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Mathematical Truth

Edited by Mark Balaguer (California State University, Los Angeles)
Assistant editor: Sam Roberts (University of Sheffield)
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Summary

The topic of mathematical truth is importantly tied to the ontology of mathematics.  In particular, a central question is what kinds of objects we commit ourselves to when we endorse the truth of ordinary mathematical sentences, like ‘4 is even’ and ‘There are infinitely many prime numbers.’   But there are other important philosophical questions about mathematical truth as well.  For instance: Is there any plausible way to maintain that mathematical truths are analytic, i.e., true solely in virtue of meaning?  And given that most ordinary mathematical sentences (e.g., the two sentences listed above) follow from the axioms of our various mathematical theories (e.g., from sentences like ‘0 is a number’), how can we account for the truth of the axioms?  And how can we account for the objectivity of mathematics (i.e., for the fact that some mathematical sentences are objectively correct and others are objectively incorrect)?  Can we do this without endorsing the existence of mathematical objects?  Do mathematical objects even help?  And so on.

Key works

Some key works on these topics include the following: Carnap 1950; Benacerraf 1973; Putnam 1980; Field 1993; Field 1998; Wright & Hale 1992; Gödel 1964; Maddy 1988; and Maddy 1988.

Introductions

Introductory works include Shapiro 2000 and Colyvan 2012.

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Analyticity in Mathematics
  1. Lieven Decock, Carnap and Quine on Some Analytic-Synthetic Distinctions.
    I want to analyse the Quine-Carnap discussion on analyticity with regard to logical, mathematical and set-theoretical statements. In recent years, the renewed interest in Carnap’s work has shed a new light on the analytic-synthetic debate. If one fully appreciates Carnap’s conventionalism, one sees that there was not a metaphysical debate on whether there is an analytic-synthetic distinction, but rather a controversy on the expedience of drawing such a distinction. However, on this view, there can be no longer a single analytic-synthetic (...)
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  2. Milton Fisk (1966). Analyticity and Conceptual Revision. Journal of Philosophy 63 (20):627-637.
    The view that analytic propositions are those which are true in virtue of rules of use is basically correct. But there are many kinds of rules of use, and rules of some of these kinds do not generate truth. There is nothing like a grammatical analytic, though grammatical rules are rules of use. So, this rules-of-use view falls short of being an explanatory account. My problem is to find what it is that is special about those rules of use which (...)
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  3. Gerhard Frey (1972). Inwiefern Sind Die Mathematischen Sätze Analytisch? Philosophia Mathematica (2):145-157.
    A SUMMARY IN ENGLISH [by Editor]The problem is to find out whether mathematical propositions are analytical, and if so, or if not, to what extent.Kant defined the analyticity in terms of Cartesian res extensa, exemplified by “A body is extended”, while he considered, because of such examples, mathematical propositions to be synthetic. The recent studies in set theory by Gödel, P.J.Cohen, etc., indicate, however, that such a proposition as the continuum hypothesis is certainly not “analytic (tautological)” in the strict sense (...)
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  4. M. Giaquinto (1996). Non-Analytic Conceptual Knowledge. Mind 105 (418):249-268.
  5. Bob Hale (ed.) (2001). The Reason's Proper Study: Essays Towards a Neo-Fregean Philosophy of Mathematics. Oxford University Press.
    Here, Bob Hale and Crispin Wright assemble the key writings that lead to their distinctive neo-Fregean approach to the philosophy of mathematics. In addition to fourteen previously published papers, the volume features a new paper on the Julius Caesar problem; a substantial new introduction mapping out the program and the contributions made to it by the various papers; a section explaining which issues most require further attention; and bibliographies of references and further useful sources. It will be recognized as the (...)
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  6. Gregory Lavers (2012). On the Quinean-Analyticity of Mathematical Propositions. Philosophical Studies 159 (2):299-319.
    This paper investigates the relation between Carnap and Quine’s views on analyticity on the one hand, and their views on philosophical analysis or explication on the other. I argue that the stance each takes on what constitutes a successful explication largely dictates the view they take on analyticity. I show that although acknowledged by neither party (in fact Quine frequently expressed his agreement with Carnap on this subject) their views on explication are substantially different. I argue that this difference not (...)
