Within the context of the Quine–Putnam indispensability argument, one discussion about the status of mathematics is concerned with the ‘Enhanced Indispensability Argument’, which makes explicit in what way mathematics is supposed to be indispensable in science, namely explanatory. If there are genuine mathematical explanations of empirical phenomena, an argument for mathematical platonism could be extracted by using inference to the best explanation. The best explanation of the primeness of the life cycles of Periodical Cicadas is genuinely mathematical, according (...) to Baker :223–238, 2005; Br J Philos Sci 60:611–633, 2009). Furthermore, the result is then also used to strengthen the platonist position :779–793, 2017a). We pick up the circularity problem brought up by Leng Mathematical reasoning, heuristics and the development of mathematics, King’s College Publications, London, pp 167–189, 2005) and Bangu :13–20, 2008). We will argue that Baker’s attempt to solve this problem fails, if Hume’s Principle is analytic. We will also provide the opponent of the Enhanced Indispensability Argument with the so-called ‘interpretability strategy’, which can be used to come up with alternative explanations in case Hume’s Principle is non-analytic. (shrink)
The Enhanced Indispensability Argument appeals to the existence of Mathematical Explanations of Physical Phenomena to justify mathematical Platonism, following the principle of Inference to the Best Explanation. In this paper, I examine one example of a MEPP—the explanation of the 13-year and 17-year life cycle of magicicadas—and argue that this case cannot be used defend the EIA. I then generalize my analysis of the cicada case to other MEPPs, and show that these explanations rely on what I will call (...) ‘optimal representations’, which are representations that capture all that is relevant to explain a physical phenomenon at a specified level of description. In the end, because the role of mathematics in MEPPs is ultimately representational, they cannot be used to support mathematical Platonism. I finish the paper by addressing the claim, advanced by many EIA defendants, that quantification over mathematical objects results in explanations that have more theoretical virtues, especially that they are more general and modally stronger than alternative explanations. I will show that the EIA cannot be successfully defended by appealing to these notions. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
Most set theorists accept AC, and reject AD, i.e. for them, AC is true in the "world of sets", and AD is false. Applying to set theory the above-mentioned formalistic explanation of the existence of quarks, we could say: if, for a long time in the future, set theorists will continue their believing in AC, then one may think of a unique "world of sets" as existing in the same sense as quarks are believed to exist.
It is an under-appreciated fact that Quine's rejection of the analytic/synthetic distinction, when coupled with some other plausible and related views, implies that there are serious difficulties in demarcating empirical theories from pure mathematical theories within the Quinean framework. This is a serious problem because there seems to be a principled difference between the two disciplines that cannot apparently be captured in the orthodox Quienan framework. For the purpose of simplicity let us call this Quine's problem of demarcation. In this (...) paper this problem will be articulated and it will be shown that the typical sorts of responses to this problem are all unworkable within the Quinean framework. It will then be shown that the lack of resources to solve this problem within the Quinean framework implies that Quine’s version of the indispensability argument cannot get off the ground, for it presupposes the possibility of making such a distinction. (shrink)
The predisposition of the Indispensability Argument to objections, rephrasing and versions associated with the various views in philosophy of mathematics grants it a special status of a “blueprint” type rather than a debatable theme in the philosophy of science. From this point of view, it follows that the Argument has more an epistemic character than ontological.
The literature on the indispensability argument for mathematical realism often refers to the ‘indispensable explanatory role’ of mathematics. I argue that we should examine the notion of explanatory indispensability from the point of view of specific conceptions of scientific explanation. The reason is that explanatory indispensability in and of itself turns out to be insufficient for justifying the ontological conclusions at stake. To show this I introduce a distinction between different kinds of explanatory roles—some ‘thick’ and ontologically (...) committing, others ‘thin’ and ontologically peripheral—and examine this distinction in relation to some notable ‘ontic’ accounts of explanation. I also discuss the issue in the broader context of other ‘explanationist’ realist arguments. (shrink)
In this note, I discuss David Enoch's influential deliberative indispensability argument for metanormative realism, and contend that the argument fails. In doing so, I uncover an important disanalogy between explanatory indispensabilityarguments and deliberative indispensabilityarguments, one that explains how we could accept the former without accepting the latter.
