A metalinguistic and computational approach to the problem of mathematical omniscience

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 106 (2):455-474 (2023)
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In this paper, I defend the metalinguistic solution to the problem of mathematical omniscience for the possible-worlds account of propositions by combining it with a computational model of knowledge and belief. The metalinguistic solution states that the objects of belief and ignorance in mathematics are relations between mathematical sentences and what they express. The most pressing problem for the metalinguistic strategy is that it still ascribes too much mathematical knowledge under the standard possible-worlds model of knowledge and belief on which these are closed under entailment. I first argue that Stalnaker's fragmentation strategy is insufficient to solve this problem. I then develop an alternative, computational strategy: I propose a model of mathematical knowledge and belief adapted from the algorithmic model of Halpern et al. which, when combined with the metalinguistic strategy, entails that mathematical knowledge and belief require computational abilities to access metalinguistic information, and thus aren't closed under entailment. As I explain, the computational model generalizes beyond mathematics to a version of the functionalist theory of knowledge and belief that motivates the possible-worlds account in the first place. I conclude that the metalinguistic and computational strategies yield an attractive functionalist, possible-worlds account of mathematical content, knowledge, and inquiry.



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Zeynep Soysal
University of Rochester

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