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  7. John MacFarlane (2009). Double Vision: Two Questions About the Neo-Fregean Program. Synthese 170 (3):443 - 456.
    Much of The Reason’s Proper Study is devoted to defending the claim that simply by stipulating an abstraction principle for the “number-of” functor, we can simultaneously fix a meaning for this functor and acquire epistemic entitlement to the stipulated principle. In this paper, I argue that the semantic and epistemological principles Hale and Wright offer in defense of this claim may be too strong for their purposes. For if these principles are correct, it is hard to see why they do (...)
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  8. Stephen R. Palmquist (1989). The Syntheticity of Time. Philosophia Mathematica (2):233-235.
    In a recent article in this journal Phil. Math., II, v.4 (1989), n.2, pp.? ?] J. Fang argues that we must not be fooled by A.J. Ayer (God rest his soul!) and his cohorts into believing that mathematical knowledge has an analytic a priori status. Even computers, he reminds us, take some amount of time to perform their calculations. The simplicity of Kant's infamous example of a mathematical proposition (7+5=12) is "partly to blame" for "mislead[ing] scholars in the direction of (...)
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  9. Neil Tennant (2008). Carnap, Gödel, and the Analyticity of Arithmetic. Philosophia Mathematica 16 (1):100-112.
    Michael Friedman maintains that Carnap did not fully appreciate the impact of Gödel's first incompleteness theorem on the prospect for a purely syntactic definition of analyticity that would render arithmetic analytically true. This paper argues against this claim. It also challenges a common presumption on the part of defenders of Carnap, in their diagnosis of the force of Gödel's own critique of Carnap in his Gibbs Lecture. The author is grateful to Michael Friedman for valuable comments. Part of the research (...)
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Axiomatic Truth
  1. Tatiana Arrigoni (2011). V = L and Intuitive Plausibility in Set Theory. A Case Study. Bulletin of Symbolic Logic 17 (3):337-360.
    What counts as an intuitively plausible set theoretic content (notion, axiom or theorem) has been a matter of much debate in contemporary philosophy of mathematics. In this paper I develop a critical appraisal of the issue. I analyze first R. B. Jensen's positions on the epistemic status of the axiom of constructibility. I then formulate and discuss a view of intuitiveness in set theory that assumes it to hinge basically on mathematical success. At the same time, I present accounts of (...)
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  2. Francesco Berto (2009). The Gödel Paradox and Wittgenstein's Reasons. Philosophia Mathematica 17 (2):208-219.
    An interpretation of Wittgenstein’s much criticized remarks on Gödel’s First Incompleteness Theorem is provided in the light of paraconsistent arithmetic: in taking Gödel’s proof as a paradoxical derivation, Wittgenstein was drawing the consequences of his deliberate rejection of the standard distinction between theory and metatheory. The reasoning behind the proof of the truth of the Gödel sentence is then performed within the formal system itself, which turns out to be inconsistent. It is shown that the features of paraconsistent arithmetics match (...)
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  3. Cezary Cieśliński (2011). T-Equivalences for Positive Sentences. Review of Symbolic Logic 4 (2):319-325.
    Answering a question formulated by Halbach (2009), I show that a disquotational truth theory, which takes as axioms all positive substitutions of the sentential T-schema, together with all instances of induction in the language with the truth predicate, is conservative over its syntactical base.
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  4. Justin Clarke-Doane, Flawless Disagreement in Mathematics.
    A disagrees with B with respect to a proposition, p, flawlessly just in case A believes p and B believes not-p, or vice versa, though neither A nor B is guilty of a cognitive shortcoming – i.e. roughly, neither A nor B is being irrational, lacking evidence relevant to p, conceptually incompetent, insufficiently imaginative, etc.
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  5. Roy T. Cook (2003). Review of J. Mayberry, The Foundations of Mathematics in the Theory of Sets. [REVIEW] British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 54 (2):347-352.
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  6. Giambattista Formica (2013). Da Hilbert a von Neumann: La Svolta Pragmatica Nell'assiomatica. Carocci.
