PurposeIn this article, we aim to present and defend a contextual approach to mathematical explanation.MethodTo do this, we introduce an epistemic reading of mathematical explanation.ResultsThe epistemic reading not only clarifies the link between mathematical explanation and mathematical understanding, but also allows us to explicate some contextual factors governing explanation. We then show how several accounts of mathematical explanation can be read in this approach.ConclusionThe contextual approach defended here clears up the notion of explanation and pushes us towards a pluralist vision (...) on mathematical explanation. (shrink)
Reuben Hersh confided to us that, about forty years ago, the late Paul Cohen predicted to him that at some unspecified point in the future, mathematicians would be replaced by computers. Rather than focus on computers replacing mathematicians, however, our aim is to consider the (im)possibility of human mathematicians being joined by “artificial mathematicians” in the proving practice—not just as a method of inquiry but as a fellow inquirer.
We explore aspects of an experimental approach to mathematical proof, most notably number crunching, or the verification of subsequent particular cases of universal propositions. Since the rise of the computer age, this technique has indeed conquered practice, although it implies the abandonment of the ideal of absolute certainty. It seems that also in mathematical research, the qualitative criterion of effectiveness, i.e. to reach one’s goals, gets increasingly balanced against the quantitative one of efficiency, i.e. to minimize one’s means/ends ratio. Our (...) story will lead to the consideration of some limit cases, opening up the possibility of proofs of infinite length being surveyed in a finite time. By means of example, this should show that mathematical practice in vital aspects depends upon what the actual world is like. (shrink)
It has been observed many times before that, as yet, there are no encompassing, integrated theories of mathematical practice available.To witness, as we currently do, a variety of schools in this field elaborating their philosophical frameworks, and trying to sort out their differences in the course of doing so, is also to be constantly reminded of the fact that a lot of epistemic aspects, extremely relevant to this task, remain dramatically underexamined. This volume wants to contribute to the stock of (...) studies filling this perceived lacuna. It contains papers by established, upcoming, as well as beginning scholars, covering general, metaphilosophical themes such as naturalism, semiotics, pragmaticism, or empiricism, next to more specific topics including the unity of mathematical theories, thruth-flow in mathematics, diagrammatic reasoning, erroneous argumentation, or numerical analysis. (shrink)
The paper gives an impression of the multi-dimensionality of mathematics as a human activity. This 'phenomenological' exercise is performed within an analytic framework that is both an expansion and a refinement of the one proposed by Kitcher. Such a particular tool enables one to retain an integrated picture while nevertheless welcoming an ample diversity of perspectives on mathematical practices, that is, from different disciplines, with different scopes, and at different levels. Its functioning is clarified by fitting in illustrations based on (...) actual research. (shrink)
Except in very poor mathematical contexts, mathematical arguments do not stand in isolation of other mathematical arguments. Rather, they form trains of formal and informal arguments, adding up to interconnected theorems, theories and eventually entire fields. This paper critically comments on some common views on the relation between formal and informal mathematical arguments, most particularly applications of Toulmin’s argumentation model, and launches a number of alternative ideas of presentation inviting the contextualization of pieces of mathematical reasoning within encompassing bodies of (...) explicit and implicit, formal and informal background knowledge. (shrink)
Philosophy of mathematics today has transformed into a very complex network of diverse ideas, viewpoints, and theories. Sometimes the emphasis is on the "classical" foundational work (often connected with the use of formal logical methods), sometimes on the sociological dimension of the mathematical research community and the "products" it produces, then again on the education of future mathematicians and the problem of how knowledge is or should be transmitted from one generation to the next. The editors of this book felt (...) the urge, first of all, to bring together the widest variety of authors from these different domains and, secondly, to show that this diversity does not exclude a sufficient number of common elements to be present. In the eyes of the editors, this book will be considered a success if it can convince its readers of the following: that it is warranted to dream of a realistic and full-fledged theory of mathematical practices, in the plural. If such a theory is possible, it would mean that a number of presently existing fierce oppositions between philosophers, sociologists, educators, and other parties involved, are in fact illusory. (shrink)
During the first half of the twentieth century, mainstream answers to the foundational crisis, mainly triggered by Russell and Gödel, remained largely perfectibilist in nature. Along with a general naturalist wave in the philosophy of science, during the second half of that century, this idealist picture was finally challenged and traded in for more realist ones. Next to the necessary preliminaries, the present paper proposes a structured view of various philosophical accounts of mathematics indebted to this general idea, laying the (...) ground for a desirable integration of their strenghts. (shrink)
Context: As one of the major approaches within the philosophy of mathematics, constructivism is to be contrasted with realist approaches such as Platonism in that it takes human mental activity as the basis of mathematical content. Problem: Mathematical constructivism is mostly identified as one of the so-called foundationalist accounts internal to mathematics. Other perspectives are possible, however. Results: The notion of “meaning finitism” is exploited to tie together internal and external directions within mathematical constructivism. The various contributions to this issue (...) support our case in different ways. Constructivist content: Further contributions from a multitude of constructivist directions are needed for the puzzle of an integrative, overarching theory of mathematical practice to be solved. (shrink)
Mathematicians suggest that some proofs are valued for their explanatory value. This has led to a philosophical debate about the distinction between explanatory and non-explanatory proofs. In this paper, we explore whether contrasting views about the explanatory value of proof are possible and how to understand these diverging assessments. By considering an epistemic and contextual conception of explanation, we can make sense of disagreements about explanatoriness in mathematics by identifying differences in the background knowledge, skill corpus, or epistemic aims of (...) mathematicians or mathematical communities. We focus on the relation between explanation, epistemic aims and diverging explanatory assessments by looking at cases from mathematical practice. (shrink)
As far as ‘modern’ logical theories of vagueness are concerned, a main distinction can be drawn between ‘semantical’ ones and ‘pragmatical’ ones. The latter are defended here, because they tend to retake into account important contextual dimensions of the problem abandoned by the former. Their inchoate condition seems not alarming, since they are of surprisingly recent date. This, however, could very well be an accidental explanation. That is, the true reason for it might sooner or later turn out to be (...) bearing exactly on the fundamental human limitations, when it comes to theorizing, that these approaches are urging us to appreciate. (shrink)
Understanding is a valued trait in any epistemic practice, scientific or not. Yet, when it comes to characterizing its nature, the notion has not received the philosophical attention it deserves. We have set ourselves three tasks in this paper. First, we defend the importance of this endeavor. Second, we consider and criticize a number of proposals to this effect. Third, we defend an alternative account, focusing on abilities as the proper mark of understanding.
In current philosophical research, there is a rather one-sided focus on the foundations of proof. A full picture of mathematical practice should however additionally involve considerations about various methodological aspects. A number of these is identified, from large-scale to small-scale ones. After that, naturalism, a philosophical school concerned with scientific practice, is looked at, as far as the translations of its epistemic principles to mathematics is concerned. Finally, we call for intensifying the interaction between both dimensions of practice and epistemology.
This paper defends a pragmatical approach to vagueness. The vagueness-adaptive logic VAL is a good reconstruction of and an excellent, instrument for human reasoning processes in which vague predicates are involved. Apart from its proof-theory and semantics, a Sorites-treating model based on it is presented, disarming the paradox. The paper opens perspectives with respect to the construction of theories by means of vague predicates.