Review of J. Norman, After Euclid: Visual Reasoning and the Epistemology of Diagrams [Book Review]

Philosophia Mathematica 15 (1):116-121 (2007)
This monograph treats the important topic of the epistemology of diagrams in Euclidean geometry. Norman argues that diagrams play a genuine justificatory role in traditional Euclidean arguments, and he aims to account for these roles from a modified Kantian perspective. Norman considers himself a semi-Kantian in the following broad sense: he believes that Kant was right that ostensive constructions are necessary in order to follow traditional Euclidean proofs, but he wants to avoid appealing to Kantian a priori intuition as the epistemological background for these constructions.Norman's main argument is limited to the thesis that certain Euclidean arguments—in particular, that of Proposition 1.32, the internal-angle-sum theorem—require inferences from diagrams. Interestingly, Norman is not committed to the view that these arguments are proofs. This becomes clear only quite late in the book, when he distinguishes argument from proofs, remarking that the argument he has been focusing on is not rigorous, and so is not a proof . Norman does not, however, explicitly classify all Euclidean arguments as non-proofs. His view is that diagrammatic reasoning can in principle feature in rigorous proofs, but he is not committed to the thesis that any particular argument, Euclidean or otherwise, provides an example of this. Rather than proofs in particular, Norman is more interested in the general issue of justification in mathematics.The argument has three components. First, Norman argues against competing accounts of Euclidean arguments such as empiricism, and ‘Leibnizianism’—the view that diagrams play only a heuristic role. Second, he provides a more direct, or positive, argument that the way we actually follow the standard argument for 1.32 does appeal to the diagram. This is an appeal to the phenomenology of following the argument. Third, he articulates and defends his semi-Kantian position against some objections.The book has a very careful and …
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DOI 10.1093/philmat/nkl032
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