This essay follows the influence of axiomatic thinking on American intellectual thought at midcentury. I demonstrate how in the postwar period axiomatic analysis moved from mathematics into the social sciences and in the process redefined the meaning of theoretical knowledge. Axiomatics fostered a belief that theories do not emerge from first principles and that analytic coherence precedes empirical verification. It emphasized structural analysis and propagated the ideal of an economy of thought. Most fundamentally, it helped define what a social scientific theory is. By the 1970s the association between axiomatics and theoretical knowledge was so strong that it was also evident in the work of architects and designers.
The Axiom of High Modernism
Alma Steingart is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Columbia University. Her book Pure Abstraction: Mathematical Thought and High Modernism is forthcoming with the University of Chicago Press.
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Alma Steingart; The Axiom of High Modernism. Representations 1 November 2021; 156 (1): 115–142. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2021.156.5.115
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