Mathematics as a quasi-empirical science

Foundations of Science 11 (1-2):41-79 (2006)
Abstract
The present paper aims at showing that there are times when set theoretical knowledge increases in a non-cumulative way. In other words, what we call ‘set theory’ is not one theory which grows by simple addition of a theorem after the other, but a finite sequence of theories T1, ..., Tn in which Ti+1, for 1 ≤ i < n, supersedes Ti. This thesis has a great philosophical significance because it implies that there is a sense in which mathematical theories, like the theories belonging to the empirical sciences, are fallible and that, consequently, mathematical knowledge has a quasi-empirical nature. The way I have chosen to provide evidence in favour of the correctness of the main thesis of this article consists in arguing that Cantor–Zermelo set theory is a Lakatosian Mathematical Research Programme (MRP).
Keywords quasi-empiricism and mathematics  lakatos  mathematical research programme  Cantor–Zermelo set theory  philosophy of mathematics  mathematical knowledge
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