Mathematics as a science of non-abstract reality: Aristotelian realist philosophies of mathematics

Foundations of Science 27 (2):327-344 (2022)
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There is a wide range of realist but non-Platonist philosophies of mathematics—naturalist or Aristotelian realisms. Held by Aristotle and Mill, they played little part in twentieth century philosophy of mathematics but have been revived recently. They assimilate mathematics to the rest of science. They hold that mathematics is the science of X, where X is some observable feature of the (physical or other non-abstract) world. Choices for X include quantity, structure, pattern, complexity, relations. The article lays out and compares these options, including their accounts of what X is, the examples supporting each theory, and the reasons for identifying the science of X with (most or all of) mathematics. Some comparison of the options is undertaken, but the main aim is to display the spectrum of viable alternatives to Platonism and nominalism. It is explained how these views answer Frege’s widely accepted argument that arithmetic cannot be about real features of the physical world, and arguments that such mathematical objects as large infinities and perfect geometrical figures cannot be physically realized.

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James Franklin
University of New South Wales


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