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Philosophy of Mathematics



Philosophy of Math is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with two major questions: one concerning the meanings of ordinary mathematical sentences and the other concerning the issue of whether abstract objects exist. The first is a straightforward question of interpretation: What is the best way to interpret standard mathematical sentences and theories? In other words, what is really meant by ordinary mathematical sentences such as “3 is prime”, “2 + 2 = 4”, and “There are infinitely many prime numbers.” Thus, a central task of the philosophy of mathematics is to construct a semantic theory for the language of mathematics. Semantics is concerned with what certain expressions mean (or refer to) in ordinary discourse. So, for instance, the claim that the term Mars denotes the Mississippi River is a false semantic theory; and the claim that Mars denotes the fourth planet from the Sun is a true semantic theory. Thus, to say that philosophers of mathematics are interested in figuring out how to interpret mathematical sentences is just to say that they want to provide a semantic theory for the language of mathematics.

 

Philosophers are interested in this question for two main reasons: 1) it is not at all obvious what the right answer is, and 2) the various answers seem to have deep philosophical implications. More specifically, different interpretations of mathematics seem to produce different metaphysical views about the nature of reality. These points can be brought out by looking at the sentences of arithmetic, which seem to make straightforward claims about certain objects. Consider, for instance, the sentence “4 is even”. This seems to be a simple subject-predicate sentence like, for instance, the sentence “The Moon is round”. This latter sentence makes a straightforward claim about the Moon, and likewise, “4 is even” seems to make a straightforward claim about the number 4. This, however, is where philosophers get puzzled. For it is not clear what the number 4 is supposed to be. What kind of thing is a number? Some philosophers (antirealists) have responded here with disbelief – according to them, there are simply no such things as numbers. Others (realists) think that there are such things as numbers (as well as other mathematical objects). Among the realists, however, there are several different views of what kind of thing a number is. Some realists think that numbers are mental objects (something like ideas in people’s heads). Other realists claim that numbers exist outside of people’s heads, as features of the physical world. There is, however, a third view of the nature of numbers, known as Platonism, or mathematical Platonism, that has been more popular in the history of philosophy. This is the view that numbers are abstract objects, where an abstract object is both non-physical and non-mental. According to Platonists, abstract objects exist but not anywhere in the physical world or in people’s minds. In fact, they do not exist in space and time at all.

 



However, it is important to note that many philosophers simply do not believe in abstract objects; they think that to believe in abstract objects – objects that are wholly non-spatiotemporal, non-physical, and non-mental – is to believe in weird, occult entities. In fact, the question of whether abstract objects exist is one of the oldest and most controversial questions of philosophy. This ongoing controversy has survived for more than 2,000 years. And here lies the second major question with which the philosophy of mathematics is concerned, that is “Do abstract objects exist?” This question is deeply related to the semantic question about how the sentences and theories of mathematics should be interpreted. For if Platonism is right that the best interpretation of mathematics is that sentences such as “4 is even” are about abstract objects, and if sentences such as “4 is even” are true, then it would seem natural to endorse the view that abstract objects exist.

VIII. Which of the following is NOT MENTIONED in the text B or is NOT TRUE?

Passage A

1.Math philosophers deal with two basic issues: mathematical sentence interpretation and existence of abstract objects.

2.Semantic theory is the principal study goal for the philosophy of math.

3.The existence of Mars and the Mississippi River is proved by the philosophy of math.

Passage B

1.The passage B explains why philosophers of math are interested in providing semantic theory for the language of mathematics.

2.Math philosophers get puzzled with even numbers.

3.Philosophers of math are unanimous in thinking of the nature of the numbers.

4.Some realists think of numbers as mental objects, others – take them as physical objects.

5.Platonists share the same point of view with realists.

 

Passage C

1.Philosophers have studied weird, occult entities for more than 2,000 years.

2.The passage C touches upon the second major issue of the philosophy of mathematics.

3.Two major questions of the philosophy of math are interrelated and interconnected.

4.It is proved that abstract objects don’t exist.

 

IX. Speak about Mathematics and its role in your specialty.

ADDITIONAL READING





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