Hilbert's sixth problem: Between the foundations of geometry and the axiomatization of physics

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The sixth of Hilbert's famous 1900 list of 23 problems was a programmatic call for the axiomatization of the physical sciences. It was naturally and organically rooted at the core of Hilbert's conception of what axiomatization is all about. In fact, the axiomatic method which he applied at the turn of the twentieth century in his famous work on the foundations of geometry originated in a preoccupation with foundational questions related with empirical science in general. Indeed, far from a purely formal conception, Hilbert counted geometry among the sciences with strong empirical content, closely related to other branches of physics and deserving a treatment similar to that reserved for the latter. In this treatment, the axiomatization project was meant to play, in his view, a crucial role. Curiously, and contrary to a once-prevalent view, from all the problems in the list, the sixth is the only one that continually engaged Hilbet's efforts over a very long period of time, at least between 1894 and 1932. This article is part of the theme issue 'Hilbert's sixth problem'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0221
JournalPhilosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences
Issue number2118
StatePublished - 28 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


  • Axiomatization
  • David Hilbert
  • Physics


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