Mathematical Fictionalism

Edited by Rafal Urbaniak (Uniwersytetu Gdanskiego, Uniwersytetu Gdanskiego)
Assistant editors: Pawel Pawlowski, Sam Roberts
About this topic
Summary Fictionalism denies the existence of abstract, aspatial and atemporal mathematical objects, at the same time claiming that mathematical theories are not true because there are no mathematical objects that those theories are supposed to be about. While this allows a fictionalist to avoid difficult questions about human knowledge of abstract objects, they have to handle a different problem. The applicability of mathematics and mathematicians' (usual) agreement suggest that there are some objective standards of correctness (if not truth) of mathematical theories and a fictionalist should explain what these standards are and how they are motivated.
Key works Freely accessible Balaguer 2008 contains an excellent list of key works in this field.
Introductions Nicely paced introductory surveys are Eklund 2010, Balaguer 2008 and Colyvan 2011
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89 found
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1 — 50 / 89
  1. Modal Structuralism and Theism.Silvia Jonas - forthcoming - In Fiona Ellis (ed.), New Models of Religious Understanding. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Drawing an analogy between modal structuralism about mathematics and theism, I o er a structuralist account that implicitly de nes theism in terms of three basic relations: logical and metaphysical priority, and epis- temic superiority. On this view, statements like `God is omniscient' have a hypothetical and a categorical component. The hypothetical component provides a translation pattern according to which statements in theistic language are converted into statements of second-order modal logic. The categorical component asserts the logical possibility of the (...)
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  2. Mathematical Anti-Realism and Explanatory Structure.Bruno Whittle - forthcoming - Synthese:1-15.
    Plausibly, mathematical claims are true, but the fundamental furniture of the world does not include mathematical objects. This can be made sense of by providing mathematical claims with paraphrases, which make clear how the truth of such claims does not require the fundamental existence of mathematical objects. This paper explores the consequences of this type of position for explanatory structure. There is an apparently straightforward relationship between this sort of structure, and the logical sort: i.e. logically complex claims are explained (...)
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  3. Philosophie de la simulation et finitude.Franck Varenne - 2021 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 2 (146):183-201.
    This study shows firstly that it is necessary to characterize a computer simulation at a finer level than that of formal models: that of symbols and their various modes of reference. This is particularly true for those that integrate models and formalisms of a heterogeneous nature. This study then examines the ontological causes that, consequently, could explain their epistemic success. It is argued that they can be conveniently explained if one adopts a conception of nature that is both discontinuous and (...)
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  4. Fictionalist Strategies in Metaphysics.Lukas Skiba & Richard Woodward - 2020 - In Ricki Bliss & James Miller (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Metametaphysics. New York, NY, USA:
    This paper discusses the nature of, problems for, and benefits delivered by fictionalist strategies in metaphysics.
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  5. Optimal Representations and the Enhanced Indispensability Argument.Manuel Barrantes - 2019 - Synthese 196 (1):247-263.
    The Enhanced Indispensability Argument appeals to the existence of Mathematical Explanations of Physical Phenomena to justify mathematical Platonism, following the principle of Inference to the Best Explanation. In this paper, I examine one example of a MEPP—the explanation of the 13-year and 17-year life cycle of magicicadas—and argue that this case cannot be used defend the EIA. I then generalize my analysis of the cicada case to other MEPPs, and show that these explanations rely on what I will call ‘optimal (...)
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  6. The Problem of Fregean Equivalents.Joongol Kim - 2019 - Dialectica 73 (3):367-394.
    It would seem that some statements like ‘There are exactly four moons of Jupiter’ and ‘The number of moons of Jupiter is four’ have the same truth-conditions and yet differ in ontological commitment. One strategy to resolve this paradoxical phenomenon is to insist that the statements have not only the same truth-conditions but also the same ontological commitments; the other strategy is to reject the presumption that they have the same truth-conditions. This paper critically examines some popular versions of these (...)
