Abstract / Synopsis

The topic of this article is Hilbert’s axiom of solvability, that is, his conviction of the solvability of every mathematical problem by means of a finite number of operations. The question of solvability is commonly identified with the decision problem. Given this identification, there is not the slightest doubt that Hilbert’s conviction was falsified by Gödel’s proof and by the negative results for the decision problem. On the other hand, Gödel’s theorems do offer a solution, albeit a negative one, in the form of an impossibility proof. In this sense, Hilbert’s optimism may still be justified. Here I argue that Gödel’s theorems opened the door to proof theory and to the remarkably successful development of generalized as well as relativized realizations of Hilbert’s program. Thus, the fall of absolute certainty came hand in hand with the rise of partially secure and reliable foundations of mathematical knowledge. Not all was lost and much was gained.



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