Professor G.S. Boolos, noted logician, 55


Professor George S. Boolos of the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, president of the Association for Symbolic Logic, died May 27 at his home in Cambridge at the age of 55, surrounded by his family, friends, colleagues and students. The cause of death was cancer of the pancreas.

A prominent logician and philosopher, Professor Boolos was internationally known as one of the originators of provability logic. He was a leading authority on the work of the 19th-century German mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege, widely regarded as the founder of modern logic. Professor Boolos's work contributed to an important and ongoing reevaluation of the significance of Frege's philosophical and technical achievements, especially his attempt to show that the basic laws of arithmetic are themselves principles of logic.

"George Boolos was regarded as one of the greatest philosophical logicians of his generation," said Professor Philip S. Khoury, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Science and a professor of history. "He had a deep loyalty to MIT and to its outstanding philosophy doctoral program, of which he was the first graduate."

Professor Joshua Cohen, a colleague in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, said Professor Boolos "was not only an innovator, but also an outstandingly effective teacher, both in the classroom and through the remarkable clarity and wit of his expositions, which included a precise and accurate account of Kurt Godel's famous Incompleteness Theorem, expressed entirely in words of one syllable."

Professor Boolos had been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for 1996 to complete a book on Frege, and he had been recently appointed Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy at MIT. He was the author of The Logic of Provability and, with Richard C. Jeffrey, Computability and Logic, one of the most widely used textbooks in intermediate logic. He was also an expert on puzzles of all kinds, ranging from crossword puzzles to Rubik's Cube. In 1993, he qualified for the London Regional Final of the London Times crossword puzzle competition, where his score was one of the highest ever recorded by an American.

Born in New York City, Professor Boolos graduated from Princeton in 1961 with a Bachelor's degree in mathematics. As a Fulbright Scholar, he attended Oxford where he earned a BPhil (1963). His PhD in philosophy (1966) was the first ever given at MIT. He taught at Columbia University for three years before returning to MIT in 1969.

He is survived by his mother, Mrs. Stephen Boolos of New York City; his wife, the philosopher Sally Sedgwick of Dartmouth College; and a son by a previous marriage, Peter D. Boolos.

Memorial contributions may be made to MIT and earmarked for the George Boolos Memorial Scholarship Fund.

A memorial service will be held at MIT at a date to be announced.

Other obituaries

Word has been received of the May 3 death of Methyl Walker, 88, of Pleasanton, CA. Mrs. Walker was a support staff member at Lincoln Laboratory from 1960 until her retirement in 1973. Survivors include her son, Stephen Walker of Pleasanton.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 5, 1996.


Topics: Obituaries

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