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Russell's 1903 - 1905 Anticipation of the Lambda Calculus

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It is well known that the circumflex notation used by Russell and Whitehead to form complex function names in Principia Mathematica played a role in inspiring Alonzo Church's 'Lambda Calculus' for functional logic developed in the 1920s and 1930s. Interestingly, earlier unpublished manuscripts written by Russell between 1903 and 1905--surely unknown to Church--contain a more extensive anticipation of the essential details of the Lambda Calculus. Russell also anticipated Schönfinkel's Combinatory Logic approach of treating multi-argument functions as functions having other functions as value. Russell's work in this regard seems to have been largely inspired by Frege's theory of functions and 'value-ranges'. This system was discarded by Russell due to his abandonment of propositional functions as genuine entities as part of a new tack for solving Russell's paradox. In this article, I explore the genesis and demise of Russell's early anticipation of the Lambda Calculus.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2003

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