Poincaré against the logicians

Synthese 90 (3):349 - 378 (1992)
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Poincaré was a persistent critic of logicism. Unlike most critics of logicism, however, he did not focus his attention on the basic laws of the logicists or the question of their genuinely logical status. Instead, he directed his remarks against the place accorded to logical inference in the logicist's conception of mathematical proof. Following Leibniz, traditional logicist dogma (and this is explicit in Frege) has held that reasoning or inference is everywhere the same — that there are no principles of inference specific to a given local topic. Poincaré, a Kantian, disagreed with this. Indeed, he believed that the use of non-logical reasoning was essential to genuinely mathematical reasoning (proof). In this essay, I try to isolate and clarify this idea and to describe the mathematical epistemology which underlies it. Central to this epistemology (which is basically Kantian in orientation, and closely similar to that advocated by Brouwer) is a principle of epistemic conservation which says that knowledge of a given type cannot be extended by means of an inference unless that inference itself constitutes knowledge belonging to the given type.



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Author's Profile

Michael Detlefsen
Last affiliation: University of Notre Dame

Citations of this work

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References found in this work

The Principles of Mathematics.Bertrand Russell - 1903 - Cambridge, England: Allen & Unwin.
The foundations of arithmetic.Gottlob Frege - 1884/1950 - Evanston, Ill.,: Northwestern University Press.
New Essays on Human Understanding.Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz - 1981 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Peter Remnant & Jonathan Bennett.
The Principles of Mathematics.Bertrand Russell - 1903 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 11 (4):11-12.
The basic laws of arithmetic.Gottlob Frege - 1893 - Berkeley,: University of California Press. Edited by Montgomery Furth.

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