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Hao Wang

Titles by This Author

From Gödel to Philosophy


Hao Wang (1921-1995) was one of the few confidants of the great mathematician and logician Kurt Gödel. A Logical Journey is a continuation of Wang's Reflections on Gödel and also elaborates on discussions contained in From Mathematics to Philosophy. A decade in preparation, it contains important and unfamiliar insights into Gödel's views on a wide range of issues, from Platonism and the nature of logic, to minds and machines, the existence of God, and positivism and phenomenology.

The impact of Gödel's theorem on twentieth-century thought is on par with that of Einstein's theory of relativity, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, or Keynesian economics. These previously unpublished intimate and informal conversations, however, bring to light and amplify Gödel's other major contributions to logic and philosophy. They reveal that there is much more in Gödel's philosophy of mathematics than is commonly believed, and more in his philosophy than his philosophy of mathematics.

Wang writes that "it is even possible that his quite informal and loosely structured conversations with me, which I am freely using in this book, will turn out to be the fullest existing expression of the diverse components of his inadequately articulated general philosophy."

The first two chapters are devoted to Gödel's life and mental development. In the chapters that follow, Wang illustrates the quest for overarching solutions and grand unifications of knowledge and action in Gödel's written speculations on God and an afterlife. He gives the background and a chronological summary of the conversations, considers Gödel's comments on philosophies and philosophers (his support of Husserl's phenomenology and his digressions on Kant and Wittgenstein), and his attempt to demonstrate the superiority of the mind's power over brains and machines. Three chapters are tied together by what Wang perceives to be Gödel's governing ideal of philosophy: an exact theory in which mathematics and Newtonian physics serve as a model for philosophy or metaphysics. Finally, in an epilog Wang sketches his own approach to philosophy in contrast to his interpretation of Gödel's outlook.


Newton/Descartes. Einstein/Gödel. The seventeenth century had its scientific and philosophical geniuses. Why shouldn't ours have them as well? Kurt Gödel was indisputably one of the greatest thinkers of our time, and in this first extended treatment of his life and work, Hao Wang, who was in close contact with Gödel in his last years, brings out the full subtlety of Gödel's ideas and their connection with grand themes in the history of mathematics and philosophy.The subjects he covers include the completeness of elementary logic, the limits of formalization, the problem of evidence, the concept of set, the philosophy of mathematics, time, and relativity theory, metaphysics and religion, as well as general ideas on philosophy as a worldview. Wang, whose reflections on his colleague also serve to clarify his own philosophical thoughts, distinguishes his ideas from those of Gödel's and on points of agreement develops Gödel's views further.The book provides a generous array of information on and interpretation of the two main phases of Gödel's career - the years between 1924 and 1939 at the University of Vienna, which were marked by intense mathematical creativity, and the period from 1940 to his death in 1978, during which he was affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, a time in which Gödel's interests steadily shifted from questions of logic to metaphysics. And it also examines Gödel's relations with the Vienna Circle, his philosophical differences with Carnap and Wittgenstein, the intimate and mutually fruitful friendship with Einstein, and the periodic bouts of depression for which Gödel was hospitalized a number of times over the course of his life.Hao Wang is Professor of Logic at The Rockefeller University and author of scores of articles and several books on logic, computers, and philosophy, including From Mathematics to Philosophy (extensively discussed with Gödel and containing contributions by him) and Beyond Analytic Philosophy: Doing Justice to What We Know (MIT Press Bradford Books). He is currently preparing a companion volume, Conversations with Kurt Gödel which will concentrate on Gödel's unpublished ideas. A Bradford Book.

Doing Justice to What We Know

This cogent and knowledgeable critique of the tradition of modern analytic philosophy focuses on the work of its central figures—Russell, Carnap, and Quine—and finds it wanting. In its place, Hao Wang unfolds his own original view of what philosophy could and should be. The base of any serious philosophy, he contends, should take as its point of departure the actual state of human knowledge. He explains the relation of this new tradition to mathematical logic and reveals the crucial transitions and mistakes in mainstream Anglo-American philosophy that make a new approach so compelling.

Equally at home in philosophy and mathematics, Wang is uniquely qualified to take on the task of critically examining modern philosophy. He carefully traces the path of ideas from Russell and Wittgenstein through the Vienna Circle to modern British and American philosophy, and makes use of his familiarity with the profound thought of Kurt Godel with whom he has had numerous discussions. He also presents the broader significance of Russell's philosophy, provides a comprehensive and unified treatment of Quine's work in logic and in philosophy, and delineates what is common between Carnap and Quine.