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Mathematical Truth

Edited by Mark Balaguer (California State University, Los Angeles)
Assistant editor: Sam Roberts (University of Sheffield)
About this topic
Summary

The topic of mathematical truth is importantly tied to the ontology of mathematics.  In particular, a central question is what kinds of objects we commit ourselves to when we endorse the truth of ordinary mathematical sentences, like ‘4 is even’ and ‘There are infinitely many prime numbers.’   But there are other important philosophical questions about mathematical truth as well.  For instance: Is there any plausible way to maintain that mathematical truths are analytic, i.e., true solely in virtue of meaning?  And given that most ordinary mathematical sentences (e.g., the two sentences listed above) follow from the axioms of our various mathematical theories (e.g., from sentences like ‘0 is a number’), how can we account for the truth of the axioms?  And how can we account for the objectivity of mathematics (i.e., for the fact that some mathematical sentences are objectively correct and others are objectively incorrect)?  Can we do this without endorsing the existence of mathematical objects?  Do mathematical objects even help?  And so on.

Key works

Some key works on these topics include the following: Carnap 1950; Benacerraf 1973; Putnam 1980; Field 1993; Field 1998; Wright & Hale 1992; Gödel 1964; Maddy 1988; and Maddy 1988.

Introductions

Introductory works include Shapiro 2000 and Colyvan 2012.

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  1. Lemanska Anna (2010). Truth and Mathematics (Prawda a Matematyka). Studia Philosophiae Christianae 46 (1):37-54.
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  2. Tim Button & Sean Walsh (2016). Structure and Categoricity: Determinacy of Reference and Truth Value in the Philosophy of Mathematics. Philosophia Mathematica 24 (3):283-307.
    This article surveys recent literature by Parsons, McGee, Shapiro and others on the significance of categoricity arguments in the philosophy of mathematics. After discussing whether categoricity arguments are sufficient to secure reference to mathematical structures up to isomorphism, we assess what exactly is achieved by recent ‘internal’ renditions of the famous categoricity arguments for arithmetic and set theory.
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  3. Desmond Fearnley-Sander (1995). Automated Theorem Proving and Its Prospects. [REVIEW] Psyche 2.
    REVIEW OF: Automated Development of Fundamental Mathematical Theories by Art Quaife. (1992: Kluwer Academic Publishers) 271pp. Using the theorem prover OTTER Art Quaife has proved four hundred theorems of von Neumann-Bernays-Gödel set theory; twelve hundred theorems and definitions of elementary number theory; dozens of Euclidean geometry theorems; and Gödel's incompleteness theorems. It is an impressive achievement. To gauge its significance and to see what prospects it offers this review looks closely at the book and the proofs it presents.
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  4. Ulf Hlobil (2010). Regel und Witz. Wittgensteinsche Perspektiven auf Mathematik, Sprache und Moral. [REVIEW] Zeitschrift für Philosophische Forschung 64 (3):416-419.
    Review of Timo-Peter Ertz's "Regel und Witz. Wittgensteinsche Perspektiven auf Mathematik, Sprache und Moral," Berlin & New York: de Gruyter, 2008.
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  5. Rafael Duarte Oliveira Venancio (2013). Cyberpunk Entre Literatura E Matemática: Processos Comunicacionais da Literatura Massiva Na Crítica Científica da Realidade. Conexão 12 (23).
    O presente artigo busca definir o movimento literário cyberpunk a partir da sua influência teórica vinda do campo da matemática. Utilizando a teorização interna ao movimento, centrada em Rudy Rucker, o objetivo aqui é entender como os campos da análise e dos fundamentos da matemática criam uma importante distinção entre os cyberpunks e as demais distopias literárias. Com isso, há a pressuposição de um movimento de uma crítica sociomatemática feita pelos cyberpunks cujos conceitos matemáticos tornam possível criticar o tempo presente, (...)
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  6. Jared Warren & Daniel Waxman (forthcoming). A Metasemantic Challenge for Mathematical Determinacy. Synthese:1-19.
    This paper investigates the determinacy of mathematics. We begin by clarifying how we are understanding the notion of determinacy before turning to the questions of whether and how famous independence results bear on issues of determinacy in mathematics. From there, we pose a metasemantic challenge for those who believe that mathematical language is determinate, motivate two important constraints on attempts to meet our challenge, and then use these constraints to develop an argument against determinacy and discuss a particularly popular approach (...)
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Analyticity in Mathematics
  1. Lieven Decock, Carnap and Quine on Some Analytic-Synthetic Distinctions.
    I want to analyse the Quine-Carnap discussion on analyticity with regard to logical, mathematical and set-theoretical statements. In recent years, the renewed interest in Carnap’s work has shed a new light on the analytic-synthetic debate. If one fully appreciates Carnap’s conventionalism, one sees that there was not a metaphysical debate on whether there is an analytic-synthetic distinction, but rather a controversy on the expedience of drawing such a distinction. However, on this view, there can be no longer a single analytic-synthetic (...)
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  2. Milton Fisk (1966). Analyticity and Conceptual Revision. Journal of Philosophy 63 (20):627-637.
    The view that analytic propositions are those which are true in virtue of rules of use is basically correct. But there are many kinds of rules of use, and rules of some of these kinds do not generate truth. There is nothing like a grammatical analytic, though grammatical rules are rules of use. So, this rules-of-use view falls short of being an explanatory account. My problem is to find what it is that is special about those rules of use which (...)
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  3. Gerhard Frey (1972). Inwiefern Sind Die Mathematischen Sätze Analytisch? Philosophia Mathematica (2):145-157.
    A SUMMARY IN ENGLISH [by Editor]The problem is to find out whether mathematical propositions are analytical, and if so, or if not, to what extent.Kant defined the analyticity in terms of Cartesian res extensa, exemplified by “A body is extended”, while he considered, because of such examples, mathematical propositions to be synthetic. The recent studies in set theory by Gödel, P.J.Cohen, etc., indicate, however, that such a proposition as the continuum hypothesis is certainly not “analytic (tautological)” in the strict sense (...)
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  4. M. Giaquinto (1996). Non-Analytic Conceptual Knowledge. Mind 105 (418):249-268.
  5. Bob Hale (ed.) (2001). The Reason's Proper Study: Essays Towards a Neo-Fregean Philosophy of Mathematics. Oxford University Press.
    Here, Bob Hale and Crispin Wright assemble the key writings that lead to their distinctive neo-Fregean approach to the philosophy of mathematics. In addition to fourteen previously published papers, the volume features a new paper on the Julius Caesar problem; a substantial new introduction mapping out the program and the contributions made to it by the various papers; a section explaining which issues most require further attention; and bibliographies of references and further useful sources. It will be recognized as the (...)
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  6. Fabrice Pataut Jody Azzouni, Paul Benacerraf Justin Clarke-Doane, Jacques Dubucs Sébastien Gandon, Brice Halimi Jon Perez Laraudogoitia, Mary Leng Ana Leon-Mejia, Antonio Leon-Sanchez Marco Panza, Fabrice Pataut Philippe de Rouilhan & Andrea Sereni Stuart Shapiro (forthcoming). New Perspectives on the Philosophy of Paul Benacerraf: Truth, Objects, Infinity (Fabrice Pataut, Editor). Springer.
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  7. Gregory Lavers (2012). On the Quinean-Analyticity of Mathematical Propositions. Philosophical Studies 159 (2):299-319.
    This paper investigates the relation between Carnap and Quine’s views on analyticity on the one hand, and their views on philosophical analysis or explication on the other. I argue that the stance each takes on what constitutes a successful explication largely dictates the view they take on analyticity. I show that although acknowledged by neither party (in fact Quine frequently expressed his agreement with Carnap on this subject) their views on explication are substantially different. I argue that this difference not (...)
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  8. John MacFarlane (2009). Double Vision: Two Questions About the Neo-Fregean Program. Synthese 170 (3):443-456.
    Much of The Reason’s Proper Study is devoted to defending the claim that simply by stipulating an abstraction principle for the “number-of” functor, we can simultaneously fix a meaning for this functor and acquire epistemic entitlement to the stipulated principle. In this paper, I argue that the semantic and epistemological principles Hale and Wright offer in defense of this claim may be too strong for their purposes. For if these principles are correct, it is hard to see why they do (...)