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  7. Kentaro Fujimoto (2010). Relative Truth Definability of Axiomatic Truth Theories. Bulletin of Symbolic Logic 16 (3):305-344.
    The present paper suggests relative truth definability as a tool for comparing conceptual aspects of axiomatic theories of truth and gives an overview of recent developments of axiomatic theories of truth in the light of it. We also show several new proof-theoretic results via relative truth definability including a complete answer to the conjecture raised by Feferman in [13].
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  8. Kurt Gödel (1964). What is Cantor's Continuum Problem (1964 Version). In P. Benacerraf H. Putnam (ed.), Philosophy of Mathematics. Prentice-Hall.
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  9. Gregory Lavers (2009). Benacerraf's Dilemma and Informal Mathematics. Review of Symbolic Logic 2 (4):769-785.
    This paper puts forward and defends an account of mathematical truth, and in particular an account of the truth of mathematical axioms. The proposal attempts to be completely nonrevisionist. In this connection, it seeks to satisfy simultaneously both horns of Benacerrafs work on informal rigour. Kreisel defends the view that axioms are arrived at by a rigorous examination of our informal notions, as opposed to being stipulated or arrived at by trial and error. This view is then supplemented by a (...)
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  10. Vann Mcgee (2001). Truth by Default. Philosophia Mathematica 9 (1):5-20.
    There is no preferred reduction of number theory to set theory. Nonetheless, we confidently accept axioms obtained by substituting formulas from the language of set theory into the induction axiom schema. This is only possible, it is argued, because our acceptance of the induction axioms depends solely on the meanings of aritlunetical and logical terms, which is only possible if our 'intended models' of number theory are standard. Similarly, our acceptance of the second-order natural deduction rules depends solely on the (...)
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  11. Pierluigi Miraglia (2000). Finite Mathematics and the Justification of the Axiom of Choicet. Philosophia Mathematica 8 (1):9-25.
    I discuss a difficulty concerning the justification of the Axiom of Choice in terms of such informal notions such as that of iterative set. A recent attempt to solve the difficulty is by S. Lavine, who claims in his Understanding the Infinite that the axioms of set theory receive intuitive justification from their being self-evidently true in Fin(ZFC), a finite counterpart of set theory. I argue that Lavine's explanatory attempt fails when it comes to AC: in this respect Fin(ZFC) is (...)
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  12. Charles Parsons (1998). Hao Wang as Philosopher and Interpreter of Gödel. Philosophia Mathematica 6 (1):3-24.
    The paper undertakes to characterize Hao Wang's style, convictions, and method as a philosopher, centering on his most important philosophical work From Mathematics to Philosophy, 1974. The descriptive character of Wang's characteristic method is emphasized. Some specific achievements are discussed: his analyses of the concept of set, his discussion, in connection with setting forth Gödel's views, of minds and machines, and his concept of ‘analytic empiricism’ used to criticize Carnap and Quine. Wang's work as interpreter of Gödel's thought and the (...)
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  13. Lydia Patton (forthcoming). Hilbert's Objectivity. Historia Mathematica.
    Detlefsen (1986) reads Hilbert's program as a sophisticated defense of instrumentalism, but Feferman (1998) has it that Hilbert's program leaves significant ontological questions unanswered. One such question is of the reference of individual number terms. Hilbert's use of admittedly "meaningless" signs for numbers and formulae appears to impair his ability to establish the reference of mathematical terms and the content of mathematical propositions (Weyl (1949); Kitcher (1976)). The paper traces the history and context of Hilbert's reasoning about signs, which illuminates (...)
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  14. D. Schlimm (2013). Axioms in Mathematical Practice. Philosophia Mathematica 21 (1):37-92.
    On the basis of a wide range of historical examples various features of axioms are discussed in relation to their use in mathematical practice. A very general framework for this discussion is provided, and it is argued that axioms can play many roles in mathematics and that viewing them as self-evident truths does not do justice to the ways in which mathematicians employ axioms. Possible origins of axioms and criteria for choosing axioms are also examined. The distinctions introduced aim at (...)
