The Principles of Mathematics (1903)

§ 8

We can now understand why the constants in mathematics are to be restricted to logical constants in the sense defined above. The process of transforming constants in a proposition into variables leads to what is called generalization, and gives us, as it were, the formal essence of a proposition. Mathematics is interested exclusively in types of propositions; if a proposition p containing only constants be proposed, and for a certain one of its terms we imagine others to be successively substituted, the result will in general be sometimes true and sometimes false. Thus, for example, we have Socrates is a man; here we turn Socrates into a variable, and consider x is a man. Some hypotheses as to x, for example, x is a Greek, insure the truth of x is a man; thus x is a Greek implies x is a man, and this holds for all values of x. But the statement is not one of pure mathematics, because it depends upon the particular nature of Greek and man. We may, however, vary these too, and obtain: If a and b are classes, and a is contained within b, then x is an a implies x is a b. Here at last we have a proposition of pure mathematics, containing three variables and the constants class, contained in, and those involved in the notion of formal implications with variables. So long as any term in our proposition can be turned into a variable, our proposition can be generalized; and so long as this is possible, it is the business of mathematics to do it. If there are several chains of deductions which differ only as to the meaning of the symbols, so that propositions symbolically identical become capable of several interpretations, the proper course, mathematically, is to form the class of meanings which may attach to the symbols, and to assert that the formula in question follows from the hypothesis that the symbols belong to the class in question. In this way, symbols which stood for constants become transformed into variables, and new constants are substituted, consisting of classes to which the old constants belong. Cases of such generalization are so frequent that many will occur at once to every mathematician, and innumerable instances will be given in the present work. Whenever two sets of terms have mutual relations of the same type, the same form of deduction will apply to both. For example, the mutual relations of points in a Euclidean plane are of the same type as those of the complex numbers; hence plane geometry, considered as a branch of pure mathematics, ought not to decide whether its variables are points or complex numbers or some other set of entities having the same type of mutual relations. Speaking generally, we ought to deal, in every branch of mathematics, with any class of entities whose mutual relations are of a specified type; thus the class, as well as the particular term considered, becomes a variable, and the only true constants are the types of relations and what they involve. Now a type of relation is to mean, in this discussion, a class of relations characterized by the above formal identity of the deductions possible in regard to the various members of the class; and hence a type of relations, as will appear more fully hereafter, if not already evident, is always a class definable in terms of logical constants[3]. We may therefore define a type of relations as a class of relations defined by some property definable in terms of logical constants alone.(§ 8 ¶ 1)

§ 8 n. 1. One-one, many-one, transitive, symmetrical, are instances of types of relations with which we shall be often concerned.