Quine, Putnam, and the ‘Quine–Putnam’ Indispensability Argument

Erkenntnis 68 (1):113 - 127 (2008)
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Much recent discussion in the philosophy of mathematics has concerned the indispensability argument—an argument which aims to establish the existence of abstract mathematical objects through appealing to the role that mathematics plays in empirical science. The indispensability argument is standardly attributed to W. V. Quine and Hilary Putnam. In this paper, I show that this attribution is mistaken. Quine's argument for the existence of abstract mathematical objects differs from the argument which many philosophers of mathematics ascribe to him. Contrary to appearances, Putnam did not argue for the existence of abstract mathematical objects at all. I close by suggesting that attention to Quine and Putnam's writings reveals some neglected arguments for platonism which may be superior to the indispensability argument.

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David Liggins
University of Manchester


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