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Ianovskaia, Sof'ia Aleksandrovna

(1896–1966), Soviet mathematician who specialized in logic and the history of mathematics. Ianovskaia was born Sof’ia Neimark in Pruzhany, now Belarus, the daughter of an accountant. She grew up in Odessa and attended a classical gymnasium. During the revolution, she was a student at the Odessa Higher Women’s Courses. Ianovskaia joined the Bolsheviks and served as a political commissar during the Civil War. Captured by the Whites, she faced a firing squad but survived.

Ianovskaia worked for the Odessa regional committee of the Communist Party, moving to Moscow in 1924 to resume mathematical studies at the Institute for Red Professors; while there, she led seminars on the methodology of science and mathematics at Moscow State University. The seminars brought her into contact with prominent Soviet mathematicians, and in 1926, though still a student, she was asked to teach in Moscow State University’s mathematics department, where she remained for the rest of her life. She was appointed as a professor in 1931, though she did not receive her doctorate for another four years. In 1936, she started teaching mathematical logic, a controversial field in the Soviet Union as her approach did not derive from Marxist dialectical materialism. In 1943, she became director of a seminar on mathematical logic, and in 1946 started teaching formal logic within the philosophy department. She received the order of Lenin, the highest civilian honor in the USSR, in 1951, and eight years later held the university’s first chair in mathematical logic. At her death in 1966, she was still an active scholar.

Like many Soviet scholars of her generation, Ianovskaia was a complex and somewhat contradictory figure. A party member all her adult life, she contributed abundantly and apparently sincerely to Soviet polemics against “bourgeois idealism.” In the period immediately after World War II, Ianovskaia supported the official line—an anti-Western blend of communism and Russian nationalism—and expressed this in her book Peredovye idei N.I. Lobachevskogo—orudie bor’by protiv idealizma v matematike (The Progressive Ideas of Lobachevsky As a Weapon in the Struggle against Idealism in Mathematics; 1950).. At the same time, she argued forcefully for ideological neutrality and for the acceptance of mathematical logic as a discipline within mathematics. This approach carried risks: as editor of the 1950 Russian translation of Hilbert and Ackermann’s Principles of Mathematical Logic, she had to defend herself against ideological attacks.

Further afield, Ianovskaia was the first to publish and analyze Marx’s writings on mathematical analysis, initially in 1933, then in more complete form in 1968. Her work proved to be of great help to Chinese mathematicians during the Cultural Revolution, when mathematics in general was suspect as too far removed from the people. In 1935, when the unemployed and impoverished Ludwig Wittgenstein visited the Soviet Union with the vague notion of staying there, Ianovskaia, who was his official curator in Moscow, dissuaded him.

While Ianovskaia did not conduct original technical work, both her writing and teaching contributed significantly to the study of mathematical logic and the history of mathematics in the Soviet Union.

Suggested Reading

Irving H. Annelis, “The Heritage of S.A. Janovskaja,” History and Philosophy of Logic 8.1 (1987): 45–56; Joseph Dauben, “Mathematics, Ideology, and the Politics of Infinitesimals: Mathematical Logic and Nonstandard Analysis in Modern China,” History and Philosophy of Logic 24.4 (2003): 327–363; Boris Vladimirovich Biriukov and L. G. Biriukova, “Liudvig Vitgenshtein i Sof’ia Aleksandrovna Ianovskaia: ‘Kembridzhskii genii’ znakomitsia s sovetskimi matematikami 30-x godov,” in Trudnye vremena filosofii: Otechestvennaia istoricheskaia, filosofskaia i logicheskaia mysl’ v predvoennye, voennye i pervye poslevoennye gody, pp. 202–244 (Moscow, 2005).