You are here: Home / Names / Bernard Bolzano (1781–1848)

This project is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) research grant and is supported by the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) and Kingston University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

AHRC logo

CRMEP logo

Bernard Bolzano (1781–1848)

Though little read in his time, the Bohemian philosopher, logician, and mathematician Bernard Bolzano would indirectly exercise a major influence on twentieth-century philosophy through the impact of his ideas on a diverse range of key thinkers, from Edmund Husserl to Bertrand Russell. Born into a pious Catholic family, Bolzano eventually became a priest himself, as well as a professor of religion at the University of Prague shortly after completing his studies there in mathematics and philosophy. Notorious for his liberal beliefs, his commitment to philanthropy, and his agitation for education reforms, Bolzano was eventually banned from teaching by Austrian authorities. His resultant exile from official academia also prohibited his writings from appearing in mainstream journals. After his years in the proverbial wilderness, Bolzano returned to Prague in 1842, where he remained until his death six years later.

Radically anti-Kantian, though in a distinctly non-Hegelian way, Bolzano was one of the first thinkers to call for a total arithmetization of mathematical analysis that avoided recourse to all intuition or intuitive models or structures. This commitment was evident in his posthumously published Paradoxes of the Infinite (1851), a book which influenced many later mathematicians, including Richard Dedekind and Georg Cantor. Bolzano’s most lasting claim to posterity was made in his four volume Wissenschaftslehre (1837), a work marked by Fichtean ambition and which sought to develop a complete doctrine of science akin to a mathesis universalis in a Leibnizian vein. Consistent with his position regarding mathematics was Bolzano’s insistence that subjective confirmation was no substitute for demonstrable justification when it came to the development of science. His supreme anti-psychologism accounts for the range of his impact at the turn of the twentieth century, when psychologism was the common bête noire for both logicism and phenomenology. Though his project was found ultimately lacking in its failure to provide an ontological basis for science, Bolzano received a positive assessment in Jean Cavaillès’s Sur la logique et la théorie de la science (1946), a work which influenced many contributors to the Cahiers pour l’Analyse. François Regnault takes Cavaillès’s assessment as his point of departure for his own investigation of the implications of Bolzano’s project for epistemology in one of the key articles of the journal, volume nine’s ‘Dialectique d’épistémologies’.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

François Regnault, ‘Dialectique d’épistémologies’, CpA 9.4 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

  • Paradoxes of the Infinite, ed. Donald A. Steele. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950.
  • The Mathematical Works of Bernard Bolzano, ed. Steve Russ. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.