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  9. X. Y. Newberry, Meaning, Presuppositions, Truth-Relevance, Gödel's Sentence and the Liar Paradox.
    Section 1 reviews Strawson’s logic of presuppositions. Strawson’s justification is critiqued and a new justification proposed. Section 2 extends the logic of presuppositions to cases when the subject class is necessarily empty, such as (x)((Px & ~Px) → Qx) . The strong similarity of the resulting logic with Richard Diaz’s truth-relevant logic is pointed out. Section 3 further extends the logic of presuppositions to sentences with many variables, and a certain valuation is proposed. It is noted that, given this valuation, (...)
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  10. Stephen R. Palmquist (1989). The Syntheticity of Time. Philosophia Mathematica (2):233-235.
    In a recent article in this journal Phil. Math., II, v.4 (1989), n.2, pp.? ?] J. Fang argues that we must not be fooled by A.J. Ayer (God rest his soul!) and his cohorts into believing that mathematical knowledge has an analytic a priori status. Even computers, he reminds us, take some amount of time to perform their calculations. The simplicity of Kant's infamous example of a mathematical proposition (7+5=12) is "partly to blame" for "mislead[ing] scholars in the direction of (...)
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  11. Seungbae Park (2016). Against Mathematical Convenientism. Axiomathes 26 (2):115-122.
    Indispensablists argue that when our belief system conflicts with our experiences, we can negate a mathematical belief but we do not because if we do, we would have to make an excessive revision of our belief system. Thus, we retain a mathematical belief not because we have good evidence for it but because it is convenient to do so. I call this view ‘ mathematical convenientism.’ I argue that mathematical convenientism commits the consequential fallacy and that it demolishes the Quine-Putnam (...)
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  12. Neil Tennant (2008). Carnap, Gödel, and the Analyticity of Arithmetic. Philosophia Mathematica 16 (1):100-112.
    Michael Friedman maintains that Carnap did not fully appreciate the impact of Gödel's first incompleteness theorem on the prospect for a purely syntactic definition of analyticity that would render arithmetic analytically true. This paper argues against this claim. It also challenges a common presumption on the part of defenders of Carnap, in their diagnosis of the force of Gödel's own critique of Carnap in his Gibbs Lecture. The author is grateful to Michael Friedman for valuable comments. Part of the research (...)
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  13. Parzhad Torfehnezhad (2017). In Carnap’s Defense: A Survey on the Concept of a Linguistic Framework in Carnap’s Philosophy. Abstracta 9 (1):03-30.
    The main task in this paper is to detail and investigate Carnap’s conception of a “linguistic framework”. On this basis, we will see whether Carnap’s dichotomies, such as the analytic-synthetic distinction, are to be construed as absolute/fundamental dichotomies or merely as relative dichotomies. I argue for a novel interpretation of Carnap’s conception of a LF and, on that basis, will show that, according to Carnap, all the dichotomies to be discussed are relative dichotomies; they depend on conventional decisions concerning the (...)
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Axiomatic Truth
  1. Tatiana Arrigoni (2011). V = L and Intuitive Plausibility in Set Theory. A Case Study. Bulletin of Symbolic Logic 17 (3):337-360.
    What counts as an intuitively plausible set theoretic content (notion, axiom or theorem) has been a matter of much debate in contemporary philosophy of mathematics. In this paper I develop a critical appraisal of the issue. I analyze first R. B. Jensen's positions on the epistemic status of the axiom of constructibility. I then formulate and discuss a view of intuitiveness in set theory that assumes it to hinge basically on mathematical success. At the same time, I present accounts of (...)
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  2. Francesco Berto (2009). The Gödel Paradox and Wittgenstein's Reasons. Philosophia Mathematica 17 (2):208-219.
    An interpretation of Wittgenstein’s much criticized remarks on Gödel’s First Incompleteness Theorem is provided in the light of paraconsistent arithmetic: in taking Gödel’s proof as a paradoxical derivation, Wittgenstein was drawing the consequences of his deliberate rejection of the standard distinction between theory and metatheory. The reasoning behind the proof of the truth of the Gödel sentence is then performed within the formal system itself, which turns out to be inconsistent. It is shown that the features of paraconsistent arithmetics match (...)
