Philosopher and Logician, Grisha Mints, in Memoriam
With great sadness, the Stanford Philosophy Department notes the passing of our friend and beloved colleague Grigori (“Grisha”) Mints, who died at Stanford on Thursday, May 29th, just shy of his 75th birthday.
Mints was born on June 7, 1939 in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was a student of Nikolai Shanin and obtained his degrees in Mathematics from the Leningrad State University (the B.A. and M.S. in 1961, the Ph.D. in 1965, and the Sc.D. in 1990). He held research positions at the Steklov Mathematics Institute, the Leningrad University, and the Estonian Academy of Sciences before his appointment as Professor of Philosophy at Stanford in 1991. He was also appointed Professor by Courtesy in our sister departments of Mathematics and Computer Science, and he maintained an active program of teaching, research, travel, and scholarly interaction right up to the time of his death. In recent years, his contributions have been recognized by election to the Estonian Academy of Sciences (2008) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2010). He is survived by his wife, Marianna Rozenfeld, daughter Anna Reznikova, grandson Alexandre Reznikov, and great-granddaughter Viktoria Reznikova.
Mints was one of the most distinguished logicians in the world. His broad ranging work included important contributions to the development of non-classical logics, intuitionistic logic, modal logic, automated deduction, and constructive mathematics, but he is perhaps best known for his contributions to proof theory, one of the four main subdivisions of modern mathematical logic. Already in the 1920s, David Hilbert proposed the so-called “epsilon substitution method” for carrying out the rigorous theory of proofs, and following Tait’s important contributions in the 1960s, Mints became known as a leading exponent of this method, almost single-handedly leading the way over a long period in efforts to develop the method and expand its range of application. In pursuit of his varied research program, Mints published three books, ten edited volumes, hundreds of scholarly papers, and literally thousands of reviews, by means of which he also maintained his international intellectual connections through sometimes difficult years working in the Soviet Union. His active research program only accelerated after his arrival at Stanford, where he was a mainstay and fixture of our logic group for nearly twenty-five years, leaving his indelible mark on generations of students and colleagues. He worked tirelessly to bridge the different logical worlds in which he worked, particularly the traditions of work from the former Soviet Union and those of his Western collaborators. All of us will fondly remember his constant striving to bring colleagues and collaborators as well as new students into contact with the Stanford logic group, thereby opening up the world of logic to new minds.
Grisha combined great intellectual intensity and seemingly boundless energy with a captivating sense of fun and a gift for illuminating historical analogies and connections. All of us will miss his ready, twinkling smile in the Department Lounge and his energetic presence in department life. His passing is a great intellectual loss to our community, as well as a personal one that will be felt by all his colleagues and students at Stanford. A public memorial event for Stanford colleagues is planned for the Fall.
The following testimonials are among those that have come to the department from Grisha’s students, colleagues, and friends:
“As a student of Professor Nikolay Shanin in the 1960's, Grisha was involved in early work on automated reasoning, and later on he made other important contributions to computational logic. But his true calling was to study formal proofs in the spirit of pure mathematics in the best sense of the word: the main project of Grisha's professional life was to develop a clear, complete understanding of properties of proofs, so that any possible question about them will be easy to answer.”
— Vladimir Lifschitz
Gottesman Family Centennial Professor in Computer Sciences
University of Texas
“Grisha was a firm but caring supervisor for me. Everyone I know looked up to him as a giant of the field. His knowledge and insights were unparalleled. I'm proud to say that I'm a student of Grisha. He gave me deep insights that were won through his own decades of experience working at the core of proof theory, foundations of mathematics, and automated theorem proving, and at the highest levels of quality.”
— Jesse Alama, Stanford Phil ’09
Postdoctoral researcher, Technical University of Vienna
“Grisha Mints combined a towering intellect and deep understanding of logic and mathematics, with a kind, lighthearted demeanor and generous nature. I always felt I could drop in to Grisha's office at any time, whether to discuss some topic or problem in logic, or quite often, 19th/20th century Russian literature and history. He always had a smile on his face, made anyone feel at ease — even when discussing technical issues in logic — and always had a (distinctively Russian) joke for every occasion. He will be greatly missed.”
— Thomas Icard, Stanford Phil ’14
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University
“Grisha Mints cared passionately about logic and its connections with mathematics and other fields. At the same time, he cared for his students, and gave them superb training combined with a unique international experience where the Russian language and its literary and political features shone through the English. Personally, I recall many encounters with Grisha, from shared interests in modal logic and his constant support of our logic outreach workshops to discussions of many things Russian, often on joint hikes to the parks above the Bay Area. The gap that Grisha Mints leaves in the department is clear for everyone to see, the gap that his passing leaves in the personal lives of colleagues and family wil be felt acutely for a long time to come.”
— Johan van Benthem
Henry Waldgrave Stuart Professor of Philosophy, Stanford U.
University Professor of Logic, University of Amsterdam
Weilun Visiting Professor, Tsinghua University, Beijing
"Grisha was something like the grandfather I never had. From the time I arrived at Stanford, he exhibited great warmth both personally and intellectually. His graduate seminars and subsequent encouragement have helped me grow tremendously as a researcher. His activity in the research seminar in logic and foundations of mathematics as well as his open-door policy set a tremendous model that I hope to follow in my own academic career. His ability to combine deep mathematical insight with a care for the larger political and social world always shone through in his characteristic humor. A favorite of mine: in an advanced proof theory seminar, Grisha paused before proving a theorem and said, 'If George Bush had known this proof, we never would have gone to Iraq.'
I was with Grisha in Russia during his last trip where he both organized and participated in a conference at the intersection of philosophy, mathematics, and linguistics. Although his sudden departure has left a hole in many that can never be filled, let us at least take solace in the fact that Grisha remained as active, kind, sharp, witty, and vibrant as ever until his last days."
— Shane Steinert-Threlkeld
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Philosophy
"Grisha was a force in logic, especially in proof theory. His early work centered on systems for automated theorem proving, where he contributed significantly to the development of Maslov's inverse method, resolution, and the relation between the two. He made major contributions to general proof theory, non-classical logics, constructive mathematics, program verification, and proof mining. He was the leading expert on Hilbert's epsilon calculus and the substitution method approach to the proof theory of strong subsystems of arithmetic. In addition to over 200 papers, he wrote two introductory books on modal and intuitionistic logic, and some of the early papers from his days in the Soviet Union were collected in his Selected Papers in Proof Theory.
I'm grateful to have had many beautiful interactions with Grisha over the years. The logicians at the TU Vienna had close contacts with Tallinn in the late 80's and early 90's, and I had the good fortune to meet Grisha then. While at Berkeley and Stanford, I attended a couple of his classes. He was a demanding teacher, but I learned a lot. I often visited before I taught at Stanford, and a few times since I've left. Whenever I did, he would ask me what I was working on, and he'd acknowledge what I'd said with a smile and a sideways nod and "um-hmm." Often he would then tell me about some obscure, usually Soviet-era, book or paper that addressed all the problems and questions I had. Then came the part where he'd tell me about his current work, and I would struggle to keep up. I'll always fondly remember those visits. He was a wonderful, generous teacher and colleague."
— Richard Zach
Professor, University of Calgary, Department of Philosophy
Lecturer at Stanford, 2001
A technical paper from Dana Scott and Harvey Lederman (April 2015)
"In October of 2009 at Stanford University, the late Grigori “Grisha” Mints asked the senior author whether a naive set theory could be consistent using [the] Comprehension Principle."
Remarks at the 6 Feb 2015 Memorial Service at Stanford University for Grisha Mints
Welcome and Opening Remarks, Professor R. Lanier Anderson