Monday, November 15, 2010

Philosophy Viral Video?

Has Roy Cook produced the first viral video for philosophers? You decide.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mathematics and Scientific Representation, Claim 1: Many Contributions

In the next few weeks, I hope to go through 12 of the key claims which I try to defend in my book manuscript. At its most general, the topic of the book is how mathematics helps in science. I assume to start that science is quite successful. This success is not limited to its ability to generate consensus amongst its practitioners, but extends to its predictions and contributions to technological innovations. I more or less assume some kind of scientific realism, then, although exactly how realist we should be is part of the discussion of the book.

So, what does mathematics contribute to the success of science? I argue that
1. A promising way to make sense of the way in which mathematics contributes to the success of science is by distinguishing several diff erent contributions.
Many philosophers seem to think that there is one thing which mathematics does. Perhaps the most influential view along these lines goes back (at least) to Wittgenstein's Tractatus:
In life it is never a mathematical proposition which we need, but we use mathematical propositions only in order to infer from propositions which do not belong to mathematics to others which equally do not belong to mathematics. (6.21)
But this seems too narrow. Mathematics makes any number of contributions to the success of science, and there is no straightforward way to reduce them all to a single kind.

The problems with Wittgenstein's approach are obvious. In many cases, we have no clue what the non-mathematical inputs or outputs are supposed to be. We start with mathematical descriptions and we end with equally mathematical descriptions. Either there is something defective in scientific practice, or Wittgenstein's approach is wrong. Beyond this sort of inferential or deductive contribution, there must be other kinds of contributions. But how are we to enumerate these contributions, and is there anything to be said about what they might have in common?