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After receiving the infamous letter from Bertrand Russell, Gottlob Frege allegedly had a mental breakdown and had to be hospitalized.

I've seen various informal references to this, such as:

Is there a more formal detailed description of this hospitalization?

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    $\begingroup$ The WP article on Frege describes his reaction to Russell's letter quoting Frege's hastily prepared appendix to the second volume: "Hardly anything more unfortunate can befall a scientific writer than to have one of the foundations of his edifice shaken after the work is finished. This was the position I was placed in by a letter of Mr. Bertrand Russell, just when the printing of this volume was nearing its completion." The entries for Frege on SEP and MacTutor also make no mention of hospitalization. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps you should ask Jeffrey Kaplan and haloboy777 for their references. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ That appears to be a "NO". Frege replied to Russell posthaste. From Frege's reply :" [...] Your discovery of the contradiction caused me the greatest surprise and, I would almost say, consternation, since it has shaken the basis on which I intended to build arithmetic. [...] The second volume of my Grundgesetze is to appear shortly. I shall no doubt have to add an appendix in which your discovery is taken into account. [...]" $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 4:51
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    $\begingroup$ The scan I linked in my previous comment is apparently excerpted from: Jean Van Heijenoort, From Frege to Gödel: a source book in mathematical logic, 1879-1931. Harvard University Press 1967. Based on Frege's reply a mental breakdown seems unlikely, even more so hospitalization. $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 5:08
  • $\begingroup$ @njuffa, perhaps I should ask this on Skeptics.SE. (Initially I hadn't realized that it might not be true (I simply wanted more details) so that didn't occur to me then.) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 13:23

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I am almost sure that this is a fiction added for dramatic purposes. First, neither Monk (who writes specifically about this episode and who has a certain flair for the dramatic, and so would presumably include this episode in his account if it were true) nor Dale Jacquette mentions anything of the sort in their accounts of Frege's response to Russell's paradox (incidentally, I do not recommend this biography---cf. this accurate assessment by Peter Smith). Indeed, Dummett even goes out of his way to say that Frege was initially not taken aback by the revelation: "Frege's initial reaction, as shown in his first reply to Russell, was consternation. By his second letter, he had recovered his composure" (Frege: Philosophy of Language, p. xl). In short, there is no evidence for this reaction and plenty of evidence suggesting the opposite.

That is not to say that Frege did not have his share of problems, but they seemed to be caused by personal matters, such as the death of his wife and the difficulty in raising their son alone. Bynum, in his introduction to his edition of the Begriffsschrift, takes this line:

During the decade following the publication of Basic Laws Arithmetic II Frege led a rather unhappy life. There is a widespread myth that Russell's Paradox had left him a disappointed and broken man; but actually, at least until 1914, he believed his logistic programme had been carried out successfully. The problem was rather that his health was not good, and in 1905 death claimed his wife, leaving him to raise their young adopted son alone. (Conceptual Notation and Related Articles, p. 50)

Bynum also notes that in the next paragraph that "Right up to his retirement from Jena University in 1918, however, Frege remained a keen and active scholar, continuing to work on new applications of his 'conceptual notation' and to study critically the views of others on the foundations of mathematics" (ibid.). Hardly the image of a broken man!

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    $\begingroup$ You can remove the clause "I am almost sure that". $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 7:53

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