Philosophia Mathematica 19 (2):213-219 (2011)

John Burgess
Princeton University
Alan Weir’s new book is, like Darwin’s Origin of Species, ‘one long argument’. The author has devised a new kind of have-it-both-ways philosophy of mathematics, supposed to allow him to say out of one side of his mouth that the integer 1,000,000 exists and even that the cardinal ℵω exists, while saying out of the other side of his mouth that no numbers exist at all, and the whole book is devoted to an exposition and defense of this new view. The view is presented in the book in a way that can make it difficult for the reader to trace the main line of argument: with a great deal of apparatus, and with a great many digressions into subordinate issues. In what follows I will try to stick to what I take to be the essentials, even at the risk of oversimplifying some central but complicated issues, and at the cost of neglecting some interesting but peripheral ones.In chapter 1, the author introduces a distinction between what he calls ‘two aspects of meaning’ and dubs informational content and metaphysical content. Informational content is the aspect of meaning of primary interest to linguists, and the one of which speakers themselves are generally aware, at least upon reflection. Metaphysical content is supposed to be another aspect of meaning primarily of interest to philosophers. The basic idea is that if there are standards of correctness for assertions of a certain kind, then such an assertion may be called ‘true’ when those standards are met, even though the kind of correctness involved is not correctness in representing how the world is. What the world must be like in order for the utterance to be true is the metaphysical content of the assertion, but it need not be part of its …
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DOI 10.1093/philmat/nkr009
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