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  7. Bunge’s Mathematical Structuralism Is Not a Fiction.Jean-Pierre Marquis - 2019 - In Michael Robert Matthews (ed.), Mario Bunge: A Centenary Festschrift. New York, NY, USA: Springer Verlag. pp. 587-608.
    In this paper, I explore Bunge’s fictionism in philosophy of mathematics. After an overview of Bunge’s views, in particular his mathematical structuralism, I argue that the comparison between mathematical objects and fictions ultimately fails. I then sketch a different ontology for mathematics, based on Thomasson’s metaphysical work. I conclude that mathematics deserves its own ontology, and that, in the end, much work remains to be done to clarify the various forms of dependence that are involved in mathematical knowledge, in particular (...)
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  8. Einführung in die Philosophie der Mathematik.Jörg Neunhäuserer - 2019 - Wiesbaden, Deutschland: Springer Spektrum.
    Welche Art von Gegenständen untersucht die Mathematik und in welchem Sinne existieren diese Gegenstände? Warum dürfen wir die Aussagen der Mathematik zu unserem Wissen zählen und wie lassen sich diese Aussagen rechtfertigen? Eine Philosophie der Mathematik versucht solche Fragen zu beantworten. In dieser Einführung stellen wir maßgeblichen Positionen in der Philosophie der Mathematik vor und formulieren die Essenz dieser Positionen in möglichst einfachen Thesen. Der Leser erfährt, auf welche Philosophen eine Position zurückgeht und in welchem historischen Kontext diese entstand. Ausgehend (...)
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  9. Can Mathematical Objects Be Causally Efficacious?Seungbae Park - 2019 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 62 (3):247–255.
    Callard (2007) argues that it is metaphysically possible that a mathematical object, although abstract, causally affects the brain. I raise the following objections. First, a successful defence of mathematical realism requires not merely the metaphysical possibility but rather the actuality that a mathematical object affects the brain. Second, mathematical realists need to confront a set of three pertinent issues: why a mathematical object does not affect other concrete objects and other mathematical objects, what counts as a mathematical object, and how (...)
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  10. Conversational Exculpature.Daniel Hoek - 2018 - Philosophical Review 127 (2):151-196.
    Conversational exculpature is a pragmatic process whereby information is subtracted from, rather than added to, what the speaker literally says. This pragmatic content subtraction explains why we can say “Rob is six feet tall” without implying that Rob is between 5'0.99" and 6'0.01" tall, and why we can say “Ellen has a hat like the one Sherlock Holmes always wears” without implying Holmes exists or has a hat. This article presents a simple formalism for understanding this pragmatic mechanism, specifying how, (...)
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  11. Why Mathematical Fictionalism Isn't Psychologistic.M. Balaguer - 2017 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 24 (9-10):103-111.
    This paper provides comments on Susan Schneider's paper 'Does the Mathematical Nature of Physics Undermine Physicalism?'. In particular, it argues that, in contrast with what Schneider suggests, mathematical fictionalism is not a psychologistic view in any interesting sense.
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  12. Accessibility of Reformulated Mathematical Content.Stefan Buijsman - 2017 - Synthese 194 (6).
    I challenge a claim that seems to be made when nominalists offer reformulations of the content of mathematical beliefs, namely that these reformulations are accessible to everyone. By doing so, I argue that these theories cannot account for the mathematical knowledge that ordinary people have. In the first part of the paper I look at reformulations that employ the concept of proof, such as those of Mary Leng and Ottavio Bueno. I argue that ordinary people don’t have many beliefs about (...)
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  13. In Defense of Mathematical Inferentialism.Seungbae Park - 2017 - Analysis and Metaphysics 16:70-83.
    I defend a new position in philosophy of mathematics that I call mathematical inferentialism. It holds that a mathematical sentence can perform the function of facilitating deductive inferences from some concrete sentences to other concrete sentences, that a mathematical sentence is true if and only if all of its concrete consequences are true, that the abstract world does not exist, and that we acquire mathematical knowledge by confirming concrete sentences. Mathematical inferentialism has several advantages over mathematical realism and fictionalism.
