Structuralism and Its Ontology

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Abstract
A prominent version of mathematical structuralism holds that mathematical objects are at bottom nothing but "positions in structures," purely relational entities without any sort of nature independent of the structure to which they belong. Such an ontology is often presented as a response to Benacerraf's "multiple reductions" problem, or motivated on hermeneutic grounds, as a faithful representation of the discourse and practice of mathematics. In this paper I argue that there are serious difficulties with this kind of view: its proponents rely on a distinction between "essential" and "nonessential" features of mathematical objects, and there's no good way to articulate this distinction which is compatible with basic structuralist commitments. But all is not lost. For I further argue that the insights motivating structuralism (or at least those worth preserving) can be preserved without formulating the view in ontologically committal terms.
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2015
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First archival date: 2014-09-15
Latest version: 2 (2015-06-22)
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2014-09-15

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