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
Related categories

78 found
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  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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. (...)
  4. 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.
  5. True Nominalism: Referring Versus Coding.J. Azzouni & O. 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 (...)
  6. 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.
  7. The Derivation-Indicator View of Mathematical Practice.Jody Azzouni - 2004 - Philosophia Mathematica 12 (2):81-106.
    The form of nominalism known as 'mathematical fictionalism' is examined and found wanting, mainly on grounds that go back to an early antinominalist work of Rudolf Carnap that has unfortunately not been paid sufficient attention by more recent writers.
  8. Fictionalism, Theft, and the Story of Mathematics.Mark Balaguer - 2008 - Philosophia Mathematica 17 (2):131-162.
    This paper develops a novel version of mathematical fictionalism and defends it against three objections or worries, viz., (i) an objection based on the fact that there are obvious disanalogies between mathematics and fiction; (ii) a worry about whether fictionalism is consistent with the fact that certain mathematical sentences are objectively correct whereas others are incorrect; and (iii) a recent objection due to John Burgess concerning “hermeneuticism” and “revolutionism”.
  9. 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.
  10. Fictionalism in the Philosophy of Mathematics.Mark Balaguer - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Mathematical fictionalism (or as I'll call it, fictionalism) is best thought of as a reaction to mathematical platonism. Platonism is the view that (a) there exist abstract mathematical objects (i.e., nonspatiotemporal mathematical objects), and (b) our mathematical sentences and theories provide true descriptions of such objects. So, for instance, on the platonist view, the sentence ‘3 is prime’ provides a straightforward description of a certain object—namely, the number 3—in much the same way that the sentence ‘Mars is red’ provides a (...)
  11. Platonism and Anti-Platonism in Mathematics.Mark Balaguer - 1998 - Oxford University Press.
    In this book, Balaguer demonstrates that there are no good arguments for or against mathematical platonism. He does this by establishing that both platonism and anti-platonism are defensible views. Introducing a form of platonism ("full-blooded platonism") that solves all problems traditionally associated with the view, he proceeds to defend anti-platonism (in particular, mathematical fictionalism) against various attacks, most notably the Quine-Putnam indispensability attack. He concludes by arguing that it is not simply that we do not currently have any good argument (...)
  12. A Fictionalist Account of the Indispensable Applications of Mathematics.Mark Balaguer - 1996 - Philosophical Studies 83 (3):291 - 314.
  13. Optimal Representations and the Enhanced Indispensability Argument.Manuel Barrantes - forthcoming - Synthese:1-17.
    The Enhanced Indispensability Argument (EIA) appeals to the existence of Mathematical Explanations of Physical Phenomena (MEPPs) 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 to justify mathematical Platonism. I then generalize my analysis of the cicada case to other MEPPs, and show that these explanations rely on (...)
  14. 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 (...)
  15. 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 (...)
  16. Moderate Mathematical Fictionism.Mario Bunge - 1997 - In Evandro Agazzi & György Darvas (eds.), Philosophy of Mathematics Today. Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 51--71.
  17. Mary Leng. Mathematics and Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-19-928079-7. Pp. X + 278.J. P. Burgess - 2010 - Philosophia Mathematica 18 (3):337-344.
    (No abstract is available for this citation).
  18. Mathematics and Bleak House.John P. Burgess - 2004 - Philosophia Mathematica 12 (1):18-36.
    The form of nominalism known as 'mathematical fictionalism' is examined and found wanting, mainly on grounds that go back to an early antinominalist work of Rudolf Carnap that has unfortunately not been paid sufficient attention by more recent writers.
  19. A Subject with No Object: Strategies for Nominalistic Interpretation of Mathematics.John P. Burgess & Gideon A. Rosen - 1997 - Oxford University Press.
    Numbers and other mathematical objects are exceptional in having no locations in space or time or relations of cause and effect. This makes it difficult to account for the possibility of the knowledge of such objects, leading many philosophers to embrace nominalism, the doctrine that there are no such objects, and to embark on ambitious projects for interpreting mathematics so as to preserve the subject while eliminating its objects. This book cuts through a host of technicalities that have obscured previous (...)
  20. On Mathematical Instrumentalism.Patrick Caldon & Aleksandar Ignjatović - 2005 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 70 (3):778 - 794.
