathematicalentities can be duplicatedby more abstract"concept-

objects". On the other, there is the doctrinethat set theory can be used to free

particularmathematicalobjects from the harness of particular"representational

forms".For example, thereis a sense that,underGauss' approachto congruence,

the objects "3 mod 7" and "10 mod 7"20 are the "same", albeit tied to two

different numerical representations.Richard Dedekind proposed that Gauss'

"congruencenumbers"could be rendered"representationfree" by defining them

as equivalence classes such as {3, 10, 17,. . . ). This practice is ubiquitousin

modem mathematics-the standard definition of "manifold" liberates these

geometrical objects from the fetters of particular coordinate choices by

constructingthe manifold in terms of a complete "atlas"of coordinatecharts.

However laudablethe desire to constructmathematicalobjects in "representation

free" terms may be, it is not the same impulse that motivates von Staudt's

practice.A classic case where the two motivationsrun togethercan be found in

Dedekind's 1871 recasting of Kummer's "ideal numbers"in terms of the sets

algebraistsstill call "ideals".Kummermerely gave rules in "implicitdefinition"

fashion for calculating with his "ideal numbers";one hoped that a generalized

notion might apply in more general contexts. Dedekind found the generalization

by recognizingthat the "persistingforms"of Kummer'smethodcould be treated

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172 NOUS

his "ideals"representationfree, which forced them to become infinitaryin a way

they otherwise didn't need to be. A rather bitter debate ensued between

Kroneckerand Dedekind over the virtues and demerits of this "representation

free"infinitude21.

The standardapproachto the points at infinity constructsthem as extensions

consisting of infinitely many lines. This infinitude can be avoided if specific

"representations" of each directionare selected instead, in the mannerdiscussed

several paragraphsback. That is, points at infinity are now defined in terms of

the concept-objects derived from "parallel to L", where the range of L is

restricted to the lines running through some selected origin. Such a

"representationbound" treatmentwould lead to considerableinconvenience in

the later definitions of concepts such as "lies upon", but at least the technique

avoids appeal to infinite totalities. If we wish, the concept-object"the direction

of L" could be credited with whatever intensionality we might like without

necessarily engenderingtoo many points at infinity. It is importantto observe

that, in the Grundlagen,Frege frequentlyexpressed some ambivalenceabouthis

employmentof extensions:

of a concept"is assumed

In [my]definitions thesenseof theexpression"extension

to be known.Thiswayof gettingoverthedifficultycannotbe expectedto meetwith

universalapproval,andmanywill preferothermethodsof removingthe doubtin

question.I attachno decisive importanceeven to bringingin the extensionsof

conceptsat all. (Frege1884,p. 117).

Insofaras I can determine,Frege was willing to concede that logic might afford

other ways of extracting concept-objects from concepts that result in objects

more "intensional"than extensions. Unfortunately,the usual vagaries in the

notion of "intension"make their propercriteriaof identity less than clear. Frege

apparentlyselected sets as the concept-objects utilized in his von Staudt-like

constructions because the conditions of set existence (i.e., Axiom V in the

Grundgesetze)seemed relativelyuncontroversial,even if, from a logical point of

view, extensions constitute objects of secondary importance.His views about

this topic may have changed as his views about the extensionality of

mathematicallanguage22developedon routeto "OnSense and Reference".

In the recent philosophical literature(e.g., Stein 1987), Frege is sometimes

chastised as an example of a mathematicianwho, driven by "bad"philosophical

motives, became committed to an impossible search for the "true essence" of

number, whereas the "good" Dedekind recognized that mathematiciansshould

be concernedonly with the "structures"of numbersystems. There are a variety

of ways in which this appraisalmisrepresentsthe positions of the two writers,

but, at a minimum, it should be recognized that Dedekind, in his demand for

"representationfree" accounts of mathematicalobjects, was somewhat more

"absolutist"about mathematicalconstructionsthan the historicalFrege seems to

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 173

have been. I imagine that Frege would have found that, at first blush,

"representationfree" constructions count as aesthetically more pleasing than

their competitors, but that this virtue might pale if the resulting constructions

become overly complicated (as would happen if the "representationfree"

demand forces geometers to include both line and circle involutions within the

definitionof imaginarypoint).