According to Quine’s indispensability argument, we ought to believe in just those mathematical entities that we quantify over in our best scientific theories. Quine’s criterion of ontological commitment is part of the standard indispensability argument. However, we suggest that a new indispensability argument can be run using Armstrong’s criterion of ontological commitment rather than Quine’s. According to Armstrong’s criterion, ‘to be is to be a truthmaker (or part of one)’. We supplement this criterion with our own brand (...) of metaphysics, 'Aristotelian (...) realism', in order to identify the truthmakers of mathematics. We consider in particular as a case study the indispensability to physics of real analysis (the theory of the real numbers). We conclude that it is possible to run an indispensability argument without Quinean baggage. (shrink)
I examine explanations’ realist commitments in relation to dynamical systems theory. First I rebut an ‘explanatory indispensability argument’ for mathematical realism from the explanatory power of phase spaces (Lyon and Colyvan 2007). Then I critically consider a possible way of strengthening the indispensability argument by reference to attractors in dynamical systems theory. The take-home message is that understanding of the modal character of explanations (in dynamical systems theory) can undermine platonist arguments from explanatory indispensability.
There is a way of talking that would appear to involve ascriptions of purpose, goal directed activity, and intentional states to groups. Cases are familiar enough: classmates intend to vacation in Switzerland, the department is searching for a metaphysician, the Democrats want to minimize losses in the upcoming elections, and the US intends to improve relations with such and such country. But is this talk to be understood just in terms of the attitudes and actions of the individuals involved? Is (...) the talk, to take an overly simple proposal as an example, a mere summary of familiar individual attitudes of the group members? Or is the ascription of attitudes and actions to groups to be taken more literally, as suggesting that the group for example believes that P, or intends to A, over and above what the members individually think and do? In short, are there groups with minds of their own? Philip Pettit has deployed the “discursive dilemma” to defend the thesis that there are such group minds. In what follows, I explore the relationship between the group allegedly with a mind of its own and the individuals it comprises, and I consider just how this relationship must be understood in order to give Pettit’s argument for group minds its best chance for success. As I understand it, the discursive dilemma has to be used in conjunction with what might be called an indispensability argument for group minds. It is useful to distinguish two forms of this argument. The explanatory version of the indispensability argument is, very schematically, as follows: there is a compelling explanatory theory T concerning the social, certain indispensable elements of T entail the group mind thesis, so the group mind thesis is true. Several questions immediately arise: What sort of theory is T? In what sense is it indispensable? Are there other forms of indispensability? I don’t have definitive answers to these questions. But how we settle them will have implications for the interaction and support the discursive dilemma provides the indispensability argument. In particular, using the discursive dilemma to defend what I characterize below as a practical version of the indispensability argument commits us to the rationality of individual participants in a way that the explanatory version of the indispensability argument does not. My point in the first part of the paper is that if Pettit wants to avoid the weaknesses of the explanatory indispensability argument and pursue the practical version, then he owes us a story about the rationality of individual participation in groups. Pettit also owes us a story about the agency an individual exercises as part of a group. If it takes the actions of individuals to execute the intentions of the group, how are we to understand those actions in order for the group to count as having a mind of its own? How must group intentions figure in the practical or deliberative perspective of individuals who execute those intentions? I will argue that the proponent of the group mind thesis must proceed with some care here, because some natural ways of answering these questions will undermine the thesis. But in the end, I think that these questions are interesting independently of whether Pettit is right to think that groups do have minds of their own. That’s because investigating Pettit’s arguments might lead to new ideas about how the rationality and agency of individuals can be exercised, and suggests new ways of understanding how individuals can act together, irrespective of whether the groups they compose ever have minds of their own. (shrink)
According to Ian Hacking’s Entity Realism, unobservable entities that scientists carefully manipulate to study other phenomena are real. Although Hacking presents his case in an intuitive, attractive, and persuasive way, his argument remains elusive. I present five possible readings of Hacking’s argument: a no-miracle argument, an indispensability argument, a transcendental argument, a Vichian argument, and a non-argument. I elucidate Hacking’s argument according to each reading, and review their strengths, their weaknesses, and their compatibility with each other.
