Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2022), News, Volume 30

By Jacek J. Jadacki and Eoin Kinsella

On 13 November 1946, Minister for Finance Frank Aiken asked the Dáil to sanction an additional grant of £1,000 to the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) to fund temporary professorships—a highly unusual move for what was a learned society, not an academic institution for teaching or research. As Aiken explained:

‘The new professorships in the academy are intended for certain distinguished foreign scholars who, for reasons arising out of the altered conditions on the Continent of Europe, are unable for the time being to resume their careers in their home countries’.

Just three academics ever benefited from the scheme. Professor Jan Łukasiewicz, a renowned Polish logician and philosopher, was the first.

Born in Lvov in 1878, Jan Łukasiewicz studied philosophy and mathematics at the University of Lvov, where he proved to be an exceptional scholar. In 1915 he embarked on an academic career at the University of Warsaw, briefly interrupted in 1919 by a short stint in politics, when he served as minister for public education in Poland’s first independent government. Mentored by Prof. Kazimierz Twardowski, Łukasiewicz became a prominent member of the famous Lvov–Warsaw School of Philosophy, producing ground-breaking work in the philosophy of logic and its history, as well as in mathematics.
Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 brought normal life in Poland—and, indeed, Europe—to an end. After five extremely difficult years, and with the Soviet army advancing on Warsaw, Łukasiewicz and his wife Regina abandoned the city in 1944, finding themselves in Brussels in February 1946. With a return to Poland impossible, Łukasiewicz was presented with an unexpected opportunity by an unlikely source—a Polish-speaking Irishman in the uniform of a Polish officer. Łukasiewicz was urged to move to Ireland, where he was told the government would welcome displaced distinguished scholars.

Accompanied by Regina, Łukasiewicz arrived in Dublin in early March 1946 and settled at 57 Fitzwilliam Square. During their first few months in Dublin, they were supported by the Irish Red Cross and the generosity of a London-based friend, Aubron Herbert. Rumours of the Irish government’s interest in attracting displaced academics proved true; just days after his arrival, Łukasiewicz met Joseph Walshe, secretary of the Department of External Affairs, who in turn briefed Taoiseach Eamon de Valera. By midsummer de Valera had personally interviewed the Polish logician and arranged for an academic position:

‘In July, I received a summons to appear in the Taoiseach’s office. I went with my wife and we were both received by Mr De Valera very kindly. We talked about mathematics because he himself was once a mathematics teacher. He told me that he would take care of my fate and he kept his word.’

On 18 September 1946 the RIA appointed Łukasiewicz as professor of mathematical logic—prompting Aiken’s appearance in the Dáil to rubber-stamp the financial commitment. As he continued his work at the Academy, Łukasiewicz’s renown spread. Guest lectures at University College Dublin in 1949 as well as at Queen’s University, Belfast, in 1950 and 1952 made a lasting impact. Alan Turing’s influence prompted an invitation to the Victoria University of Manchester in 1950; the English mathematician and computer scientist wanted to discuss the application of some of Łukasiewicz’s theories to his own work.

Above: Jan and Regina Łukasiewicz shortly after their arrival in Dublin in 1946. (Irish Press, 19 November 1946/Irish Newspaper Archive)

During the decade in which he lived and worked in Dublin, Łukasiewicz was able to reconstruct and publish work that had been destroyed in Warsaw between 1939 and 1944, and to conduct new research in the field of symbolic logic. In 1951 he completed his signature work, a monograph titled Aristotle’s Syllogistic from the standpoint of modern formal logic. In recognition of his academic achievements, on 5 July 1955 Łukasiewicz received an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin. He died less than a year later, on 13 February 1956, after a lengthy illness and was buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, with Eamon de Valera among the mourners.

The brilliance of Jan Łukasiewicz’s academic work continues to resonate to this day. Perhaps his most lasting legacy was the discovery and development of many-valued logic—the acceptance of ‘intermediate’ values between truth and falsity. His mathematical work in propositional calculus proved to be a crucial element in the development of computer science. Indeed, for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s the computer science building on UCD’s Belfield campus bore Łukasiewicz’s name. It was one of the few reminders of his short yet brilliant career in Ireland.

An exhibition on Professor Łukasiewicz’s life and achievements, produced by the Embassy of Poland in Dublin, will be presented at the RIA, Dawson Street, at the end of 2022.

Jacek J. Jadacki is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Warsaw; consultant historian Eoin Kinsella’s book on the Irish Defence Forces will be published later in 2022 by Four Courts Press.


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