Fiction, possibility and impossibility: three kinds of mathematical fictions in Leibniz’s work

Archive for History of Exact Sciences 75 (6):613-647 (2021)
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Abstract

This paper is concerned with the status of mathematical fictions in Leibniz’s work and especially with infinitary quantities as fictions. Thus, it is maintained that mathematical fictions constitute a kind of symbolic notion that implies various degrees of impossibility. With this framework, different kinds of notions of possibility and impossibility are proposed, reviewing the usual interpretation of both modal concepts, which appeals to the consistency property. Thus, three concepts of the possibility/impossibility pair are distinguished; they give rise, in turn, to three concepts of mathematical fictions. Moreover, such a distinction is the base for the claim that infinitesimal quantities, as mathematical fictions, do not imply an absolute impossibility, resulting from self-contradiction, but a relative impossibility, founded on irrepresentability and on the fact that it does not conform to architectural principles. In conclusion, this “soft” impossibility of infinitesimals yields them, in Leibniz view, a presumptive or “conjectural” status.

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Author Profiles

Federico Raffo Quintana
Universidad Católica Argentina
Oscar Miguel Esquisabel
Universidad Nacional de La Plata