During the first half of the twentieth century, many philosophers of memory opposed the postulation of memory traces based on the claim that a satisfactory account of remembering need not include references to causal processes involved in recollection. However, in 1966, an influential paper by Martin and Deutscher showed that causal claims are indeed necessary for a proper account of remembering. This, however, did not settle the issue, as in 1977 Malcolm argued that even if one were to buy Martin (...) and Deutscher’s argument for causal claims, we still don’t need to postulate the existence of memory traces. This paper reconstructs the dialectic between realists and anti-realists about memory traces, suggesting that ultimately realists’ arguments amount to inferences to the best explanation. I then argue that Malcolm’s anti-realist strategy consists in the suggestion that causal explanations that do not invoke memory traces are at least as good as those that do. But then, Malcolm, I argue that there are a large number of memory phenomena for which explanations that do not postulate the existence of memory traces are definitively worse than explanations that do postulate them. Next, I offer a causal model based on an interventionist framework to illustrate when memory traces can help to explain memory phenomena and proceed to substantiate the model with details coming from extant findings in the neuroscience of memory. (shrink)
According to modal realism formulated by David Lewis, there exist concrete possible worlds. As he argues the hypothesis is serviceable and that is a sufficient reason to think it is true. On the other side, Lewis does not consider the pragmatic reasons to be conclusive. He admits that the theoretical benefits of modal realism can be illusory or that the acceptance of controversial ontology for the sake of theoretical benefits might be misguided in the first place. In the first part (...) of the paper, I consider the worry and conclude that although the worry is justified, there can be an epistemological justification for his theory. Next, I outline the so-called indispensability argument for the legitimacy of mathematical Platonism. Finally, I argue that the argument, if accepted, can be applied to metaphysics in general, to the arguing for the existence of concrete (im)possibilia in particular. (shrink)
Virtue theories have lately enjoyed a modest vogue in the study of argumentation, echoing the success of more far-reaching programmes in ethics and epistemology. Virtue theories of argumentation (VTA) comprise several conceptually distinct projects, including the provision of normative foundations for argument evaluation and a renewed focus on the character of good arguers. Perhaps the boldest of these is the pursuit of the fully satisfying argument, the argument that contributes to human flourishing. This project has an independently developed epistemic analogue: (...) eudaimonistic virtue epistemology. Both projects stress the importance of widening the range of cognitive goals beyond, respectively, cogency and knowledge; both projects emphasize social factors, the right sort of community being indispensable for the cultivation of the intellectual virtues necessary to each project. This paper proposes a unification of the two projects by arguing that the intellectual good life sought by eudaimonistic virtue epistemologists is best realized through the articulation of an account of argumentation that contributes to human flourishing. (shrink)
I argue that modal epistemology should pay more attention to questions about the structure and function of modal thought. We can treat these questions from synchronic and diachronic angles. From a synchronic perspective, I consider whether a general argument for the epistemic support of modal though can be made on the basis of modal thoughs’s indispensability for what Enoch and Schechter (2008) call rationally required epistemic projects. After formulating the argument, I defend it from various objections. I also examine (...) the possibility of considering the indispensability of modal thought in terms of its components. Finally, I argue that we also need to approach these issues from a diachronic perspective, and I sketch how to approach this task. (shrink)
In recent years, metaphysics has undergone what some describe as a revolution: it has become standard to understand a vast array of questions as questions about grounding, a metaphysical notion of determination. Why should we believe in grounding, though? Supporters of the revolution often gesture at what I call the Argument from Explanatoriness: the notion of grounding is somehow indispensable to a metaphysical type of explanation. I challenge this argument and along the way develop a “reactionary” view, according to which (...) there is no interesting sense in which the notion of grounding is explanatorily indispensable. I begin with a distinction between two conceptions of grounding, a distinction which extant critiques of the revolution have usually failed to take into consideration: grounding qua that which underlies metaphysical explanation and grounding qua metaphysical explanation itself. Accordingly, I distinguish between two versions of the Argument from Explanatoriness: the Unexplained Explanations Version for the first conception of grounding, and the Expressive Power Version for the second. The paper’s conclusion is that no version of the Argument from Explanatoriness is successful. (shrink)
