Why euclid's geometry brooked no doubt: J. H. Lambert on certainty and the existence of models

Synthese 167 (1):33 - 65 (2009)
J. H. Lambert proved important results of what we now think of as non-Euclidean geometries, and gave examples of surfaces satisfying their theorems. I use his philosophical views to explain why he did not think the certainty of Euclidean geometry was threatened by the development of what we regard as alternatives to it. Lambert holds that theories other than Euclid’s fall prey to skeptical doubt. So despite their satisfiability, for him these theories are not equal to Euclid’s in justification. Contrary to recent interpretations, then, Lambert does not conceive of mathematical justification as semantic. According to Lambert, Euclid overcomes doubt by means of postulates. Euclid’s theory thus owes its justification not to the existence of the surfaces that satisfy it, but to the postulates according to which these “models” are constructed. To understand Lambert’s view of postulates and the doubt they answer, I examine his criticism of Christian Wolff’s views. I argue that Lambert’s view reflects insight into traditional mathematical practice and has value as a foil for contemporary, model-theoretic, views of justification.
Keywords Epistemology of mathematics  Non-Euclidean geometry  History of model theory  Proof by construction  J. H. Lambert
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