The Indispensability Argument for Mathematical Realism and Scientific Realism



Confirmational holism is central to a traditional formulation of the indispensability argument for mathematical realism (IA). I argue that recent strategies for defending scientific realism are incompatible with confirmational holism. Thus a traditional formulation of IA is incompatible with recent strategies for defending scientific realism. As a consequence a traditional formulation of IA will only have limited appeal.


Indispensability Scientific realism Confirmational holism 



I wish to thank Ioannis Votsis for his encouraging feedback on an early version of this article. I would also like to thank Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen, James McAllister and two anonymous referees for this journal for their useful comments.


  1. Azzouni, J. (2004). Deflating existential consequence: A case for nominalism. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chakravartty, A. (1998). Semirealism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 29A, 391–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Colyvan, M. (2001). The indispensability of mathematics. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Devitt, M. (1997). Realism and truth (2nd ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Dieveney, P. S. (2007). Dispensability in the indispensability argument. Synthese, 157, 105–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Field, H. (1980). Science without numbers. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  7. Hellman, G. (1989). Mathematics without numbers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Kitcher, P. (1993). The advancement of science: Science without legend, objectivity without illusions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Ladyman, J., Ross, D., et al. (2007). Every thing must go. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Maddy, P. (1997). Naturalism in mathematics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  11. Psillos, S. (1999). Scientific realism: How science tracks the truth. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Putnam, H. (1978). Meaning and the moral sciences. London: Routledge & K. Paul.Google Scholar
  13. Quine W. V. O. (1948). ‘On what there is’, in Quine (1953), pp. 1–19.Google Scholar
  14. Quine W. V. O. (1951). ‘Two dogmas of empiricism’, in Quine (1953), pp. 20–46.Google Scholar
  15. Resnik, M. (1997). Mathematics as a science of patterns. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  16. Saatsi, J. (2005). Reconsidering the Fresnel-Maxwell theory shift: How the realist can have her cake and EAT it too. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 36, 509–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sober, E. (1993). Mathematics and indispensability. Philosophical Review, 102, 35–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Worrall, J. (1989). Structural realism: The best of both worlds? Dialectica, 43, 99–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Yablo, S. (2000). A paradox of existence. In A. Everett & T. Hofweber (Eds.), Empty names, fiction and the puzzles of non-existence (pp. 275–312). Stanford: California CSLI Publications.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyAarhus CDenmark

Personalised recommendations