Some explanations in social science, psychology and biology belong to a higher level than other explanations. And higher explanations possess the virtue of abstracting away from the details of lower explanations, many philosophers argue. As a result, these higher explanations are irreplaceable. And this suggests that there are genuine higher laws or patterns involving social, psychological and biological states. I show that this ‘abstractness argument’ is really an argument schema, not a single argument. This is because the argument uses the (...) ‘is lower than’ relation, and this relation admits of different readings. I then suggest four rigorous definitions of the ‘is lower than’ relation, and show that the abstractness argument’s prospects are much brighter for some of these definitions than for others. To show this, I evaluate the so-called ‘disjunctive threat’ to the abstractness argument. (shrink)
I discuss the structure of genealogical debunking arguments. I argue that they undermine our mathematical beliefs if they undermine our moral beliefs. The contrary appearance stems from a confusion of arithmetic truths with (first-order) logical truths, or from a confusion of reliability with justification. I conclude with a discussion of the cogency of debunking arguments, in light of the above. Their cogency depends on whether information can undermine all of our beliefs of a kind, F, without giving us (...) direct reason to doubt that our F-beliefs are modally secure. (shrink)
‘Performative’ transcendental arguments exploit the status of a subcategory of self-falsifying propositions in showing that some form of skepticism is unsustainable. The aim of this paper is to examine the relationship between performatively inconsistent propositions and transcendental arguments, and then to compare performative transcendental arguments to modest transcendental arguments that seek only to establish the indispensability of some belief or conceptual framework. Reconceptualizing transcendental arguments as performative helps focus the intended dilemma for the skeptic: (...) performative transcendental arguments directly confront the skeptic with the choice of abandoning either skepticism or some other deep theoretical commitment. Many philosophers, from Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas to Jaakko Hintikka, C.I. Lewis, and Bernard Lonergan, have claimed that some skeptical propositions regarding knowledge, reason, and/or morality can be shown to be self-defeating; that is to say, they have claimed that the very upholding of some skeptical position is in some way incompatible with the position being upheld, or with the implied, broader dialectical position of the skeptic in question. Statements or propositions alleged to have this characteristic also sometimes are called ‘self-falsifying,’ ‘self-refuting,’ ‘self-stultifying,’ ‘self-destructive,’ or ‘pointless.’ However, proponents of the strategy of showing skepticism to be self-defeating have not in general adequately distinguished between two types of self-defeating proposition: self-falsifying and self-stultifying. In the first part of this paper I distinguish between self-falsifying and self-stultifying propositions, and introduce the notion of performative self-falsification. In the second part I discuss classical transcendental arguments, ‘modest’ transcendental arguments, and objections to each. In the third part I introduce two types of transcendental argument—each labeled “performative”—corresponding to two types of performatively self-falsifying proposition, and I compare them to modest transcendental arguments. (shrink)
The aim of the present article is to accomplish two things. The first is to show that given some further plausible assumptions, existing challenges to the indispensability of knowledge in causal explanation of action fail. The second is to elaborate an overlooked and distinct argument in favor of the causal efficacy of knowledge. In short, even if knowledge were dispensable in causal explanation of action, it is still indispensable in causal explanation of other mental attitudes and, in particular, some (...) reactive attitudes and factive emotions. Taking into account this sort of causal efficacy in determining which mental states are genuine mental states opens up new perspectives for defending the view that knowledge is the most general factive and genuine mental state. (shrink)
David Miller argues that national identity is indispensable for the successful functioning of a liberal democracy. National identity makes important contributions to liberal democratic institutions, including creating incentives for the fulfilment of civic duties, facilitating deliberative democracy, and consolidating representative democracy. Thus, a shared identity is indispensable for liberal democracy and grounds a good claim for self-determination. Because Miller’s arguments appeal to the instrumental values of a national culture, I call his argument ‘instrumental value’ arguments. In this paper, (...) I examine the instrumental value arguments and show that they fail to justify a group’s right to self-determination. (shrink)
Over the decades, scholarly discourses on sovereignty and globalization have been produced following various theories and numerous debates about the strength and weakness of the sovereign nation-state and globalization. In this paper, the various theories on the discourse of sovereignty and globalization are traced and placed into four categories as: contending paradigm, globalization paradigm, transformation paradigm and complementary paradigm. Both concepts, sovereignty and globalization, are explored by adopting the methodological framework, sources of explanation. The argument is that there is an (...) intricate relationship between these concepts. To determine the relationship between sovereignty and globalization, three world systems were examined and it revealed that, globalization is born of the sovereign nation-state and that globalization can only be assert in the current sovereign world system and not the ones preceding it. The overall conclusion is that globalization emerged as a result of sovereignty and since the discourse of sovereignty and globalization is about the same space and its inhabitants, they are bound to be discursively set against each other if the discourse focusses solely on the phenomena seen as globalization. The forces of globalization and sovereignty need to be further researched into to be able to tell where they are leading us. (shrink)
