mathematics, philosophy of


mathematics, philosophy of

Branch of philosophy concerned with the epistemology and ontology of mathematics. Early in the 20th century, three main schools of thought—called logicism, formalism, and intuitionism—arose to account for and resolve the crisis in the foundations of mathematics. Logicism argues that all mathematical notions are reducible to laws of pure thought, or logical principles; a variant known as mathematical Platonism holds that mathematical notions are transcendent Ideals, or Forms, independent of human consciousness. Formalism holds that mathematics consists simply of the manipulation of finite configurations of symbols according to prescribed rules; a “game” independent of any physical interpretation of the symbols. Intuitionism is characterized by its rejection of any knowledge- or evidence-transcendent notion of truth. Hence, only objects that can be constructed (see constructivism) in a finite number of steps are admitted, while actual infinities and the law of the excluded middle (see laws of thought) are rejected. These three schools of thought were principally led, respectively, by Bertrand Russell, David Hilbert, and the Dutch mathematician Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer (1881–1966).

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