    In this paper we devise some technical tools for dealing with problems connected with the philosophical view usually called mathematical instrumentalism. These tools are interesting in their own right, independently of their philosophical consequences. For example, we show that even though the fragment of Peano's Arithmetic known as IΣ₁ is a conservative extension of the equational theory of Primitive Recursive Arithmetic (PRA). IΣ₁ has a super-exponential speed-up over PRA. On the other hand, theories studied in the Program of Reverse Mathematics (...)
  21. 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 (...)
  22. Mathematical Knowledge, Edited by Mary Leng, Alexander Paseau, and Michael Potter. [REVIEW]E. Chudnoff - 2009 - Mind 118 (471):846-850.
    Review of Mathematical Knowledge eds. Leng, Paseau, and Potter.
  23. 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 (...)
  24. Mathematics: Truth and Fiction? Review of Mark Balaguer's Platonism and Anti-Platonism in Mathematics.Mark Colyvan & Edward N. Zalta - 1999 - Philosophia Mathematica 7 (3):336-349.
    Mark Balaguer’s project in this book is extremely ambitious; he sets out to defend both platonism and fictionalism about mathematical entities. Moreover, Balaguer argues that at the end of the day, platonism and fictionalism are on an equal footing. Not content to leave the matter there, however, he advances the anti-metaphysical conclusion that there is no fact of the matter about the existence of mathematical objects.1 Despite the ambitious nature of this project, for the most part Balaguer does not shortchange (...)
  25. Mathematical Fictionalism - No Comedy of Errors.C. Daly - 2006 - Analysis 66 (3):208-216.
  26. Mathematical Fictionalism – No Comedy of Errors.Chris Daly - 2006 - Analysis 66 (291):208–216.
  27. Fictionalism and the Attitudes.Chris John Daly - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 139 (3):423 - 440.
    This paper distinguishes revolutionary fictionalism from other forms of fictionalism and also from other philosophical views. The paper takes fictionalism about mathematical objects and fictionalism about scientific unobservables as illustrations. The paper evaluates arguments that purport to show that this form of fictionalism is incoherent on the grounds that there is no tenable distinction between believing a sentence and taking the fictionalist's distinctive attitude to that sentence. The argument that fictionalism about mathematics is ‘comically immodest’ is also evaluated. In place (...)
  28. Mathematics and Conceptual Analysis.Antony Eagle - 2008 - Synthese 161 (1):67–88.
    Gödel argued that intuition has an important role to play in mathematical epistemology, and despite the infamy of his own position, this opinion still has much to recommend it. Intuitions and folk platitudes play a central role in philosophical enquiry too, and have recently been elevated to a central position in one project for understanding philosophical methodology: the so-called ‘Canberra Plan’. This philosophical role for intuitions suggests an analogous epistemology for some fundamental parts of mathematics, which casts a number of (...)
  29. Realism and Anti-Realism About Mathematics.Hartry Field - 1982 - Philosophical Topics 13 (1):45-69.
  30. 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 (...)
  31. 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.
  32. The Game of Fictional Mathematics. Review of “Mathematics and Reality” by Mary Leng.Joachim Frans - 2012 - Constructivist Foundations 8 (1):126-128.
  33. You Can't Mean That: Yablo's Figuralist Account of Mathematics.Sarah Hoffman - unknown
    Burgess and Rosen argue that Yablo’s figuralist account of mathematics fails because it says mathematical claims are really only metaphorical. They suggest Yablo’s view is implausible as an account of what mathematicians say and confused about literal language. I show their argument isn’t decisive, briefly exploring some questions in the philosophy of language it raises, and argue Yablo’s view may be amended to a kind of revolutionary fictionalism not refuted by Burgess and Rosen.
  34. Kitcher, Ideal Agents, and Fictionalism.Sarah Hoffman - 2004 - Philosophia Mathematica 12 (1):3-17.
    Kitcher urges us to think of mathematics as an idealized science of human operations, rather than a theory describing abstract mathematical objects. I argue that Kitcher's invocation of idealization cannot save mathematical truth and avoid platonism. Nevertheless, what is left of Kitcher's view is worth holding onto. I propose that Kitcher's account should be fictionalized, making use of Walton's and Currie's make-believe theory of fiction, and argue that the resulting ideal-agent fictionalism has advantages over mathematical-object fictionalism.