This essay examines how, in the early twentieth century, ontological arguments were employed in the defense of metaphysical idealism. The idealists of the period tended to grant that ontological arguments defy our usual expectations in logic, and so they were less concerned with the formal properties of Anselmian arguments. They insisted, however, that ontological arguments are indispensable, and they argued that we can trust argumentation as such only if we presume that there is a valid ontological (...) argument. In the first section I outline the history of this metalogical interpretation of the ontological argument. In the subsequent sections I explain how Royce and Collingwood each developed the argument, and how this impacted their respective conceptions of both logic and metaphysics. (shrink)
Proponents of the public goods argument ('PGA') seek to ground the authority of the state on its putative indispensability as a means of providing public goods. But many of the things we take to be public goods – including many of the goods commonly invoked in support of the PGA – are actually what we might term publicized goods. A publicized good is any whose ‘public’ character results only from a policy decision to make some good freely and universally (...) available. This fact poses complications for the PGA, insofar as the set of possible publicized goods is quite extensive indeed. (shrink)
The Quine/Putnam indispensability argument is regarded by many as the chief argument for the existence of platonic objects. We argue that this argument cannot establish what its proponents intend. The form of our argument is simple. Suppose indispensability to science is the only good reason for believing in the existence of platonic objects. Either the dispensability of mathematical objects to science can be demonstrated and, hence, there is no good reason for believing in the existence of platonic objects, (...) or their dispensability cannot be demonstrated and, hence, there is no good reason for believing in the existence of mathematical objects which are genuinely platonic. Therefore, indispensability, whether true or false, does not support platonism. (shrink)
This paper argues that scientific realism commits us to a metaphysical determination relation between the mathematical entities that are indispensible to scientific explanation and the modal structure of the empirical phenomena those entities explain. The argument presupposes that scientific realism commits us to the indispensability argument. The viewpresented here is that the indispensability of mathematics commits us not only to the existence of mathematical structures and entities but to a metaphysical determination relation between those entities and the modal (...) structure of the physical world. The no-miracles argument is the primary motivation for scientific realism. It is a presupposition of this argument that unobservable entities are explanatory only when they determine the empirical phenomena they explain. I argue that mathematical entities should also be seen as explanatory only when they determine the empirical facts they explain, namely, the modal structure of the physical world. Thus, scientific realism commits us to a metaphysical determination relation between mathematics and physical modality that has not been previously recognized. The requirement to account for the metaphysical dependence of modal physical structure on mathematics limits the class of acceptable solutions to the applicability problem that are available to the scientific realist. (shrink)
Some scientific explanations appear to turn on pure mathematical claims. The enhanced indispensability argument appeals to these ‘mathematical explanations’ in support of mathematical platonism. I argue that the success of this argument rests on the claim that mathematical explanations locate pure mathematical facts on which their physical explananda depend, and that any account of mathematical explanation that supports this claim fails to provide an adequate understanding of mathematical explanation.
Numbers without Science opposes the Quine-Putnam indispensability argument, seeking to undermine the argument and reduce its profound influence. Philosophers rely on indispensability to justify mathematical knowledge using only empiricist epistemology. I argue that we need an independent account of our knowledge of mathematics. The indispensability argument, in broad form, consists of two premises. The major premise alleges that we are committed to mathematical objects if science requires them. The minor premise alleges that science in fact requires mathematical (...) objects. The most common rejection of the argument denies its minor premise by introducing scientific theories which do not refer to mathematical objects. Hartry Field has shown how we can reformulate some physical theories without mathematical commitments. I argue that Field’s preference for intrinsic explanation, which underlies his reformulation, is ill-motivated, and that his resultant fictionalism suffers unacceptable consequences. I attack the major premise instead. I argue that Quine provides a mistaken criterion for ontic commitment. Our uses of mathematics in scientific theory are instrumental and do not commit us to mathematical objects. Furthermore, even if we accept Quine’s criterion for ontic