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  3. Michael Bulmer, Desmond Fearnley-Sander & Tim Stokes (2001). The Kinds of Truth of Geometry Theorems. In Jürgen Richter-Gebert & Dongming Wang (eds.), LNCS: Lecture Notes In Computer Science. Springer Verlag. pp. 129-142.
    Proof by refutation of a geometry theorem that is not universally true produces a Gröbner basis whose elements, called side polynomials, may be used to give inequations that can be added to the hypotheses to give a valid theorem. We show that (in a certain sense) all possible subsidiary conditions are implied by those obtained from the basis; that what we call the kind of truth of the theorem may be derived from the basis; and that the side polynomials may (...)
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  4. Cezary Cieśliński (forthcoming). Minimalism and the Generalisation Problem: On Horwich’s Second Solution. Synthese:1-25.
    Disquotational theories of truth are often criticised for being too weak to prove interesting generalisations about truth. In this paper we will propose a certain formal theory to serve as a framework for a solution of the generalisation problem. In contrast with Horwich’s original proposal, our framework will eschew psychological notions altogether, replacing them with the epistemic notion of believability. The aim will be to explain why someone who accepts a given disquotational truth theory Th, should also accept various generalisations (...)
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  5. Cezary Cieśliński (2015). Typed and Untyped Disquotational Truth. In Kentaro Fujimoto, José Martínez Fernández, Henri Galinon & Theodora Achourioti (eds.), Unifying the Philosophy of Truth. Springer Verlag.
    We present an overview of typed and untyped disquotational truth theories with the emphasis on their (non)conservativity over the base theory of syntax. Two types of conservativity are discussed: syntactic and semantic. We observe in particular that TB—one of the most basic disquotational theories—is not semantically conservative over its base; we show also that an untyped disquotational theory PTB is a syntactically conservative extension of Peano Arithmetic.
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  6. Cezary Cieśliński (2015). The Innocence of Truth. Dialectica 69 (1):61-85.
    One of the popular explications of the deflationary tenet of ‘thinness’ of truth is the conservativeness demand: the declaration that a deflationary truth theory should be conservative over its base. This paper contains a critical discussion and assessment of this demand. We ask and answer the question of whether conservativity forms a part of deflationary doctrines.
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  7. Cezary Cieśliński (2011). T-Equivalences for Positive Sentences. Review of Symbolic Logic 4 (2):319-325.
    Answering a question formulated by Halbach (2009), I show that a disquotational truth theory, which takes as axioms all positive substitutions of the sentential T-schema, together with all instances of induction in the language with the truth predicate, is conservative over its syntactical base.
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  8. Cezary Cieśliński (2010). Deflationary Truth and Pathologies. Journal of Philosophical Logic 39 (3):325-337.
    By a classical result of Kotlarski, Krajewski and Lachlan, pathological satisfaction classes can be constructed for countable, recursively saturated models of Peano arithmetic. In this paper we consider the question of whether the pathology can be eliminated; we ask in effect what generalities involving the notion of truth can be obtained in a deflationary truth theory (a theory of truth which is conservative over its base). It is shown that the answer depends on the notion of pathology we adopt. It (...)
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  9. Justin Clarke-Doane, Flawless Disagreement in Mathematics.
    A disagrees with B with respect to a proposition, p, flawlessly just in case A believes p and B believes not-p, or vice versa, though neither A nor B is guilty of a cognitive shortcoming – i.e. roughly, neither A nor B is being irrational, lacking evidence relevant to p, conceptually incompetent, insufficiently imaginative, etc.
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  10. Roy T. Cook (2003). Review of J. Mayberry, The Foundations of Mathematics in the Theory of Sets. [REVIEW] British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 54 (2):347-352.
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  11. Farzad Didehvar, Consistency Problem and “Unexpected Hanging Problem”.
  12. Giambattista Formica (2013). Da Hilbert a von Neumann: La Svolta Pragmatica Nell'assiomatica. Carocci.
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  13. Kentaro Fujimoto (2010). Relative Truth Definability of Axiomatic Truth Theories. Bulletin of Symbolic Logic 16 (3):305-344.
