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

Authors
Tomasz Bigaj
University of Warsaw
Abstract
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
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Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1023913316307
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