Mathematical surrealism as an alternative to easy-road fictionalism

Philosophical Studies 177 (10):2815-2835 (2020)
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Easy-road mathematical fictionalists grant for the sake of argument that quantification over mathematical entities is indispensable to some of our best scientific theories and explanations. Even so they maintain we can accept those theories and explanations, without believing their mathematical components, provided we believe the concrete world is intrinsically as it needs to be for those components to be true. Those I refer to as “mathematical surrealists” by contrast appeal to facts about the intrinsic character of the concrete world, not to explain why our best mathematically imbued scientific theories and explanations are acceptable in spite of having false components, but in order to replace those theories and explanations with parasitic, nominalistically acceptable alternatives. I argue that easy-road fictionalism is viable only if mathematical surrealism is and that the latter constitutes a superior nominalist strategy. Two advantages of mathematical surrealism are that it neither begs the question concerning the explanatory role of mathematics in science nor requires rejecting the cogency of inference to the best explanation.
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Archival date: 2021-02-26
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