Peirce on the role of poietic creation in mathematical reasoning

Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 43 (3):470 - 489 (2007)
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: C.S. Peirce defines mathematics in two ways: first as "the science which draws necessary conclusions," and second as "the study of what is true of hypothetical states of things" (CP 4.227–244). Given the dual definition, Peirce notes, a question arises: Should we exclude the work of poietic hypothesis-making from the domain of pure mathematical reasoning? (CP 4.238). This paper examines Peirce's answer to the question. Some commentators hold that for Peirce the framing of mathematical hypotheses requires poietic genius but is not scientific work. I propose, to the contrary, that although Peirce occasionally seems to exclude the poietic creation of hypotheses altogether from pure mathematical reasoning, Peirce's position is rather that the creation of mathematical hypotheses is poietic, but it is not merely poietic, and accordingly, that hypothesis-framing is part of mathematical reasoning that involves an element of poiesis but is not merely poietic either. Scientific considerations also inhere in the process of hypothesis-making, without excluding the poietic element. In the end, I propose that hypothesis-making in mathematics stands between artistic and scientific poietic creativity with respect to imaginative freedom from logical and actual constraints upon reasoning



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Daniel G. Campos
Brooklyn College