of infinite regress in that all of the justification of any given theorem can be broken downand explicitly explained strictly in terms of the given axioms. The theorems are in somesense just an unpacking of the relationship between the axioms and the definitions. If wechange any axiom of a given system, a shockwave is sent throughout the system,potentially, causing radical changes in the character of the derived theorems whichultimately effects the entire structure of the system. One may note that I am taking up akind of formalist approach towards mathematical truth.
“According to formalism, on the other hand
<responding to Platonist claims>,
there are no mathematical objects. Mathematics just consists of axioms,definitions and theorems – in other words, formulas. In an extreme view,there are rules by which one derives one formula from another, but theformulas are not
anything; they are just strings of symbols. Of coursethe formalist knows that mathematical formulas are sometimes applied tophysical problems. When a formula is given a physical interpretation, itacquires a meaning, and may be true or false. But this truth or falsity has todo with the particular physical interpretation. As a purely mathematicalformula, it has no meaning and no truth value.”
( Davis, Hersh, andMarchisotto,
The Mathematical Experience,
pg 357)In this project I don’t want to get to much into the details of formalism. I do want to say,though, that I am promoting a somewhat weaker version of formalism than what we seehere. I want to allow for truth to be present in purely mathematical concepts and wouldlike to flesh out the difference between this sort of truth and what we see when theseconcepts are being used to describe something in the real world and thus given a physicalinterpretation.The kind of truth that we see emerging in conceptual, axiomatic systems, I think,is best explained in terms of the coherence theory of truth. A coherence theory of truthplaces a high priority on consistency and coherence with respect to the system as a whole.The fact that no one person has any special epistemic access to some realm of absolutetruth, suggests that it is through some sort of framework, regardless of how formal, thatagents are able to acquire and asses their understanding of the various things in the world.Mathematics is a highly formalized example of just such a framework. The truth withinthe framework is so in relation to consistency and coherence with the overall conceptualscheme. The justification of the framework can be looked at pragmatically in terms of itsability to provide us with useful tools for describing and understanding actual things inthe world. Although, when the framework is being applied to things in the world thematter of how adequate the description is involves a different notion of truth that we willsee when I discuss modeling.This coherence theory of truth does a good job of explaining how mathematics and logiccan be true independently of what anybody thinks of it. Once the definitions areunderstood and the axioms have been accepted the truth of the theorems are immediatelynecessitated. Mathematics and logic under the coherence theory become a self-referentialsystem of knowledge and understanding. That is that all of the ‘mathematical objects’ aretrue strictly in terms of their coherence and consistency within the set of accepted axiomsunderlying the given mathematical system. One might want to say sure, but doesn’tmathematics and logic have something to do with actual things in the world? I would saythat it is true that many mathematical and logical projects were motivated by things that