While on this topic, we might examine an objectionto Frege's procedurethat

George Boolos makes in an importantarticleon Frege's approachto numbers:

The well-known distinction that Frege draws. . . between "the direction of line L"

and "the numberbelonging to concept F" is thereforeseriously misleading. We do

not suspect that lines are made of directions, that directions are some of the

ingredientsof lines.. . The principlethatdirectionsof lines are identicaljust in case

the lines are parallel looks, and is, trivial only because we suppose that directions

are... distinct from the things of which lines are made. (Boolos 1990).

In point of fact, in the von Staudt universe some lines-e.g., the lines at

infinity-are "madeof directions".Even worse, it is assumed that concepts can

apply to the very concept-objects manufacturedfrom them. For example, the

original motivation for constructing relation-objects to correspond to the

involutaryrelation"xx' = -10" was to supply two "points"that become mapped

into themselves by the original relation. In the nineteenthcentury, concepts (or

functions) were not regardedas intrinsicallytied to the objects in the domain in

which they are first encountered;otherwiseit makes no sense to maintainthat an

elliptic function's "truehome" is on a Riemannsurface.In this sense, one might

wish to resist the wholely extensionalpoint of view that makes the domain of a

functionconstitutiveof its very identity.

On the other hand, this point of view seems prima facie at odds with the

recognition that the meanings of "line" and "lies upon" must genuinely alter

when the shift to the extendeddomain is made. As is well known, Frege thought

the practiceof using a common symbol "-"to designatethe two "multiplication"

operationsover the reals and the complex numberswas a mistake, encouraging

mathematiciansto believe that they had proved facts for the complex realm

which had really been proved only for the reals. However, as long as the

meaning of the "persistingform" "xx' = -10" is treatedin sufficiently abstract

fashion, the two viewpoints can be reconciled. Frege's strictureson definability

do not entail that one cannot meaningfullyinquire whetherthe triple of objects

<number,number,operation>satisfy the form "xgx' = -10" in both the real and

complex domains.23Although the specific "multiplication"operationsdiffer in

the two domains, we can still study how a particular"form"behaves when we

move from the reals to the complex numbers.Indeed, it would be disastrousfor

Frege's philosophy of mathematicsif it could not constructsome sense in which

the behavior of elliptic functions (or involutions) could be compared over

different domains. After all, much of the genius of nineteenth century

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

174 NOUS

von Staudt-lay in the realization that the behaviors of certain mathematical

forms become more comprehensible when placed in an extended setting. In

short,the assumption24of which Boolos complainsis deeply imbeddedin much

intuitivemathematicalthought,not simply Frege's.

(xi)

In summation:I have claimed that Frege's more radical philosophical claims,

especially those expressed in the Grundlagen, come into sharperfocus when

viewed from the perspective of the prior discussions of the extension element

problem within geometry. There are two primary reasons for the increased

vividness of the geometricalsetting:(1) Von Staudt'stechniquesin geometryrun

roughshodover the expected "sensuouscontent"of geometricalpropositions,to

the extent of harnessing erstwhile concepts to the work of concrete objects.

Frege's philosophical pronouncementson definition and context justify these

procedures,but their applicationswithin Frege's own context seem very tame,

largely because we lack a robust sense of the apparent"content"of arithmetical

propositions.(2) Nineteenthcenturygeometryrepresenteda disciplinein internal

tension, a tension arising from the need to admit new elements while retaininga

permanence in subject matter (we want to let geometry enlarge her living

quartersa bit without allowing her to bolt the stable altogether). Von Staudt

found an unusual approach to definitions that (temporarily) resolved these

conflicting demands upon geometry neatly. Frege's own views on definitional

practicewalk the same delicate line as von Staudt's,but, since Frege's numerical

context is a static one, we scarcely appreciatethe methodologicalpitfalls that he

felt constrainedto avoid in his philosophyof mathematics.

The "royal road" of this paper's title is intended somewhat whimsically.

Although virtually every road in nineteenth century mathematicsran directly

through geometry, they also-courtesy of Riemann's grand synthesis-wound

through virtually every other area of mathematics as well. Although I have

concentratedupon geometry here, it should be recognized that closely related

problems of "extension elements" developed elsewhere (e.g., Kummer's "ideal

numbers" mentioned above). Frege was clearly aware of these other

developments and of the deep ties that bound them. Given Frege's rather

unpleasanttendency to not acknowledge positive influences, any reconstruction

of his thoughtprocesses must per force be speculative.For the reasons cited in

the previous paragraph,the geometricalcase remainsthe most salient setting for

understandingthe various philosophical attitudes towards mathematicalexis-

tence that were popularin Frege's era. Accordingly,I have treatedit in isolation

here, althoughFrege would have viewed mattersfrom a richerperspective.