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  14. Does the Mathematical Nature of Physics Undermine Physicalism?Susan Schneider - 2017 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 24 (9-10):7-39.
  15. The Inaccuracy of Partial Truth in Yablovian If-Thenism.Joseph Ulatowski - 2017 - Australasian Philosophical Review 1 (2):206-211.
    Yablo has argued for an alternative form of if-thenism that is more conducive with his figurative fictionalism. This commentary sets out to challenge whether the remainder, ρ, tends to be an inaccurate representation of the conditions that are supposed to complete the enthymeme from φ to Ψ. Whilst by some accounts the inaccuracies shouldn't set off any alarm bells, the truth of ρ is too inexact. The content of ρ, a partial truth, must display a sensitivity to the contextual background (...)
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  16. True Nominalism: Referring Versus Coding.Jody Azzouni & Otávio Bueno - 2016 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67 (3):781-816.
    One major motivation for nominalism, at least according to Hartry Field, is the desirability of intrinsic explanations: explanations that don’t invoke objects that are causally irrelevant to the phenomena being explained. There is something right about the search for such explanations. But that search must be carefully implemented. Nothing is gained if, to avoid a certain class of objects, one only introduces other objects and relations that are just as nominalistically questionable. We will argue that this is the case for (...)
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  17. Philosophy of Mathematics for the Masses : Extending the Scope of the Philosophy of Mathematics.Stefan Buijsman - 2016 - Dissertation, Stockholm University
    One of the important discussions in the philosophy of mathematics, is that centered on Benacerraf’s Dilemma. Benacerraf’s dilemma challenges theorists to provide an epistemology and semantics for mathematics, based on their favourite ontology. This challenge is the point on which all philosophies of mathematics are judged, and clarifying how we might acquire mathematical knowledge is one of the main occupations of philosophers of mathematics. In this thesis I argue that this discussion has overlooked an important part of mathematics, namely mathematics (...)
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  18. Multiple Realization and Expressive Power in Mathematics and Ethics.David Liggins - 2016 - In Uri D. Leibowitz & Neil Sinclair (eds.), Explanation in Ethics and Mathematics: Debunking and Dispensability. Oxford University Press.
    According to a popular ‘explanationist’ argument for moral or mathematical realism the best explanation of some phenomena are moral or mathematical, and this implies the relevant form of realism. One popular way to resist the premiss of such arguments is to hold that any supposed explanation provided by moral or mathematical properties is in fact provided only by the non-moral or non-mathematical grounds of those properties. Many realists have responded to this objection by urging that the explanations provided by the (...)
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  19. Good Weasel Hunting.Robert Knowles & David Liggins - 2015 - Synthese 192 (10):3397-3412.
    The ‘indispensability argument’ for the existence of mathematical objects appeals to the role mathematics plays in science. In a series of publications, Joseph Melia has offered a distinctive reply to the indispensability argument. The purpose of this paper is to clarify Melia’s response to the indispensability argument and to advise Melia and his critics on how best to carry forward the debate. We will begin by presenting Melia’s response and diagnosing some recent misunderstandings of it. Then we will discuss four (...)
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  20. Categories and Constructs.Shay Logan - 2015 - Dissertation, University of Minnesota
  21. The Semantics of Social Constructivism.Shay Allen Logan - 2015 - Synthese 192 (8):2577-2598.
    This essay will examine some rather serious trouble confronting claims that mathematicalia might be social constructs. Because of the clarity with which he makes the case and the philosophical rigor he applies to his analysis, our exemplar of a social constructivist in this sense is Julian Cole, especially the work in his 2009 and 2013 papers on the topic. In a 2010 paper, Jill Dieterle criticized the view in Cole’s 2009 paper for being unable to account for the atemporality of (...)
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  22. From Mathematical Fictionalism to Truth‐Theoretic Fictionalism.Bradley Armour-Garb & James A. Woodbridge - 2014 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 88 (1):93-118.
