The pragmatism of Hilbert's programme

Synthese 137 (1-2):141 - 156 (2003)
It is shown that David Hilbert's formalistic approach to axiomaticis accompanied by a certain pragmatism that is compatible with aphilosophical, or, so to say, external foundation of mathematics.Hilbert's foundational programme can thus be seen as areconciliation of Pragmatism and Apriorism. This interpretation iselaborated by discussing two recent positions in the philosophy ofmathematics which are or can be related to Hilbert's axiomaticalprogramme and his formalism. In a first step it is argued that thepragmatism of Hilbert's axiomatic contradicts the opinion thatHilbert style axiomatical systems are closed systems, a reproachposed by Carlo Cellucci. In the second section the question isdiscussed whether Hilbert's pragmatism in foundational issuescomes close to an a-philosophical ``naturalism in mathematics'' assuggested by Penelope Maddy. The answer is ``no'', because forHilbert philosophy had its specific tasks in the general projectto found mathematics. This is illuminated in the concludingsection giving further evidence for Hilbert's foundationalapriorism by discussing his ``axiom of the existence of mind'' andrelating it to the ``one and only axiom'' of the German algebraistof logic, Ernst Schröder, postulating the inherence of signs onthe paper.
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