Recognition of such geometricalprecedents,of course, should not be seen as

minimizing the magnitudeof Frege's personalachievements.It is worth stating,

however, that certain modern commentators regularly undervalue the

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FREGE:THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 175

particularform of genius.

In this respect, we should beware of treatingthe philosophical problems of

arithmetic in the hermetically insulated way that Frege's own writings

encourage.HermannSchubert,whose views on numbersFrege castigatedin an

unfairlyderisive review, had been deeply influenced in his approachto number

by Poncelet's philosophyof geometricalexistence (i.e., with heavy relianceupon

"continuity"or "persistenceof form"). Viewed independentlyof geometry, as

Schubertpresentedthe doctrineto his readers25,this principle looks absolutely

silly. Read in conjunctionwith geometry,"continuity"assumes a ratherprofound

aspect, especially in light of the astonishing "enumerative calculus" that

Schubertdeveloped in algebraicgeometry largely following its guide. The real

purposeof the "principleof continuity",for both Schubertand Poncelet, was to

rationalizethe "resettings"of mathematicalquestions which were vital to their

geometrical investigations. Schubert's work in arithmeticrepresenteda carry-

over of these philosophicalideas, into a setting where the appealsto "continuity"

largely lost theircuttingedge.

Indeed, looking at Schubert'sown geometrical successes, one begins to feel

that Poncelet's explication of the "correctness"of the projective revisions was

probably superior to von Staudt's. Although von Staudt's methods were

undoubtedlymore rigorousthanPoncelet's, rigor is not everything.Von Staudt's

methods are "copycat"proceduresin that one knows which concept-objectsto

extract only after an authoritylike Poncelet has located the important"forms"

that should persist in the extended domain. In contrast, the "principle of

continuity",with all of its vagaries, genuinely affords a discoveryprocedure for

uncovering the proper extended domain. When S.S. Chern writes that "figure

and numberfight for the soul of every geometer"(Chern1980), he is referringto

the way that questions naturalto visual geometry and questions naturalto the

algebra of coordinate geometry interact to drive geometry forward. We

witnessed an early example of this interaction in the Cartesian successes of

section (iii)-the subsequent development of algebraic geometry, in which

Schubertplayed an importantrole, illustratethe continuing influence of these

tensions, leading to abstractionsfar beyond those found in projectivegeometry.

"Principles of continuity" hew closely to the considerations26that force the

geometricalchanges, whereasvon Staudt'smethod submergesthese motivations

as an artifact of the "context of discovery". Despite these limitations, von

Staudt'sapproachwas widely judged in Frege's time to be superiorto Poncelet's

(albeitmore tedious).

Frege's work is commonly characterizedas contributingto the nineteenth

century "rigorization of analysis", a phrase that normally encompasses

investigations of notions of limits, series, the assumption of lower bounds,

notions of derivative and integral, and the like. In fact, Frege's own writings

stand at a remarkabledistance from concerns of these sorts. Rarely does he

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

176 NOUS

comment upon the burning issues within analysis in his time-e.g., the

possibilities for evading the use of Dirchlet's principle within Riemann's work.

Of course, Frege was quite rigorousin his own projects,but this rigor does not

appearharnessedto higher mathematicalends in the mannerof Weierstrassand

other contemporaneousworkerson foundations.On the other hand, the puzzles

of reconstitution of domain, so acutely raised within nineteenth century

geometry,do not hinge upon worriesabout"rigor"per se, but upon questionsof

how unexpectedmodificationsof old definitions and theoremscan be permitted

in mathematics,while retainingsome sense thatthe discipline's subjectmatteris

permanent and immutable. Even though the mathematical task of defining

"naturalnumber"is not, on the face of it, an "extension element" problem, I

submit that if we see Frege's work as conceived in the shadow of the

methodological concerns arising in geometry, we will better understandthe

characterof his philosophyand the mannerin which he conceived his logicism.

Returning once again to the "reconceptualization"issues with which we

began, I believe that, even today, we scarcely understandthe character of

mathematicalconcepts-how it is thatthey can "growand thrive"over time. Too

much concern with set theoretic formalization-whose purpose, after all, is

simply to granta concept a temporaryfoothold on rigor-may have dimmedour

eyes to this fact. Perhapsthe realizationthat one of the founding parentsof set

theoretic rigor was deeply concerned with such issues may serve, as a bit of

carbonateof ammonium, to reawaken us to the deep problems of conceptual

growth within mathematics,even if Frege's particularanswers can no longer be

regardedas wholly satisfactory.

