Why a Little Bit Goes a Long Way: Logical Foundations of Scientifically Applicable Mathematics

Does science justify any part of mathematics and, if so, what part? These questions are related to the so-called indispensability arguments propounded, among others, by Quine and Putnam; moreover, both were led to accept significant portions of set theory on that basis. However, set theory rests on a strong form of Platonic realism which has been variously criticized as a foundation of mathematics and is at odds with scientific realism. Recent logical results show that it is possible to directly formalize almost all, if not all, scientifically applicable mathematics in a formal system that is justified simply by Peano Arithmetic (via a proof-theoretical reduction). It is argued that this substantially vitiates the indispensability arguments.
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DOI 10.2307/192856
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