commitment, the indispensability argument justifies only an anemic version of mathematics, and does not yield traditional mathematical objects. The first two chapters of the dissertation develop these results for Quine’s indispensability argument. In the third chapter, I apply my findings to other contemporary indispensabilists, specifically the structuralists Michael Resnik and Stewart Shapiro. In the fourth chapter, I show that indispensabilityarguments which do not rely on Quine’s holism, like that of Putnam, are even less successful. Also in Chapter 4, I show how Putnam’s work in the philosophy of mathematics is unified around the indispensability argument. In the last chapter of the dissertation, I conclude that we need an account of mathematical knowledge which does not appeal to empirical science and which does not succumb to mysticism and speculation. Briefly, my strategy is to argue that any defensible solution to the demarcation problem of separating good scientific theories from bad ones will find mathematics to be good, if not empirical, science. (shrink)
Indispensablists argue that when our belief system conflicts with our experiences, we can negate a mathematical belief but we do not because if we do, we would have to make an excessive revision of our belief system. Thus, we retain a mathematical belief not because we have good evidence for it but because it is convenient to do so. I call this view ‘ mathematical convenientism.’ I argue that mathematical convenientism commits the consequential fallacy and that it demolishes the Quine-Putnam (...)indispensability argument and Baker’s enhanced indispensability argument. (shrink)
We demonstrate how real progress can be made in the debate surrounding the enhanced indispensability argument. Drawing on a counterfactual theory of explanation, well-motivated independently of the debate, we provide a novel analysis of ‘explanatory generality’ and how mathematics is involved in its procurement. On our analysis, mathematics’ sole explanatory contribution to the procurement of explanatory generality is to make counterfactual information about physical dependencies easier to grasp and reason with for creatures like us. This gives precise content to (...) key intuitions traded in the debate, regarding mathematics’ procurement of explanatory generality, and adjudicates unambiguously in favour of the nominalist, at least as far as explanatory generality is concerned. (shrink)
The enhanced mathematical indispensability argument, proposed by Alan Baker (2005), argues that we must commit to mathematical entities, because mathematical entities play an indispensable explanatory role in our best scientific theories. This article clarifies the doctrines that support this argument, namely, the doctrines of naturalism and confirmational holism.
Indispensabilityarguments are used as a way of working out what there is: our best science tells us what things there are. Some philosophers think that indispensabilityarguments can be used to show that we should be committed to the existence of mathematical objects. Do indispensabilityarguments also deliver conclusions about the modal properties of these mathematical entities? Colyvan Mathematical knowledge, OUP, Oxford, 109-122, 2007) and Hartry Field each suggest that a consequence of the (...) empirical methodology of indispensabilityarguments is that the resulting mathematical objects can only be said to exist contingently. Kristie Miller has argued that this line of thought doesn’t work, 335-359, 2012). Miller argues that indispensabilityarguments are in direct tension with contingentism about mathematical objects, and that they cannot tell us about the modal status of mathematical objects. I argue that Miller’s argument is crucially imprecise, and that the best way of making it clearer no longer shows that the indispensability strategy collapses or is unstable if it delivers contingentist conclusions about what there is. (shrink)
Otávio Bueno* * and Steven French.** ** Applying Mathematics: Immersion, Inference, Interpretation. Oxford University Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-0-19-881504-4 978-0-19-185286-2. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198815044. 001.0001. Pp. xvii + 257.
Indispensablists contend that accepting scientific realism while rejecting mathematical realism involves a double standard. I refute this contention by developing an enhanced version of scientific realism, which I call interactive realism. It holds that interactively successful theories are typically approximately true, and that the interactive unobservable entities posited by them are likely to exist. It is immune to the pessimistic induction while mathematical realism is susceptible to it.
This paper concerns an epistemological objection against mathematical platonism, due to Hartry Field.The argument poses an explanatory challenge – the challenge to explain the reliability of our mathematical beliefs – which the platonist, it’s argued, cannot meet. Is the objection compelling? Philosophers disagree, but they also disagree on (and are sometimes very unclear about) how the objection should be understood. Here I distinguish some options, and highlight some gaps that need to be filled in on the potentially most compelling version (...) of the argument. (shrink)
Arguing for mathematical realism on the basis of Field’s explanationist version of the Quine–Putnam Indispensability argument, Alan Baker has recently claimed to have found an instance of a genuine mathematical explanation of a physical phenomenon. While I agree that Baker presents a very interesting example in which mathematics plays an essential explanatory role, I show that this example, and the argument built upon it, begs the question against the mathematical nominalist.
