Proofs Versus Experiments: Wittgensteinian Themes Surrounding the Four-Color Theorem

  • Gisele Dalva SeccoEmail author
  • Luiz Carlos Pereira
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 388)


The Four-Colour Theorem (4CT) proof, presented to the mathematical community in a pair of papers by Appel and Haken in the late 1970s, provoked a series of philosophical debates. Many conceptual points of these disputes still require some elucidation. After a brief presentation of the main ideas of Appel and Haken’s procedure for the proof and a reconstruction of Thomas Tymoczko’s argument for the novelty of 4CT’s proof, we shall formulate some questions regarding the connections between the points raised by Tymoczko and some wittgensteinian topics in the philosophy of mathematics such as the importance of the surveyability as a criterion for distinguishing mathematical proofs from empirical experiments. Our aim is to show that the “characteristic Wittgensteinian invention” (Mühlhölzer 2006) – the strong distinction between proofs and experiments – can shed some light in the conceptual confusions surrounding the Four-Colour Theorem.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Federal University of Rio Grande do SulPorto AlegreBrazil
  2. 2.Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil

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