What Are Mathematical Coincidences (and Why Does It Matter)?

Mind 119 (474):307-340 (2010)
Abstract
Although all mathematical truths are necessary, mathematicians take certain combinations of mathematical truths to be ‘coincidental’, ‘accidental’, or ‘fortuitous’. The notion of a ‘mathematical coincidence’ has so far failed to receive sufficient attention from philosophers. I argue that a mathematical coincidence is not merely an unforeseen or surprising mathematical result, and that being a misleading combination of mathematical facts is neither necessary nor sufficient for qualifying as a mathematical coincidence. I argue that although the components of a mathematical coincidence may possess a common explainer, they have no common explanation; that two mathematical facts have a unified explanation makes their truth non-coincidental. I suggest that any motivation we may have for thinking that there are mathematical coincidences should also motivate us to think that there are mathematical explanations, since the notion of a mathematical coincidence can be understood only in terms of the notion of a mathematical explanation. I also argue that the notion of a mathematical coincidence plays an important role in scientific explanation. When two phenomenological laws of nature are similar, despite concerning physically distinct processes, it may be that any correct scientific explanation of their similarity proceeds by revealing their similarity to be no mathematical coincidence
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    References found in this work BETA
    Philip Kitcher (1975). Bolzano's Ideal of Algebraic Analysis. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 6 (3):229-269.
    Philip Kitcher (1981). Explanatory Unification. Philosophy of Science 48 (4):507-531.

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