Some proponents of the indispensability argument for mathematical realism maintain that the empirical evidence that confirms our best scientific theories and explanations also confirms their pure mathematical components. I show that the falsity of this view follows from three highly plausible theses, two of which concern the nature of mathematical application and the other the nature of empirical confirmation. The first is that the background mathematical theories suitable for use in science are conservative in the sense outlined by Hartry (...) Field. The second is that the empirical relevance of mathematical statements suitable for use in science is mediated by their non-mathematical consequences. The third is that statements receive additional empirical confirmation only by way of generating additional empirical expectations. Since each of these is a thesis we have good reason to endorse, my argument poses a challenge to anyone who argues that science affords empirical grounds for mathematical realism. (shrink)
Proponents of the explanatory indispensability argument for mathematical platonism maintain that claims about mathematical entities play an essential explanatory role in some of our best scientific explanations. They infer that the existence of mathematical entities is supported by way of inference to the best explanation from empirical phenomena and therefore that there are the same sort of empirical grounds for believing in mathematical entities as there are for believing in concrete unobservables such as quarks. I object that this inference (...) depends on a false view of how abductive considerations mediate the transfer of empirical support. More specifically, I argue that even if inference to the best explanation is cogent, and claims about mathematical entities play an essential explanatory role in some of our best scientific explanations, it doesn’t follow that the empirical phenomena that license those explanations also provide empirical support for the claim that mathematical entities exist. (shrink)
Evidential holism begins with something like the claim that “it is only jointly as a theory that scientific statements imply their observable consequences.” This is the holistic claim that Elliott Sober tells us is an “unexceptional observation”. But variations on this “unexceptional” claim feature as a premise in a series of controversial arguments for radical conclusions, such as that there is no analytic or synthetic distinction that the meaning of a sentence cannot be understood without understanding the whole language (...) of which it is a part and that all knowledge is empirical knowledge. This paper is a survey of what evidential holism is, how plausible it is, and what consequences it has. Section 1 will distinguish a range of different holistic claims, Sections 2 and 3 explore how well motivated they are and how they relate to one another, and Section 4 returns to the arguments listed above and uses the distinctions from the previous sections to identify holism's role in each case. (shrink)
I here defend a theory consisting of four claims about ‘property’ and properties, and argue that they form a coherent whole that can solve various serious problems. The claims are (1): ‘property’ is defined by the principles (PR): ‘F-ness/Being F/etc. is a property of x iff F’ and (PA): ‘F-ness/Being F/etc. is a property’; (2) the function of ‘property’ is to increase the expressive power of English, roughly by mimicking quantification into predicate position; (3) property talk should be understood at (...) face value: apparent commitments are real and our apparently literal use of ‘property’ is really literal; (4) there are no properties. In virtue of (1)–(2), this is a deflationist theory and in virtue of (3)–(4), it is an error theory. (1) is fleshed out as a claim about understanding conditions, and it is argued at length, and by going through a number of examples, that it satisfies a crucial constraint on meaning claims: all facts about ‘property’ can be explained, together with auxiliary facts, on its basis. Once claim (1) has been expanded upon, I argue that the combination of (1)–(3) provides the means for handling several problems: they help giving a happy-face solution to what I call the paradox of abstraction , they form part of a plausible account of the correctness of committive sentences, and, most importantly, they help respond to various indispensabilityarguments against nominalism. (shrink)
In this paper, I introduce an intrinsic account of the quantum state. This account contains three desirable features that the standard platonistic account lacks: (1) it does not refer to any abstract mathematical objects such as complex numbers, (2) it is independent of the usual arbitrary conventions in the wave function representation, and (3) it explains why the quantum state has its amplitude and phase degrees of freedom. -/- Consequently, this account extends Hartry Field’s program outlined in Science Without Numbers (...) (1980), responds to David Malament’s long-standing impossibility conjecture (1982), and establishes an important first step towards a genuinely intrinsic and nominalistic account of quantum mechanics. I will also compare the present account to Mark Balaguer’s (1996) nominalization of quantum mechanics and discuss how it might bear on the debate about “wave function realism.” In closing, I will suggest some possible ways to extend this account to accommodate spinorial degrees of freedom and a variable number of particles (e.g. for particle creation and annihilation). -/- Along the way, I axiomatize the quantum phase structure as what I shall call a “periodic difference structure” and prove a representation theorem as well as a uniqueness theorem. These formal results could prove fruitful for further investigation into the metaphysics of phase and theoretical structure. -/- (For a more recent version of this paper, please see "The Intrinsic Structure of Quantum Mechanics" available on PhilPapers.). (shrink)
