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More on Shatunovsky, Kagan, and Yanovskaya

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Submitted by Richard Zach on Sat, 12/13/2014 - 5:51am

In response to my post about "lesser known Russian/Soviet logicians", Lev Beklemishev commented:

Dirk van Dalen was interested in Shatunovsky's work and at his request I procured a copy of his book on the development of algebra on the basis of what can be called rudimentary constructivist ideas. This was, of course, pre-Brouwerian, and the ideas of Shatunovsky were perhaps more in line with Kronecker's. In any case, this was interesting to see, but it never came to a publication on it with Dirk.

Yanovskaya was his most well-known student, and she was well-respected among the mathematical logicians in Moscow, for whom she effectively provided some sort of ideological cover in the later years. She worked at the department of mathematics at MSU and is well-remembered there.

A good informative article on Shatunovsky is his obituary written by Chebotarev and published, I think, in Uspekhi matematicheskih nauk [link].

By email, Mark van Atten wrote:

A marginal note: There was a brief epistolary exchange between Kagan and Brouwer. They had been put in contact by Mrs Ehrenfest-Afanassjewa. Kagan's letter to Brouwer of June 22, 1922 can be found in The Selected Correspondence of L.E.J. Brouwer (ed. Van Dalen, Springer 2011), pp. 290-291. In that letter Kagan also mentions Schatunowsky (as he, writing in German, spells it) and the latter's work on the development of algebra without the excluded middle.

The date as given by Van Dalen there is 1925. The online-edition of the correspondence at, which contains all of Brouwer's remaining correspondence (but untranslated), contains that letter twice, once dated 1922, once 1925. 1922 seems to me to be correct as Ehrenfest-Afanassjewa's request to Brouwer to send some material to Kagan was made in that year.

That online edition also includes a short second letter from Kagan, dated Feburay 8, 1925 (on Alexandrov and Urysohn, but without specifically scientific content).

The online edition mentions Shatunovsky once more, in a letter from Alexandrov to Brouwer of March 15, 1927. Commenting on a paragraph in a letter from Brouwer to him, apparently lost, of December 27 [1926], Alexandrov writes: `Im Absatz 8 äussern Sie mir Ihre Meinung über den unsinnigen Artikel von Schatunowski. Da diese Meinung im Stillen auch immer die meinige war, sah ich keinen Grund mich irgendwie dazu zu äussern, und habe mich begnügt, dieselbe an Frau Ehrenfest zur gefälligste Kenntnisnahme mitzuteilen.'

Alas, the online edition contains no mention of Schönfinkel.

Lev responded:

This is an interesting exchange. Is there a way to find out which paper of Shatunovsky was mentioned by Brouwer and Alexandroff as non-sensical? In any case, this assessment could actually be true. From a rather superficial reading of his long work I got the impression that it was a specific way of presenting rather ordinary algebra, without anything revolutionary, accompanied by an introduction stating some philosophical pre-constructivist motivations. The case for doing all this was not a very strong one. But it could well be that they mention some other work that could be either more or less non-sensical that this.

By the way, Kagan was the grandfather of Yakov Sinai, this year's Abel laureate.  I have just watched his interview where he told some story about his grandfather and his friend Shatunovsky from their time in Odessa. Apparently he knows a lot about their lives! These coincidences are quite curious...

Mark responded to Lev's question:

The edition of Brouwer's correspondence does not carry an annotation on this point, unfortunately. Perhaps an educated guess can be made from a full bibliography. Is there one?

The interview Lev mentioned is on youtube. It's in Russian, and Google Translate didn't do a very good job on the transcript, probably because of missing punctuation. I'm attaching it here in case someone wants to play with it.

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Submitted by Richard Zach on Sat, 12/13/2014 - 6:07am

No idea why the comment button is at the top of the page for this post....