    We argue that if Stephen Yablo (2005) is right that philosophers of mathematics ought to endorse a fictionalist view of number-talk, then there is a compelling reason for deflationists about truth to endorse a fictionalist view of truth-talk. More specifically, our claim will be that, for deflationists about truth, Yablo’s argument for mathematical fictionalism can be employed and mounted as an argument for truth-theoretic fictionalism.
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  23. Abstract Expressionism and the Communication Problem.David Liggins - 2014 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 65 (3):599-620.
    Some philosophers have recently suggested that the reason mathematics is useful in science is that it expands our expressive capacities. Of these philosophers, only Stephen Yablo has put forward a detailed account of how mathematics brings this advantage. In this article, I set out Yablo’s view and argue that it is implausible. Then, I introduce a simpler account and show it is a serious rival to Yablo’s. 1 Introduction2 Yablo’s Expressionism3 Psychological Objections to Yablo’s Expressionism4 Introducing Belief Expressionism5 Objections and (...)
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  24. Musil's Imaginary Bridge.Achille C. Varzi - 2014 - The Monist 97 (1):30-46.
    In a calculation involving imaginary numbers, we begin with real numbers that represent concrete measures and we end up with numbers that are equally real, but in the course of the operation we find ourselves walking “as if on a bridge that stands on no piles”. How is that possible? How does that work? And what is involved in the as-if stance that this metaphor introduces so beautifully? These are questions that bother Törless deeply. And that Törless is bothered by (...)
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  25. Handling Mathematical Objects: Representations and Context.Jessica Carter - 2013 - Synthese 190 (17):3983-3999.
    This article takes as a starting point the current popular anti realist position, Fictionalism, with the intent to compare it with actual mathematical practice. Fictionalism claims that mathematical statements do purport to be about mathematical objects, and that mathematical statements are not true. Considering these claims in the light of mathematical practice leads to questions about how mathematical objects are handled, and how we prove that certain statements hold. Based on a case study on Riemann’s work on complex functions, I (...)
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  26. Christopher Pincock. Mathematics and Scientific Representation. Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-19-975710-7. Pp. Xv + 330. [REVIEW]Michael Liston - 2013 - Philosophia Mathematica 21 (3):371-385.
  27. Intrinsic Explanation and Field’s Dispensabilist Strategy.Russell Marcus - 2013 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 21 (2):163-183.
    Philosophy of mathematics for the last half-century has been dominated in one way or another by Quine’s indispensability argument. The argument alleges that our best scientific theory quantifies over, and thus commits us to, mathematical objects. In this paper, I present new considerations which undermine the most serious challenge to Quine’s argument, Hartry Field’s reformulation of Newtonian Gravitational Theory.
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  28. Mathematics and Reality, by Mary Leng.J. W. Roland - 2013 - Mind 122 (485):297-302.
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  29. Pretense, Mathematics, and Cognitive Neuroscience.Jonathan Tallant - 2013 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64 (4):axs013.
    A pretense theory of a given discourse is a theory that claims that we do not believe or assert the propositions expressed by the sentences we token (speak, write, and so on) when taking part in that discourse. Instead, according to pretense theory, we are speaking from within a pretense. According to pretense theories of mathematics, we engage with mathematics as we do a pretense. We do not use mathematical language to make claims that express propositions and, thus, we do (...)
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  30. The Game of Fictional Mathematics: Review of M. Leng, Mathematics and Reality[REVIEW]J. Frans - 2012 - Constructivist Foundations 8 (1):126-128.
    Upshot: Leng attacks the indispensability argument for the existence of mathematical objects. She offers an account that treats the role of mathematics in science as an indispensable and useful part of theories, but retains nonetheless a fictionalist position towards mathematics. The result is an account of mathematics that is interesting for constructivists. Her view towards the nominalistic part of science is, however, more in conflict with radical constructivism.
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  31. The Game of Fictional Mathematics. Review of “Mathematics and Reality” by Mary Leng.Joachim Frans - 2012 - Constructivist Foundations 8 (1):126-128.
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  32. Weaseling and the Content of Science.David Liggins - 2012 - Mind 121 (484):997-1005.