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  15. Dirk Schlimm, Axiomatics and Progress in the Light of 20th Century Philosophy of Science and Mathematics.
    This paper is a contribution to the question of how aspects of science have been perceived through history. In particular, I will discuss how the contribution of axiomatics to the development of science and mathematics was viewed in 20th century philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics. It will turn out that in connection with scientific methodology, in particular regarding its use in the context of discovery, axiomatics has received only very little attention. This is a rather surprising result, since (...)
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Objectivity Of Mathematics
  1. Alex A. B. Aspeitia, Internalism and Externalism in the Foundations of Mathematics.
    Without a doubt, one of the main reasons Platonsim remains such a strong contender in the Foundations of Mathematics debate is because of the prima facie plausibility of the claim that objectivity needs objects. It seems like nothing else but the existence of external referents for the terms of our mathematical theories and calculations can guarantee the objectivity of our mathematical knowledge. The reason why Frege – and most Platonists ever since – could not adhere to the idea that mathematical (...)
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  2. Mark Balaguer (2001). A Theory of Mathematical Correctness and Mathematical Truth. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 82 (2):87–114.
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  3. M. Beeson (1998). Reality and Truth in Mathematics. Philosophia Mathematica 6 (2):131-168.
    Brouwer's positions about existence (reality) and truth are examined in the light of ninety years of scientific progress. Relevant results in proof theory, recursion theory, set theory, relativity, and quantum mechanics are used to cast light on the following philosophical questions: What is real, and how do we know it? What does it mean to say a thing exists? Can things exist that we can't know about? Can things exist that we don't know how to find? What does it mean (...)
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  4. T. Button & P. Smith (2012). The Philosophical Significance of Tennenbaum's Theorem. Philosophia Mathematica 20 (1):114-121.
    Tennenbaum's Theorem yields an elegant characterisation of the standard model of arithmetic. Several authors have recently claimed that this result has important philosophical consequences: in particular, it offers us a way of responding to model-theoretic worries about how we manage to grasp the standard model. We disagree. If there ever was such a problem about how we come to grasp the standard model, then Tennenbaum's Theorem does not help. We show this by examining a parallel argument, from a simpler model-theoretic (...)
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  5. Justin Clarke-Doane, Moral Realism and Mathematical Realism.
    Ethics and mathematics are normally treated independently in philosophical discussions. When comparisons are drawn between problems in the two areas, those comparisons tend to be highly local, concerning just one or two issues. Nevertheless, certain metaethicists have made bold claims to the effect that moral realism is on “no worse footing” than mathematical realism -- i.e. that one cannot reasonably reject moral realism without also rejecting mathematical realism. -/- In the absence of any remotely systematic survey of the relevant arguments, (...)
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  6. Justin Clarke-Doane (2013). What is Absolute Undecidability?†. Noûs 47 (3):467-481.
    It is often alleged that, unlike typical axioms of mathematics, the Continuum Hypothesis (CH) is indeterminate. This position is normally defended on the ground that the CH is undecidable in a way that typical axioms are not. Call this kind of undecidability “absolute undecidability”. In this paper, I seek to understand what absolute undecidability could be such that one might hope to establish that (a) CH is absolutely undecidable, (b) typical axioms are not absolutely undecidable, and (c) if a mathematical (...)
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  7. Justin Clarke-Doane, Flawless Disagreement in Mathematics.
    A disagrees with B with respect to a proposition, p, flawlessly just in case A believes p and B believes not-p, or vice versa, though neither A nor B is guilty of a cognitive shortcoming – i.e. roughly, neither A nor B is being irrational, lacking evidence relevant to p, conceptually incompetent, insufficiently imaginative, etc.
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  8. Justin Clarke‐Doane (2014). Moral Epistemology: The Mathematics Analogy. Noûs 48 (2):238-255.
  9. Julian C. Cole (2013). Towards an Institutional Account of the Objectivity, Necessity, and Atemporality of Mathematics. Philosophia Mathematica 21 (1):9-36.