Logical empiricism is commonly seen as a counter-position to scientific realism. In the present paper it is shown that there indeed existed a realist faction within the logical empiricist movement. In particular, I shall point out that at least four types of realistic arguments can be distinguished within this faction: Reichenbach’s ‘probabilistic argument,’ Feigl’s ‘pragmatic argument,’ Hempel’s ‘indispensability argument,’ and Kaila’s ‘invariantist argument.’ All these variations of arguments are intended to prevent the logical empiricist agenda from the (...) shortcomings of radical positivism, instrumentalism, and other forms of scientific antirealism. On the whole, it will be seen that logical empiricism and scientific realism are essentially compatible with each other. Especially Kaila’s invariantist approach to science (and nature) comes quite close to what nowadays is discussed under the label ‘structural realism.’ This, in turn, necessitates a fundamental reevaluation of Kaila’s role in the logical empiricist movement in particular and in twentieth-century philosophy of science in general. (shrink)
Any philosophy of science ought to have something to say about the nature of mathematics, especially an account like constructive empiricism in which mathematical concepts like model and isomorphism play a central role. This thesis is a contribution to the larger project of formulating a constructive empiricist account of mathematics. The philosophy of mathematics developed is fictionalist, with an anti-realist metaphysics. In the thesis, van Fraassen's constructive empiricism is defended and various accounts of mathematics are considered and rejected. Constructive empiricism (...) cannot be realist about abstract objects; it must reject even the realism advocated by otherwise ontologically restrained and epistemologically empiricist indispensability theorists. Indispensabilityarguments rely on the kind of inference to the best explanation the rejection of which is definitive of constructive empiricism. On the other hand, formalist and logicist anti-realist positions are also shown to be untenable. It is argued that a constructive empiricist philosophy of mathematics must be fictionalist. Borrowing and developing elements from both Philip Kitcher's constructive naturalism and Kendall Walton's theory of fiction, the account of mathematics advanced treats mathematics as a collection of stories told about an ideal agent and mathematical objects as fictions. The account explains what true portions of mathematics are about and why mathematics is useful, even while it is a story about an ideal agent operating in an ideal world; it connects theory and practice in mathematics with human experience of the phenomenal world. At the same time, the make-believe and game-playing aspects of the theory show how we can make sense of mathematics as fiction, as stories, without either undermining that explanation or being forced to accept abstract mathematical objects into our ontology. All of this occurs within the framework that constructive empiricism itself provides the epistemological limitations it mandates, the semantic view of theories, and an emphasis on the pragmatic dimension of our theories, our explanations, and of our relation to the language we use. (shrink)
A way to argue that something plays an explanatory role in science is by linking explanatory relevance with importance in the context of an explanation. The idea is deceptively simple: a part of an explanation is an explanatorily relevant part of that explanation if removing it affects the explanation either by destroying it or by diminishing its explanatory power, i.e. an important part is an explanatorily relevant part. This can be very useful in many ontological debates. My aim in this (...) paper is twofold. First of all, I will try to assess how this view on explanatory relevance can affect the recent ontological debate in the philosophy of mathematics—as I will argue, contrary to how it may appear at first glance, it does not help very much the mathematical realists. Second of all, I will show that there are big problems with it. (shrink)
In his influential book, The Nature of Morality, Gilbert Harman writes: “In explaining the observations that support a physical theory, scientists typically appeal to mathematical principles. On the other hand, one never seems to need to appeal in this way to moral principles.” What is the epistemological relevance of this contrast, if genuine? This chapter argues that ethicists and philosophers of mathematics have misunderstood it. They have confused what the chapter calls the justificatory challenge for realism about an area, D—the (...) challenge to justify our D-beliefs—with the reliability challenge for D-realism—the challenge to explain the reliability of our D-beliefs. Harman’s contrast is relevant to the first, but not, evidently, to the second. One upshot of the discussion is that genealogical debunking arguments are fallacious. Another is that indispensability considerations cannot answer the Benacerraf–Field challenge for mathematical realism. (shrink)
Words are indispensable linguistic tools for beings like us. However, there is not much philosophical work done about what words really are. In this paper, I develop a new ontology for words. I argue that words are abstract artifacts that are created to fulfill various kinds of purposes, and words are abstract in the sense that they are not located in space but they have a beginning and may have an end in time given that certain conditions are met. What (...) follows from this two-fold argument is that words, from an ontological point of view, are more like musical works, fictional characters or computer programs, than numbers or sets. (shrink)
Consider the following argument: when a phenomenon P is observable, any legitimate understanding of P must take account of observations of P; some mental phenomena—certain conscious experiences—are introspectively observable; so, any legitimate understanding of the mind must take account of introspective observations of conscious experiences. This paper offers a (preliminary and partial) defense of this line of thought. Much of the paper focuses on a specific challenge to it, which I call Schwitzgebel’s Challenge: the claim that introspection is so untrustworthy (...) that its indispensability for a genuine understanding of the mind only shows that no genuine understanding of the mind is possible. (shrink)
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