Du Châtelet on the Need for Mathematics in Physics

Philosophy of Science 88 (5):1137-1148 (2021)
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There is a tension in Emilie Du Châtelet’s thought on mathematics. The objects of mathematics are ideal or fictional entities; nevertheless, mathematics is presented as indispensable for an account of the physical world. After outlining Du Châtelet’s position, and showing how she departs from Christian Wolff’s pessimism about Newtonian mathematical physics, I show that the tension in her position is only apparent. Du Châtelet has a worked-out defense of the explanatory and epistemic need for mathematical objects, consistent with their metaphysical nonfundamentality. I conclude by sketching how Du Châtelet’s conception of mathematical indispensability differs interestingly from many contemporary approaches.
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First archival date: 2021-01-18
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