Foundations of Science 8 (2):173-200 (2003)

Tomasz Bigaj
University of Warsaw
In recent years, the so-calledindispensability argument has been given a lotof attention by philosophers of mathematics.This argument for the existence of mathematicalobjects makes use of the fact, neglected inclassical schools of philosophy of mathematics,that mathematics is part of our best scientifictheories, and therefore should receive similarsupport to these theories. However, thisobservation raises the question about the exactnature of the alleged connection betweenexperience and mathematics (for example: is itpossible to falsify empirically anymathematical theorems?). In my paper I wouldlike to address this question by consideringthe explicit assumptions of different versionsof the indispensability argument. My primaryclaim is that there are at least three distinctversions of the indispensability argument (andit can be even suggested that a fourth,separate version should be formulated). I willmainly concentrate my discussion on thisvariant of the argument, which suggests thepossibility of empirical confirmation ofmathematical theories. A large portion of mypaper will focus on the recent discussion ofthis topic, starting from the paper by E.Sober, who in my opinion put reasonablerequirements on what is to be counted as anempirical confirmation of a mathematicaltheory. I will develop his model into threeseparate scenarios of possible empiricalconfirmation of mathematics. Using an exampleof Hilbert space in quantum mechanicaldescription I will show that the most promisingscenario of empirical verification ofmathematical theories has neverthelessuntenable consequences. It will be hypothesizedthat the source of this untenability lies in aspecific role which mathematical theories playin empirical science, and that what is subjectto empirical verification is not themathematics used, but the representabilityassumptions. Further I will undertake theproblem of how to reconcile the allegedempirical verification of mathematics withscientific practice. I will refer to thepolemics between P. Maddy and M. Resnik,pointing out certain ambiguities of theirarguments whose source is partly the failure todistinguish carefully between different sensesof the indispensability argument. For thatreason typical arguments used in the discussionare not decisive, yet if we take into accountsome metalogical properties of appliedmathematics, then the thesis that mathematicshas strong links with experience seems to behighly improbable.
Keywords applicability of mathematics  confirmation  empiricism  mathematical realism  quantum mechanics
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1023913316307
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 51,232
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
48 ( #194,369 of 2,329,878 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #582,921 of 2,329,878 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes