Historia Mathematica 41 (2):188-203 (2014)

Authors
Lydia Patton
Virginia Tech
Abstract
Detlefsen (1986) reads Hilbert's program as a sophisticated defense of instrumentalism, but Feferman (1998) has it that Hilbert's program leaves significant ontological questions unanswered. One such question is of the reference of individual number terms. Hilbert's use of admittedly "meaningless" signs for numbers and formulae appears to impair his ability to establish the reference of mathematical terms and the content of mathematical propositions (Weyl (1949); Kitcher (1976)). The paper traces the history and context of Hilbert's reasoning about signs, which illuminates Hilbert's account of mathematical objectivity, axiomatics, idealization, and consistency.
Keywords Hilbert  formalism  Weyl  sign  axiomatic  instrumentalism
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