Poincaré's philosophy of mathematics

Dissertation, St. Andrews (1986)
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Abstract

The primary concern of this thesis is to investigate the explicit philosophy of mathematics in the work of Henri Poincare. In particular, I argue that there is a well-founded doctrine which grounds both Poincare's negative thesis, which is based on constructivist sentiments, and his positive thesis, via which he retains a classical conception of the mathematical continuum. The doctrine which does so is one which is founded on the Kantian theory of synthetic a priori intuition. I begin, therefore, by outlining Kant's theory of the synthetic a priori, especially as it applies to mathematics. Then, in the main body of the thesis, I explain how the various central aspects of Poincare's philosophy of mathematics - e.g. his theory of induction; his theory of the continuum; his views on impredicativiti his theory of meaning - must, in general, be seen as an adaptation of Kant's position. My conclusion is that not only is there a well-founded philosophical core to Poincare's philosophy, but also that such a core provides a viable alternative in contemporary debates in the philosophy of mathematics. That is, Poincare's theory, which is secured by his doctrine of a priori intuitions, and which describes a position in between the two extremes of an "anti-realist" strict constructivism and a "realist" axiomatic set theory, may indeed be true.

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Janet Folina
Macalester College

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