    I defend Joseph Melia’s nominalist account of mathematics from an objection raised by Mark Colyvan.
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  33. Indispensability Arguments and Instrumental Nominalism.Richard Pettigrew - 2012 - Review of Symbolic Logic 5 (4):687-709.
    In the philosophy of mathematics, indispensability arguments aim to show that we are justified in believing that abstract mathematical objects exist. I wish to defend a particular objection to such arguments that has become increasingly popular recently. It is called instrumental nominalism. I consider the recent versions of this view and conclude that it has yet to be given an adequate formulation. I provide such a formulation and show that it can be used to answer the indispensability arguments. -/- There (...)
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  34. Science and Mathematics: The Scope and Limits of Mathematical Fictionalism: Mary Leng: Mathematics and Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, X+278pp, £39.00 HB. [REVIEW]Christopher Pincock, Alan Baker, Alexander Paseau & Mary Leng - 2012 - Metascience 21 (2):269-294.
    Science and mathematics: the scope and limits of mathematical fictionalism Content Type Journal Article Category Book Symposium Pages 1-26 DOI 10.1007/s11016-011-9640-3 Authors Christopher Pincock, University of Missouri, 438 Strickland Hall, Columbia, MO 65211-4160, USA Alan Baker, Department of Philosophy, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA 19081, USA Alexander Paseau, Wadham College, Oxford, OX1 3PN UK Mary Leng, Department of Philosophy, University of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD UK Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
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  35. Fictionalism and Mathematical Objectivity.Iulian D. Toader - 2012 - In Metaphysics and Science. University of Bucharest Press. pp. 137-158.
    This paper, written in Romanian, compares fictionalism, nominalism, and neo-Meinongianism as responses to the problem of objectivity in mathematics, and then motivates a fictionalist view of objectivity as invariance.
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  36. A Yablovian Dilemma.Richard Woodward - 2012 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 1 (3):200-209.
    Stephen Yablo (2001) argues that traditional fictionalist strategies run into trouble due to a mismatch between the modal status of a claim like ‘2 + 3 = 5’ and the modal status of its fictionalist paraphrase. I argue here that Yablo is best seen as confronting the fictionalist with a dilemma, and then go on to show how this dilemma can be resolved.
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  37. The Implausibility of Hermeneutic Non-Assertivism.B. Armour-Garb - 2011 - Philosophia Mathematica 19 (3):349-353.
    In a recent paper, Mark Balaguer has responded to the argument that I launched against Hermeneutic Non-Assertivism, claiming that, as a matter of empirical fact, ‘when typical mathematicians utter mathematical sentences, they are doing something that differs from asserting in a pretty subtle way, so that the difference between [asserting] and this other kind of speech act is not obvious’. In this paper, I show the implausibility of this empirical hypothesis.
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  38. Understanding and Mathematical Fictionalism.B. Armour-Garb - 2011 - Philosophia Mathematica 19 (3):335-344.
    In a recent paper in this journal, Mark Balaguer develops and defends a new version of mathematical fictionalism, what he calls ‘Hermeneutic non-assertivism’, and responds to some recent objections to mathematical fictionalism that were launched by John Burgess and others. In this paper I provide some fairly compelling reasons for rejecting Hermeneutic non-assertivism — ones that highlight an important feature of what understanding mathematics involves (or, as we shall see, does not involve).
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  39. Reply to Armour-Garb.M. Balaguer - 2011 - Philosophia Mathematica 19 (3):345-348.
    Hermeneutic non-assertivism is a thesis that mathematical fictionalists might want to endorse in responding to a recent objection due to John Burgess. Brad Armour-Garb has argued that hermeneutic non-assertivism is false. A response is given here to Armour-Garb's argument.
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  40. Fictionalism in the Philosophy of Mathematics.Mark Colyvan - 2011 - In E. J. Craig (ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Fictionalism in the philosophy of mathematics is the view that mathematical statements, such as ‘8+5=13’ and ‘π is irrational’, are to be interpreted at face value and, thus interpreted, are false. Fictionalists are typically driven to reject the truth of such mathematical statements because these statements imply the existence of mathematical entities, and according to fictionalists there are no such entities. Fictionalism is a nominalist (or anti-realist) account of mathematics in that it denies the existence of a realm of abstract (...)
