How mathematical concepts get their bodies

Topoi 29 (1):53-60 (2010)
Abstract
When the traditional distinction between a mathematical concept and a mathematical intuition is tested against examples taken from the real history of mathematics one can observe the following interesting phenomena. First, there are multiple examples where concepts and intuitions do not well fit together; some of these examples can be described as “poorly conceptualised intuitions” while some others can be described as “poorly intuited concepts”. Second, the historical development of mathematics involves two kinds of corresponding processes: poorly conceptualised intuitions are further conceptualised while poorly intuited concepts are further intuited. In this paper I study this latter process in mathematics during the twentieth century and, more specifically, show the role of set theory and category theory in this process. I use this material for defending the following claims: (1) mathematical intuitions are subject to historical development just like mathematical concepts; (2) mathematical intuitions continue to play their traditional role in today's mathematics and will plausibly do so in the foreseeable future. This second claim implies that the popular view, according to which modern mathematical concepts, unlike their more traditional predecessors, cannot be directly intuited, is not justified.
Keywords Mathematical intuition  Embodiment of concepts  Set theory  Category theory
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