Notes

1I would like to thank Tom Ricketts, John Bell, Burton Dreben and, especially, Bill

Demopoulos and Ken Mandersfor helpful comments. Bob Battermandrew the figures.

2 Several good accounts of the projective revolution are: (Coolidge 1940), (Merz 1965), (Nagel

1971). Interestingevaluationsby Frege's contemporariescan be found in (Klein 1925) and (Cayley

1989a).

By "projective geometry", I mean "geometry of the school founded by Poncelet", a sense in

which the metrical attributesof the expanded geometrical realm are not excluded. A possibly less

misleading term would be the old-fashioned "geometryfrom a higher point of view", a phrase that

properly suggests that Euclidean geometry is not being overthrown or diminished, but simply

reorganized.

3 The two processes, complexification and projective completion, must be performed con-

currently.To avoid undue technicalities, I shall sometimes illustrateprocedures within the affine

partof a projectiveplane.

4 Benacerrafintends this remarkas a gloss on David Hilbert's views, who was unlikely to view

the extension elements of geometry in the mannerdescribed.

5 Historically,"formalist"responses like Rosenbaum'sbecame prevalentamong geometers after

the publication of David Hilbert's Foundations of Geometry. One wonders whether some of the

crankyanimus that Frege displays towardsHilbertin their interchangesmay trace to a sense that the

philosophical concerns common to Poncelet and von Staudt are likely to be plowed under in

Hilbert'sapproach.Insofaras I am aware,however, this issue is not explicitly raisedby either writer.

For an interestinglaterevaluationby a greatgeometerof the Italianschool, cf. (Enriques1929).

6 Chiefly among the English:Peacock, Boole, etc.

7 (Scott 1900b) is one of the best surveys of von Staudt's thought and, unlike the notoriously

turgidoriginal, attemptsto articulatethe philosophy behindthe method.

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

FREGE: THEROYALROADFROMGEOMETRY 177

piece, in George Birkhoff's phrase, "dressed up in glittering intuitional trappings". An early

advocate of this point of view was Julius Plucker.

9 But when L moves still furtherfrom the center, the points A and B become invisible; yet, for

the sake of continuity,we say they still exist, but are invisible or imaginary"(Russell 1893, p. 23).

10Indeed, in my description of the circle and line cases above, I largely refrained from

presentingthe gory details of the algebraand only supplied the geometric "effect"that the algebraic

manipulationswill give (some of these "effects", of course, representing"imaginary"points and

lines). Poncelet's "synthetic"viewpoint maintains that my algebra-freedescription of "effects" is

the properway to handle the geometry, whereas the fullfledged Cartesiantreatmentof our example

merely introducesmessy complicationsthat trace to the avoidable entanglementof our figures with

the "extraneous"coordinate lines X and Y. Selection of fiducial lines X and Y is needed to map

geometry into the complex numbers,but Poncelet's contention is that such numberassignmentsare

unnecessary.

11 Compare: "[S]tereometric ideas can be correctly comprehended only when they are

contemplated purely by the inner power of the imagination, without any means of illustration

whatever"-Jacob Steiner, quoted in (Reye 1898, p. xiii). Echoes of these claims can be found in

Descartes.

12 Von Staudt's discovery, sketched below, that Cartesian reasoning can prove valid in the

absence of a metric illustratesa furtherimplicatureof this quotation.

13 The tangent and cotangent bundles of a manifold exhibit this dual behavior nicely. Such

examples, I believe, are very helpful in unraveling what Frege intended by "the multiple

analyzabilityof a thought".For work in Plucker's vein, see (Frege 1884a).

14 It is worth mentioningthat least one of Frege's stock examples of a non-materialobject shares

some of this evaluative character,vis. the axis of the earth (Frege 1884, p.35). A theorem of rigid

body mechanics says that, at each moment, the earth's movement can be decomposed into a

translation and an instantaneous rotation about an axis, but this axis will usually wander with

respect both to the surface of the earth and to an inertial frame. In short, the laws of mechanics

define an "evaluator"that, at each instant, isolates a spatial line to serve as the present position of

the abstractcontinuant,"axis of the earth".Frege's holistic views of "inertialframe"in (Frege 1885)

are interestingin this respect.