  35. Mathematics as Make-Believe: A Constructive Empiricist Account.Sarah Elizabeth Hoffman - 1999 - Dissertation, University of Alberta (Canada)
    Any philosophy of science ought to have something to say about the nature of mathematics, especially an account like constructive empiricism in which mathematical concepts like model and isomorphism play a central role. This thesis is a contribution to the larger project of formulating a constructive empiricist account of mathematics. The philosophy of mathematics developed is fictionalist, with an anti-realist metaphysics. In the thesis, van Fraassen's constructive empiricism is defended and various accounts of mathematics are considered and rejected. Constructive empiricism (...)
  36. Review of M. Leng, Mathematics and Reality[REVIEW]L. Horsten - 2011 - Analysis 71 (4):798-799.
  37. Mathematical Instrumentalism Meets the Conjunction Objection.James Hawthorne - 1996 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 25 (4):363-397.
    Scientific realists often appeal to some version of the conjunction objection to argue that scientific instrumentalism fails to do justice to the full empirical import of scientific theories. Whereas the conjunction objection provides a powerful critique of scientific instrumentalism, I will show that mathematical instnrunentalism escapes the conjunction objection unscathed.
  38. 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 (...)
  39. On 'Average'.Christopher Kennedy & Jason Stanley - 2009 - Mind 118 (471):583 - 646.
    This article investigates the semantics of sentences that express numerical averages, focusing initially on cases such as 'The average American has 2.3 children'. Such sentences have been used both by linguists and philosophers to argue for a disjuncture between semantics and ontology. For example, Noam Chomsky and Norbert Hornstein have used them to provide evidence against the hypothesis that natural language semantics includes a reference relation holding between words and objects in the world, whereas metaphysicians such as Joseph Melia and (...)
  40. Mathematics and Modality.Glenn Kessler - 1978 - Noûs 12 (4):421-441.
  41. 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 (...)
  42. Review of Mary Leng, Mathematics and Reality[REVIEW]Gregory Lavers - 2010 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2010 (9).
  43. Mathematics and Reality.Mary Leng - 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.
  44. Structuralism, Fictionalism, and Applied Mathematics.Mary Leng - unknown
  45. Revolutionary Fictionalism: A Call to Arms.Mary Leng - 2005 - Philosophia Mathematica 13 (3):277-293.
    This paper responds to John Burgess's ‘Mathematics and Bleak House’. While Burgess's rejection of hermeneutic fictionalism is accepted, it is argued that his two main attacks on revolutionary fictionalism fail to meet their target. Firstly, ‘philosophical modesty’ should not prevent philosophers from questioning the truth of claims made within successful practices, provided that the utility of those practices as they stand can be explained. Secondly, Carnapian scepticism concerning the meaningfulness of metaphysical existence claims has no force against a naturalized version (...)
  46. What's Wrong with Indispensability?Mary Leng - 2002 - Synthese 131 (3):395 - 417.
    For many philosophers not automatically inclined to Platonism, the indispensability argument for the existence of mathematical objectshas provided the best (and perhaps only) evidence for mathematicalrealism. Recently, however, this argument has been subject to attack, most notably by Penelope Maddy (1992, 1997),on the grounds that its conclusions do not sit well with mathematical practice. I offer a diagnosis of what has gone wrong with the indispensability argument (I claim that mathematics is indispensable in the wrong way), and, taking my cue (...)
  47. Mathematical Knowledge.Mary Leng, Alexander Paseau & Michael D. Potter (eds.) - 2007 - Oxford University Press.
    What is the nature of mathematical knowledge? Is it anything like scientific knowledge or is it sui generis? How do we acquire it? Should we believe what mathematicians themselves tell us about it? Are mathematical concepts innate or acquired? Eight new essays offer answers to these and many other questions. Written by some of the world's leading philosophers of mathematics, psychologists, and mathematicians, Mathematical Knowledge gives a lively sense of the current state of debate in this fascinating field. Contents 1. (...)
  48. 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 (...)
  49. 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 (...)
  50. 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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