The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 34, 1998

Philosophy of Mathematics

Elaine Landry
Pages 6-12

Semantic Realism
Why Mathematicians Mean What They Say

I argue that if we distinguish between ontological realism and semantic realism, then we no longer have to choose between platonism and formalism. If we take category theory as the language of mathematics, then a linguistic analysis of the content and structure of what we say in and about mathematical theories allows us to justify the inclusion of mathematical concepts and theories as legitimate objects of philosophical study. Insofar as this analysis relies on a distinction between ontological and semantic realism, it relies also on an implicit distinction between mathematics as a descriptive science and mathematics as a descriptive discourse. It is this latter distinction which gives rise to the tension between the mathematician qua philosopher. In conclusion, I argue that the tensions between formalism and platonism, indeed between mathematician and philosopher, arise because of an assumption that there is an analogy between mathematical talk and talk in the physical sciences.