Arnošt Kolman’s Critique of Mathematical Fetishism

In Radek Schuster (ed.), The Vienna Circle in Czechoslovakia. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. pp. 135-150 (2020)
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Arnošt Kolman (1892–1979) was a Czech mathematician, philosopher and Communist official. In this paper, we would like to look at Kolman’s arguments against logical positivism which revolve around the notion of the fetishization of mathematics. Kolman derives his notion of fetishism from Marx’s conception of commodity fetishism. Kolman is aiming to show the fact that an entity (system, structure, logical construction) acquires besides its real existence another formal existence. Fetishism means the fantastic detachment of the physical characteristics of real things or phenomena from these things. We identify Kolman’s two main arguments against logical positivism. In the first argument, Kolman applied Lenin’s arguments against Mach’s empiricism-criticism onto Russell’s neutral monism, i.e. mathematical fetishism is internally related to political conservativism. Kolman’s second main argument is that logical and mathematical fetishes are epistemologically deprived of any historical and dynamic dimension. In the final parts of our paper we place Kolman’s thinking into the context of his time, and furthermore we identify some tenets of mathematical fetishism appearing in Alain Badiou’s mathematical ontology today.
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