Formalism in the philosophy of mathematics (Fall 2019 Edition)

Weir, A. (2019) Formalism in the philosophy of mathematics (Fall 2019 Edition). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

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One common understanding of formalism in the philosophy of mathematics takes it as holding that mathematics is not a body of propositions representing an abstract sector of reality but is much more akin to a game, bringing with it no more commitment to an ontology of objects or properties than ludo or chess. This idea has some intuitive plausibility: consider the tyro toiling at multiplication tables or the student using a standard algorithm for differentiating or integrating a function. It also corresponds to some aspects of the practice of advanced mathematicians in some periods—for example, the treatment of imaginary numbers for some time after Bombelli’s introduction of them, and perhaps the attitude of some contemporary mathematicians towards the higher flights of set theory. Finally, it is often the position to which philosophically naïve respondents will gesture towards, when pestered by questions as to the nature of mathematics. Not surprisingly then, many philosophers of mathematics view “game formalism” as hopelessly implausible. This article is concerned with game formalism, its close relatives and with later developments, many of which have tried to overcome the perceived limitations of the cruder varieties.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Weir, Professor Alan
Authors: Weir, A.
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BC Logic
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Journal Name:Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Publisher:Stanford University
Published Online:23 August 2019

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