    The present paper suggests relative truth definability as a tool for comparing conceptual aspects of axiomatic theories of truth and gives an overview of recent developments of axiomatic theories of truth in the light of it. We also show several new proof-theoretic results via relative truth definability including a complete answer to the conjecture raised by Feferman in [13].
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  14. Kurt Gödel (1964). What is Cantor's Continuum Problem (1964 Version). In P. Benacerraf H. Putnam (ed.), Journal of Symbolic Logic. Prentice-Hall. pp. 116-117.
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  15. Chris Henry (2016). On Truth and Instrumentalisation. London Journal of Critical Thought 1:5-15.
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  16. Luca Incurvati (forthcoming). Can the Cumulative Hierarchy Be Categorically Characterized? Logique Et Analyse.
    Mathematical realists have long invoked the categoricity of axiomatizations of arithmetic and analysis to explain how we manage to fix the intended meaning of their respective vocabulary. Can this strategy be extended to set theory? Although traditional wisdom recommends a negative answer to this question, Vann McGee (1997) has offered a proof that purports to show otherwise. I argue that one of the two key assumptions on which the proof rests deprives McGee's result of the significance he and the realist (...)
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  17. T. Kubalica (2008). The Importance of Truth in the Thought of Bruno Bauch. Kwartalnik Filozoficzny 36 (3):63-81.
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  18. Gregory Lavers (2009). Benacerraf's Dilemma and Informal Mathematics. Review of Symbolic Logic 2 (4):769-785.
    This paper puts forward and defends an account of mathematical truth, and in particular an account of the truth of mathematical axioms. The proposal attempts to be completely nonrevisionist. In this connection, it seeks to satisfy simultaneously both horns of Benacerrafs work on informal rigour. Kreisel defends the view that axioms are arrived at by a rigorous examination of our informal notions, as opposed to being stipulated or arrived at by trial and error. This view is then supplemented by a (...)
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  19. Vann Mcgee (2001). Truth by Default. Philosophia Mathematica 9 (1):5-20.
    There is no preferred reduction of number theory to set theory. Nonetheless, we confidently accept axioms obtained by substituting formulas from the language of set theory into the induction axiom schema. This is only possible, it is argued, because our acceptance of the induction axioms depends solely on the meanings of aritlunetical and logical terms, which is only possible if our 'intended models' of number theory are standard. Similarly, our acceptance of the second-order natural deduction rules depends solely on the (...)
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  20. Toby Meadows (2015). Naive Infinitism: The Case for an Inconsistency Approach to Infinite Collections. Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 56 (1):191-212.
    This paper expands upon a way in which we might rationally doubt that there are multiple sizes of infinity. The argument draws its inspiration from recent work in the philosophy of truth and philosophy of set theory. More specifically, elements of contextualist theories of truth and multiverse accounts of set theory are brought together in an effort to make sense of Cantor’s troubling theorem. The resultant theory provides an alternative philosophical perspective on the transfinite, but has limited impact on everyday (...)
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  21. Pierluigi Miraglia (2000). Finite Mathematics and the Justification of the Axiom of Choicet. Philosophia Mathematica 8 (1):9-25.
    I discuss a difficulty concerning the justification of the Axiom of Choice in terms of such informal notions such as that of iterative set. A recent attempt to solve the difficulty is by S. Lavine, who claims in his Understanding the Infinite that the axioms of set theory receive intuitive justification from their being self-evidently true in Fin(ZFC), a finite counterpart of set theory. I argue that Lavine's explanatory attempt fails when it comes to AC: in this respect Fin(ZFC) is (...)
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  22. Charles Parsons (1998). Hao Wang as Philosopher and Interpreter of Gödel. Philosophia Mathematica 6 (1):3-24.
    The paper undertakes to characterize Hao Wang's style, convictions, and method as a philosopher, centering on his most important philosophical work From Mathematics to Philosophy, 1974. The descriptive character of Wang's characteristic method is emphasized. Some specific achievements are discussed: his analyses of the concept of set, his discussion, in connection with setting forth Gödel's views, of minds and machines, and his concept of ‘analytic empiricism’ used to criticize Carnap and Quine. Wang's work as interpreter of Gödel's thought and the (...)
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  23. Lydia Patton (2014). Hilbert's Objectivity. Historia Mathematica 41 (2):188-203.
