Synthese 191 (17):4131-4148 (2014)

Ryan Dawson
University of East Anglia
Some interpreters have ascribed to Wittgenstein the view that mathematical statements must have an application to extra-mathematical reality in order to have use and so any statements lacking extra-mathematical applicability are not meaningful (and hence not bona fide mathematical statements). Pure mathematics is then a mere signgame of questionable objectivity, undeserving of the name mathematics. These readings bring to light that, on Wittgenstein’s offered picture of mathematical statements as rules of description, it can be difficult to see the role of mathematical statements which relate to concepts that are not employed in empirical propositions e.g. set-theoretic concepts. I will argue that Wittgenstein’s picture is more flexible than might at first be thought and that Wittgenstein sees such statements as serving purposes not directly related to empirical description. Whilst this might make such systems fringe cases of mathematics, it does not bring their legitimacy as mathematical systems into question
Keywords Wittgenstein  Mathematics  Pure  Applied  Maddy  Foundations
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-014-0520-4
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