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2003-2004 Visiting Fellows

Pierre Cassou-Nogučs
CNRS, UMR 8519, Univ. Lille III, France

The purpose of my award was to study Gödel's Papers. Kurt Gödel, who was born in Brno in what is now the Czech Republic, studied and then taught at the University of Vienna. He first gained his reputation with his incompleteness theorem of 1931. He travelled several times to the United States during the thirties and moved to Princeton after the beginning of the second world war, in 1939. He remained at the Institute for Advanced Studies until his death in 1978. His widow, Adele Gödel, left all his papers to the Institute. They are now kept at Princeton University's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Gödel's manuscripts, most of them unpublished, provide an invaluable insight in the technical work and the philosophical development of a man described as "the greatest logician since Aristotle". Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Princeton Library I could stay a month at the Library with no other worries than studying as many manuscripts as possible. It has been a turning point for my research. I hope to make several papers and, when the time comes, amend my book on Gödel (Gödel, Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2004). But, most of all, I gained new perspective on Gödel's work and its relationship to that of his contemporaries

The collection comprises more twenty boxes, with special items, such as photographs or pre-prints annotated by Gödel, and thousands of pages in Gödel's handwriting. Under the supervision of J. W. Dawson, Jr., the items have been catalogued, in a very precise manner that permits one to gain quickly an overview of the collection and to find easily the item wanted. The staff of the Library, as professional as they were friendly, were also very helpful in these researches.

I concentrated my work on the papers written in English or in German. I started with the drafts for the conferences, lectures or papers in logic that Gödel delivered throughout the thirties. These are of considerable importance for they make it to possible to point exactly to the moment when Gödel introduces his concepts and to follow precisely Gödel's relationship to the work of contemporaries. I also gave considerable attention to the drafts of the forties and fifties for the philosophical articles. Gödel's texts have been published or re-edited in the Collected works (S. Feferman et alii eds., Oxford University Press, 5 vol., 1986-2003). However, the drafts give alternative formulations or longer developments for various ideas that are only mentioned in the final, and published, version. As Gödel was very careful about the reception of his work, he seems in the elaboration of a paper to gradually erase the more controversial parts. Quite often, the earlier versions are very surprising and could be thought more interesting than the final version. Also the comparison between different versions of a paper permits one to follow step by step Gödel's reflection. Then, a substantial part of Gödel's correspondence is unpublished and one can very often discover side remarks, useful for the understanding of Gödel's world view or philosophical background. I must also mention the reports made by Wang of his conversation with Gödel. These reports are corrected by Gödel and that permits one to measure their correctness and to see the direction of Gödel's last reflection. Finally, there is the great bulk of the "notebooks", in which Gödel transcribed day by day, personal reflections or items in newspapers that aroused his curiosity. The notebooks are written in Gabelsberger but even a superficial study reveals quite illuminating material concerning the man and the background of his work.

During my stay in Princeton, I could also study in the main library and consult its impressive stacks. I attended various seminars, in the department of philosophy or the program the history of science. I then had the opportunity of meeting P. Benacerraf, D. Garber and M. S. Mahoney. Discussions were for me as pleasant as they were fruitful.

My month at Princeton University Library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections was productive and stimulating. I was able to make very significant progress in my research. I gained new perspective in the field and accumulated material for further works. This Fellowship from the Friends of Princeton University was a great opportunity. I also wish to express my particular gratitude to the staff of the Department who have made my stay pleasant and productive, Anna-Lee Pauls and Margaret Rich, for her help and support both before and during my stay in Princeton.


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