    I contend that mathematical domains are freestanding institutional entities that, at least typically, are introduced to serve representational functions. In this paper, I outline an account of institutional reality and a supporting metaontological perspective that clarify the content of this thesis. I also argue that a philosophy of mathematics that has this thesis as its central tenet can account for the objectivity, necessity, and atemporality of mathematics.
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  10. Keith Devlin (2008). A Mathematician Reflects on the Useful and Reliable Illusion of Reality in Mathematics. Erkenntnis 68 (3):359 - 379.
    Recent years have seen a growing acknowledgement within the mathematical community that mathematics is cognitively/socially constructed. Yet to anyone doing mathematics, it seems totally objective. The sensation in pursuing mathematical research is of discovering prior (eternal) truths about an external (abstract) world. Although the community can and does decide which topics to pursue and which axioms to adopt, neither an individual mathematician nor the entire community can choose whether a particular mathematical statement is true or false, based on the given (...)
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  11. J. M. Dieterle (2010). Social Construction in the Philosophy of Mathematics: A Critical Evaluation of Julian Cole's Theory. Philosophia Mathematica 18 (3):311-328.
    Julian Cole argues that mathematical domains are the products of social construction. This view has an initial appeal in that it seems to salvage much that is good about traditional platonistic realism without taking on the ontological baggage. However, it also has problems. After a brief sketch of social constructivist theories and Cole’s philosophy of mathematics, I evaluate the arguments in favor of social constructivism. I also discuss two substantial problems with the theory. I argue that unless and until social (...)
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  12. Hartry Field (1998). Mathematical Objectivity and Mathematical Objects. In S. Laurence C. MacDonald (ed.), Contemporary Readings in the Foundations of Metaphysics. Basil Blackwell.
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  13. Janet Folina (1994). Poincaré's Conception of the Objectivity of Mathematics. Philosophia Mathematica 2 (3):202-227.
    There is a basic division in the philosophy of mathematics between realist, ‘platonist’ theories and anti-realist ‘constructivist’ theories. Platonism explains how mathematical truth is strongly objective, but it does this at the cost of invoking mind-independent mathematical objects. In contrast, constructivism avoids mind-independent mathematical objects, but the cost tends to be a weakened conception of mathematical truth. Neither alternative seems ideal. The purpose of this paper is to show that in the philosophical writings of Henri Poincaré there is a coherent (...)
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  14. Pieranna Garavaso (1992). The Argument From Agreement and Mathematical Realism. Journal of Philosophical Research 17:173-187.
    Traditionally, in the philosophy of mathematics realists claim that mathematical objects exist independently of the human mind, whereas idealists regard them as mental constructions dependent upon human thought.It is tempting for realists to support their view by appeal to our widespread agreement on mathematical results. Roughly speaking, our agreement is explained by the fact that these results are about the same mathematical objects. It is alleged that the idealist’s appeal to mental constructions precludes any such explanation. I argue that realism (...)
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  15. Han Geurdes, The Construction of Transfinite Equivalence Algorithms.
    Context: Consistency of mathematical constructions in numerical analysis and the application of computerized proofs in the light of the occurrence of numerical chaos in simple systems. Purpose: To show that a computer in general and a numerical analysis in particular can add its own peculiarities to the subject under study. Hence the need of thorough theoretical studies on chaos in numerical simulation. Hence, a questioning of what e.g. a numerical disproof of a theorem in physics or a prediction in numerical (...)
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  16. Kai Hauser (2002). Is Cantor's Continuum Problem Inherently Vague? Philosophia Mathematica 10 (3):257-285.
    I examine various claims to the effect that Cantor's Continuum Hypothesis and other problems of higher set theory are ill-posed questions. The analysis takes into account the viability of the underlying philosophical views and recent mathematical developments.
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  17. Thomas Hofweber (2000). Proof-Theoretic Reduction as a Philosopher's Tool. Erkenntnis 53 (1-2):127-146.
    Hilbert’s program in the philosophy of mathematics comes in two parts. One part is a technical part. To carry out this part of the program one has to prove a certain technical result. The other part of the program is a philosophical part. It is concerned with philosophical questions that are the real aim of the program. To carry out this part one, basically, has to show why the technical part answers the philosophical questions one wanted to have answered. Hilbert (...)
