Fictionalism in the philosophy of mathematics

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2008)
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Abstract

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 description of Mars. But whereas Mars is a physical object, the number 3 is (according to platonism) an abstract object. And abstract objects, platonists tell us, are wholly nonphysical, nonmental, nonspatial, nontemporal, and noncausal. Thus, on this view, the number 3 exists independently of us and our thinking, but it does not exist in space or time, it is not a physical or mental object, and it does not enter into causal relations with other objects. This view has been endorsed by Plato, Frege (1884, 1893-1903, 1919), Gödel (1964), and in some of their writings, Russell (1912) and Quine (1948, 1951), not to mention numerous more recent philosophers of mathematics, e.g., Putnam (1971), Parsons (1971), Steiner (1975), Resnik (1997), Shapiro (1997), Hale (1987), Wright (1983), Katz (1998), Zalta (1988), and Colyvan (2001).

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Mark Balaguer
California State University, Los Angeles

Citations of this work

Good weasel hunting.Robert Knowles & David Liggins - 2015 - Synthese 192 (10):3397-3412.
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What we talk about when we talk about mental states.Zoe Drayson - 2022 - In Tamás Demeter, T. Parent & Adam Toon (eds.), Mental Fictionalism: Philosophical Explorations. New York & London: Routledge. pp. 147-159.

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References found in this work

From a Logical Point of View.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1953 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Science Without Numbers: A Defence of Nominalism.Hartry H. Field - 1980 - Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press.
The Scientific Image.William Demopoulos & Bas C. van Fraassen - 1982 - Philosophical Review 91 (4):603.
Mathematical truth.Paul Benacerraf - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (19):661-679.
What numbers could not be.Paul Benacerraf - 1965 - Philosophical Review 74 (1):47-73.

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