Weaseling away the indispensability argument

Mind 109 (435):455-480 (2000)
According to the indispensability argument, the fact that we quantify over numbers, sets and functions in our best scientific theories gives us reason for believing that such objects exist. I examine a strategy to dispense with such quantification by simply replacing any given platonistic theory by the set of sentences in the nominalist vocabulary it logically entails. I argue that, as a strategy, this response fails: for there is no guarantee that the nominalist world that go beyond the set of sentences in the nominalist language such theories entail. However, I argue that what such theories show is that mathematics can enable us to express possibilities about the concrete world that may not be expressible in nominalistically acceptable language. While I grant that this may make quantification over abstracta indispensable, I deny that such indispensability is a reason for accepting them into our ontology. I urge that the nominalist should be allowed to quantify over abstracta whilst denying their existence and I explain how this apparently contradictory practice (a practice I call 'weaseling') is in fact coherent, unproblematic and rational. Finally, I examine the view that platonistic theories are simpler or more attractive than their nominalistic reformulations, and thus that abstract ought to be accepted into our ontology for the same sorts of reasons as other theoretical objects. I argue that, at least in the case of numbers, functions and sets, such arguments misunderstand the kind of simplicity and attractiveness we seek.
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DOI 10.1093/mind/109.435.455
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David Liggins (2014). Abstract Expressionism and the Communication Problem. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 65 (3):599-620.
Robert Batterman (2010). On the Explanatory Role of Mathematics in Empirical Science. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 61 (1):1-25.

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