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  18. L. Horsten (2012). Vom Zahlen Zu den Zahlen: On the Relation Between Computation and Arithmetical Structuralism. Philosophia Mathematica 20 (3):275-288.
    This paper sketches an answer to the question how we, in our arithmetical practice, succeed in singling out the natural-number structure as our intended interpretation. It is argued that we bring this about by a combination of what we assert about the natural-number structure on the one hand, and our computational capacities on the other hand.
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  19. Philip Hugly & Charles Sayward (1989). Mathematical Relativism. History and Philosophy of Logic 10:53-65.
    We set out a doctrine about truth for the statements of mathematics—a doctrine which we think is a worthy competitor to realist views in the philosophy of mathematics—and argue that this doctrine, which we shall call 'mathematical relativism', withstands objections better than do other non-realist accounts.
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  20. Philip Hugly & Charles Sayward (1987). Relativism and Ontology. Philosophical Quarterly 37 (148):278-290.
    This paper deals with the question of whether there is objectivist truth about set-theoretic matters. The dogmatist and skeptic agree that there is such truth. They disagree about whether this truth is knowable. In contrast, the relativist says there is no objective truth to be known. Two versions of relativism are distinguished in the paper. One of these versions is defended.
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  21. Donald A. Martin (2005). Gödel's Conceptual Realism. Bulletin of Symbolic Logic 11 (2):207-224.
  22. Charles Parsons (2010). Gödel and Philosophical Idealism. Philosophia Mathematica 18 (2):166-192.
    Kurt Gödel made many affirmations of robust realism but also showed serious engagement with the idealist tradition, especially with Leibniz, Kant, and Husserl. The root of this apparently paradoxical attitude is his conviction of the power of reason. The paper explores the question of how Gödel read Kant. His argument that relativity theory supports the idea of the ideality of time is discussed critically, in particular attempting to explain the assertion that science can go beyond the appearances and ‘approach the (...)
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  23. Nikolaj Jang Lee Linding Pedersen & Marcus Rossberg (2010). Open-Endedness, Schemas and Ontological Commitment. Noûs 44 (2):329-339.
    Second-order axiomatizations of certain important mathematical theories—such as arithmetic and real analysis—can be shown to be categorical. Categoricity implies semantic completeness, and semantic completeness in turn implies determinacy of truth-value. Second-order axiomatizations are thus appealing to realists as they sometimes seem to offer support for the realist thesis that mathematical statements have determinate truth-values. The status of second-order logic is a controversial issue, however. Worries about ontological commitment have been influential in the debate. Recently, Vann McGee has argued that one (...)
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  24. Nikolaj Jang Lee Linding Pedersen & Marcus Rossberg (2007). McGee on Open-Ended Schemas. In Helen Bohse & Sven Walter (eds.), Selected Contributions to GAP.6: Sixth International Conference of the German Society for Analytical Philosophy, Berlin, 11–14 September 2006. mentis.
    Vann McGee claims that open-ended schemas are more innocuous than ordinary second-order quantification, particularly in terms of ontological commitment. We argue that this is not the case.
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  25. Sílvio Pinto (1998). Wittgenstein's Anti-Platonism. Grazer Philosophische Studien 56:109-132.
    The philosophy of mathematics of the later Wittgenstein is normally not taken very seriously. According to a popular objection, it cannot account for mathematical necessity. Other critics have dismissed Wittgenstein's approach on the grounds that his anti-platonism is unable to explain mathematical objectivity. This latter objection would be endorsed by somebody who agreed with Paul Benacerraf that any anti-platonistic view fails to describe mathematical truth. This paper focuses on the problem proposed by Benacerraf of reconciling the semantics with the epistemology (...)
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  26. Michael Potter (1998). Classical Arithmetic as Part of Intuitionistic Arithmetic. Grazer Philosophische Studien 55:127-41.
    Argues that classical arithmetic can be viewed as a proper part of intuitionistic arithmetic. Suggests that this largely neutralizes Dummett's argument for intuitionism in the case of arithmetic.
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