15 Frege published several papers (Frege 1874; 1878) that demonstrated how a variety of

unlikely mathematicaldomains could be coded into complex numbersin such a way that standard

analytic techniquesprove sound over the encoded domain.

16 See (Frege 1874, p. 56). Also:

According to the old conception, length appearsas something material which fills the straight

line between its end points. . . [But on a modem conception] all that mattersis the point of origin

and the end point; whether there is a continuous line between them. . . appears to make no

difference whatsoever; the idea of filling space has been completely lost. . . The concept [of

quantity] has thus gradually freed itself from intuition and made itself independent.This is quite

unobjectionable,especially since its earlierintuitivecharacterwas at bottom mere appearance... If,

as we have shown, we do not find the concept of quantityin intuition but create it ourselves, then

we are justified in trying to formulateits definition so as to permit as manifold an application as

possible.

For a good accountof Frege's approachto the reals, cf. (Simons 1987).

17 See (Freudenthal1981). This excellent article is highly recommendedto interestedreaders.

18 Despite tradition,Russell didn't seem to claim uniquenesseither,cf. (Russell 1964, chapterXI).

19(Frege 1873, p. 2). The alternativeapproachto imaginary points that Frege cites is that of

circles and lines combined in pairs,ratherthan a second form of involution.

20 That is, 3 and 10 leave the same remainderon division by 7.

21 For an excellent discussion of the criticisms of Dedekind, see (Edwards 1980; 1987). In this

essay, I have distinguished von Staudt's general contention that abstract"concept-objects"might

serve as adequate replacements from more concrete seeming entities from the more specific

proposal that equivalence classes should serve as the "concept-objects".Insofar as I can determine,

von Staudtis unspecific about the exact natureof the entities he utilizes; the earliest explicit use of

equivalence classes seems to be Dedekind's 1871 reconstructionof Kummer's ideal numbers.One

would be curious whether Frege was aware of Dedekind's work at the time of the Grundlagen,

although Charles Pierce claimed that the equivalence class idea was in the mathematicalair long

before Dedekind (Peirce 1976, p. 130). Much work needs to be done on how the chains of influence

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

178 NOUS

might have run in this period (for valuable speculations, see (Freundenthal1981)). Not all uses of

equivalence classes, by the way, seem as philosophically radical as the von Staudtapplications;for

example, if one regardsthe Gaussiancongruence classes as carving new "modulararithmetics"out

the regularintegers. In this kind of case, there is no pressing need to tell a philosophical story a la

von Staudtthat the new domains constructed"have the same reality"as the basic set of objects over

which the construction proceeds. Dedekind clearly conceived all appeals to equivalence classes,

even in von Staudt-likecontexts, in the benign light of the Gaussianparadigm(which, historically,

he was among the first to advance). In essence, the thesis of this paper is that many of the

philosophical concerns in the Grundlagenhave been misunderstoodbecause we now tend to view

all uses of equivalence classes from an uncriticalpoint of view ratherlike Dedekind's.

22 To be precise, Frege might have doubted whether"function"could be properlytreatedin the

set-like way familiar from modern courses on "functionsof a real variable".In the early 1880's it

was more common to presumethat functions, while extensional in their identity conditions, enjoy a

richer, non-set-like charactersuch as they are supplied in the context of "functions of a complex

variable".By the time of the Grundgesetze,"functions of a real variable"was well on its way to

being widely accepted, so Frege may have relaxed his qualms about sets (of course, many logicians

in Frege's time would continued to object to the prevailing "extensionality" among

mathematicians).For a good history of the analysis side of these issues, see (Bottazzini 1980). For a

contemporaneous expression of attitude, cf. (Cayley 1889b). William Demopoulos is currently

investigatingthese difficult matters.

23 Strictly speaking, the "10" and the "-" also shift referentsin the move to the complex realm,

so they should be reassignedto the "tuple"side of this question.

24 Indeed, the sometimes obnoxious restrictionson constructionthat Boolos' stricturesrequire

still representa bone of contentionamong category theorists.

25 Cf. (Schubert 1899). For an interesting perspective on Schubert, see (Kleinman 1976). It is

worth mentioning that various philosophers attemptedto extend the "principleof continuity"into

generalphilosophy of language,e.g. (Cassirer1953).

26 Kenneth Manders, in unpublished work, has given a very deep analysis of the factors that

push the early developments.For geometry's latercareer,see (Dieudonne 1985).

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