Literalism and the applicability of arithmetic

Philosophers have recently expressed interest in accounting for the usefulness of mathematics to science. However, it is certainly not a new concern. Putnam and Quine have each worked out an argument for the existence of mathematical objects from the indispensability of mathematics to science. Were Quine or Putnam to disregard the applicability of mathematics to science, he would not have had as strong a case for platonism. But I think there must be ways of parsing mathematical sentences which account for applicability of mathematics and also do not require us to believe in entities we have no evidence for, other than through reading these sentences literally. We will explore a particular way to interpret sentences of arithmetic which promises to account for their applicability without bringing in metaphysics not also brought in by science. The investigation will be limited to the arithmetic of cardinal numbers. The general strategy is to argue for the analogy between arithmetic and science, rather than to argue for one case having a particular characteristic independently of the other.
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DOI 10.1093/bjps/42.4.469
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