Coffa's Kant and the evolution of accounts of mathematical necessity

Synthese 172 (3):361 - 379 (2010)
According to Alberto Coffa in The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap, Kant’s account of mathematical judgment is built on a ‘semantic swamp’. Kant’s primitive semantics led him to appeal to pure intuition in an attempt to explain mathematical necessity. The appeal to pure intuition was, on Coffa’s line, a blunder from which philosophy was forced to spend the next 150 years trying to recover. This dismal assessment of Kant’s contributions to the evolution of accounts of mathematical necessity is fundamentally backward-looking. Coffa’s account of how semantic theories of the a priori evolved out of Kant’s doctrine of pure intuition rightly emphasizes those developments, both scientific and philosophical, that collectively served to undermine the plausibility of Kant’s account. What is missing from Coffa’s story, apart from any recognition of Kant’s semantic innovations, is an attempt to appreciate Kant’s philosophical context and the distinctive perspective from which Kant viewed issues in the philosophy of mathematics. When Kant’s perspective and context are brought out, he can not only be seen to have made a genuinely progressive contribution to the development of accounts of mathematical necessity, but also to be relevant to contemporary issues in the philosophy of mathematics in underappreciated ways.
Keywords Kant  Alberto Coffa  Intuition  Necessity  Mathematics
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Immanuel Kant (2007). Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. In Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Journal of Philosophy. New York: Blackwell. pp. 507-508.
Paul Benacerraf (1973). Mathematical Truth. Journal of Philosophy 70 (19):661-679.

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