    Detlefsen (1986) reads Hilbert's program as a sophisticated defense of instrumentalism, but Feferman (1998) has it that Hilbert's program leaves significant ontological questions unanswered. One such question is of the reference of individual number terms. Hilbert's use of admittedly "meaningless" signs for numbers and formulae appears to impair his ability to establish the reference of mathematical terms and the content of mathematical propositions (Weyl (1949); Kitcher (1976)). The paper traces the history and context of Hilbert's reasoning about signs, which illuminates (...)
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  24. D. Schlimm (2013). Axioms in Mathematical Practice. Philosophia Mathematica 21 (1):37-92.
    On the basis of a wide range of historical examples various features of axioms are discussed in relation to their use in mathematical practice. A very general framework for this discussion is provided, and it is argued that axioms can play many roles in mathematics and that viewing them as self-evident truths does not do justice to the ways in which mathematicians employ axioms. Possible origins of axioms and criteria for choosing axioms are also examined. The distinctions introduced aim at (...)
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Objectivity Of Mathematics
  1. Alex A. B. Aspeitia, Internalism and Externalism in the Foundations of Mathematics.
    Without a doubt, one of the main reasons Platonsim remains such a strong contender in the Foundations of Mathematics debate is because of the prima facie plausibility of the claim that objectivity needs objects. It seems like nothing else but the existence of external referents for the terms of our mathematical theories and calculations can guarantee the objectivity of our mathematical knowledge. The reason why Frege – and most Platonists ever since – could not adhere to the idea that mathematical (...)
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  2. Mark Balaguer (2001). A Theory of Mathematical Correctness and Mathematical Truth. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 82 (2):87–114.
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  3. M. Beeson (1998). Reality and Truth in Mathematics. Philosophia Mathematica 6 (2):131-168.
    Brouwer's positions about existence (reality) and truth are examined in the light of ninety years of scientific progress. Relevant results in proof theory, recursion theory, set theory, relativity, and quantum mechanics are used to cast light on the following philosophical questions: What is real, and how do we know it? What does it mean to say a thing exists? Can things exist that we can't know about? Can things exist that we don't know how to find? What does it mean (...)
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  4. T. Button & P. Smith (2011). The Philosophical Significance of Tennenbaum's Theorem. Philosophia Mathematica 20 (1):114-121.
    Tennenbaum's Theorem yields an elegant characterisation of the standard model of arithmetic. Several authors have recently claimed that this result has important philosophical consequences: in particular, it offers us a way of responding to model-theoretic worries about how we manage to grasp the standard model. We disagree. If there ever was such a problem about how we come to grasp the standard model, then Tennenbaum's Theorem does not help. We show this by examining a parallel argument, from a simpler model-theoretic (...)
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  5. Justin Clarke-Doane (forthcoming). Objectivity in Ethics and Mathematics. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.
    How do axioms, or first principles, in ethics compare to those in mathematics? In this companion piece to G.C. Field's 1931 "On the Role of Definition in Ethics", I argue that there are similarities between the cases. However, these are premised on an assumption which can be questioned, and which highlights the peculiarity of normative inquiry.
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  6. Justin Clarke-Doane (2014). Moral Epistemology: The Mathematics Analogy. Noûs 48 (2):238-255.
    There is a long tradition comparing moral knowledge to mathematical knowledge. In this paper, I discuss apparent similarities and differences between knowledge in the two areas, realistically conceived. I argue that many of these are only apparent, while others are less philosophically significant than might be thought. The picture that emerges is surprising. There are definitely differences between epistemological arguments in the two areas. However, these differences, if anything, increase the plausibility of moral realism as compared to mathematical realism. It (...)
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  7. Justin Clarke-Doane (2013). What is Absolute Undecidability?†. Noûs 47 (3):467-481.
    It is often alleged that, unlike typical axioms of mathematics, the Continuum Hypothesis (CH) is indeterminate. This position is normally defended on the ground that the CH is undecidable in a way that typical axioms are not. Call this kind of undecidability “absolute undecidability”. In this paper, I seek to understand what absolute undecidability could be such that one might hope to establish that (a) CH is absolutely undecidable, (b) typical axioms are not absolutely undecidable, and (c) if a mathematical (...)
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