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  41. Review of M. Leng, Mathematics and Reality[REVIEW]L. Horsten - 2011 - Analysis 71 (4):798-799.
  42. Jody Azzouni. Talking About Nothing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-19-973894-64. Pp. Iv + 273†. [REVIEW]Graham Priest - 2011 - Philosophia Mathematica 19 (3):359-363.
    Our normal discourse is replete with discussion of things which do not exist — the objects of fiction, of illusion and hallucination, of religious worship, of misguided fears and other intentional states. Let us call such discourse empty. How to account for the meaning of empty discourse, and such truth values as its statements have, are perennial and thorny philosophical topics. Many positions are well known; in this book of five chapters Azzouni advocates another. Empty discourse is literally about nothing; (...)
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  43. Review of M. Leng, Mathematics and Reality[REVIEW]Davide Rizza - 2011 - Philosophical Quarterly 61 (244):655-657.
  44. Why Deflationists Should Be Pretense Theorists (and Perhaps Already Are).Bradley Armour-Garb & James A. Woodbridge - 2010 - In Cory D. Wright & Nikolaj J. L. L. Pedersen (eds.), New Waves in Truth. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 59-77.
    In this paper, we do two things. First, we clarify the notion of deflationism, with special attention to deflationary accounts of truth. Seocnd, we argue that one who endorses a deflationary account of truth (or of semantic notions, generally) should be, or perhaps already is, a pretense theorist regarding truth-talk. In §1 we discuss mathematical fictionalism, where we focus on Yablo’s pretense account of mathematical discourse. §2 briefly introduces the key elements of deflationism and explains deflationism about truth in particular. (...)
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  45. Talking About Nothing: Numbers, Hallucinations, and Fictions.Jody Azzouni - 2010 - Oxford University Press.
    Numbers -- Hallucinations -- Fictions -- Scientific languages, ontology, and truth -- Truth conditions and semantics.
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  46. Mary Leng. Mathematics and Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-19-928079-7. Pp. X &Plus; 278: Critical Studies/Book Reviews. [REVIEW]John P. Burgess - 2010 - Philosophia Mathematica 18 (3):337-344.
    (No abstract is available for this citation).
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  47. What Mathematicians' Claims Mean : In Defense of Hermeneutic Fictionalism.Gábor Forrai - 2010 - Hungarian Philosophical Review 54 (4):191-203.
    Hermeneutic fictionalism about mathematics maintains that mathematics is not committed to the existence of abstract objects such as numbers. Mathematical sentences are true, but they should not be construed literally. Numbers are just fictions in terms of which we can conveniently describe things which exist. The paper defends Stephen Yablo’s hermeneutic fictionalism against an objection proposed by John Burgess and Gideon Rosen. The objection, directed against all forms of nominalism, goes as follows. Nominalism can take either a hermeneutic form and (...)
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  48. Review of Mary Leng, Mathematics and Reality[REVIEW]Gregory Lavers - 2010 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2010 (9).
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  49. Mathematics and Reality.Mary Leng (ed.) - 2010 - Oxford University Press.
    Mary Leng defends a philosophical account of the nature of mathematics which views it as a kind of fiction. On this view, the claims of our ordinary mathematical theories are more closely analogous to utterances made in the context of storytelling than to utterances whose aim is to assert literal truths.
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  50. The Autism Objection to Pretence Theories.David Liggins - 2010 - Philosophical Quarterly 60 (241):764-782.
    A pretence theory of a discourse is one which claims that we do not believe or assert the propositions expressed by the sentences we utter when taking part in the discourse: instead, we are speaking from within a pretence. Jason Stanley argues that if a pretence account of a discourse is correct, people with autism should be incapable of successful participation in it; but since people with autism are capable of participiating successfully in the discourses which pretence theorists aim to (...)
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