You are on page 1of 2

Arithmetic and Geometry: Some Remarks on the Con-

cept of Complementarity


Department of Mathematics, University of Bielefeld, Universitiitsstrasse, Bielefeld,

Federal Republic of Germany

AB,$TRACT: This paper explores the classical idea of complementarity in mathematics

concerning the relationship of intuition and axiomatic proof. Section I illustrates the basic
concepts of the paper, while Section II presents opposing accounts of intuitionJst and
axiomatic approaches to mathematics. Section III analyzes one of Einstein's lecture on
the topic and Section IV examines an application of the issues in mathematics and
science education. Section V discusses the idea of complementarity by examining one of
Zeno's paradoxes. This is followed by presenting a few more programmatic suggestions
and a brief summary.

KEY WORDS: complementarity, intuitionism, axiomatic proof.


The, history of science may be briefly sketched as a transition from thinking

about objects to relational thinking. Theoretical thinking, accordingly, is not
concerned with concrete objects, nor with intrinsic properties of such objects,
and theoretical terms, in particular, are not just names of objects. Rather, science
is concerned with the relationships existing between objects or phenomena. As
this historical transition took place, it became increasingly obvious that a
theoretical term will receive its solid content, its clear form, only fxom its
relationship to other concepts. Hence, questions of meaning are decided by a
concept's position with the theoretical structure.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the conception German
Naturphilosophie had formed of theory enhanced this contextual notion of
meaning by claiming, first, that a theory determines the intensions of its terms,
and, second, that intensions determine extensions. This post-Kantian approach
was not only holistic, but also attempted to bridge the gap between analytic and
synthetic truths in the Kantian sense. (The above two propositions are in fact
counterparts to the "two dogmas of empiricism" formulated by Quine in his
rejection of empiricism.)
It became just as obvious, however, that every pertinent piece of theoretical

Studies in Philosophy and Education 10: 37-62, 1990.

9 1990 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
38 M. OTrE

knowledge, being part of some idea or model of the real world, will in some way
or other take into account that the person having the knowledge is part of the
system this knowledge represents. All knowledge presupposes a subject and an
object and relations between these two (which are established by the subject's
activity). And as the multiplicity of subjective perspectives grew with the
increasing division of labor, it could no longer be overlooked that the subject is
not only the dynamical source of knowledge and change but also its object or
task. In as much as all knowledge is concerned with either of these aspects of the
subject's role it has a distinctly bipartite structure.
This dimorphism shows up on the psychological or practical level just as well
as it is present in all epistemological reflections. I shall call it
"complementarity", a term Niels Bohr introduced to characterize the
phenomenon described within the particular context of the physical sciences,
although he was quite aware of its general importance. The complementarist's
point of view is expressed in multiple ways: all models, theories, theoretical
terms etc. show a complementarity of object and method, of descriptive and
constructive aspects, of representational and instrumental properties. Knowledge
is always both environment and scheme of action. Every scientific explanation
simultaneously contains a meta-communication, i.e. represents, in an exemplary
way, an answer to the question what it means to explain an object or a fact at a
certain historical point in time.
Can it thus be said that the dispute between Newtonian substantivalism and
Leibnizian relationalism, concerning the ontology of space and time, already
showed the complementarity we have in mind? Must it not even be said that the
Cartesian variable 'x' that denotes the still unknown, thereby introducing it into
mathematical activity while at the same time fixing it in a general way, as the
unknown number, and thus describing it, can be understood in this sense of
complementarity? This is indeed possible in our day and from a genetic
perspective whose starting point is the dynamics of objective activity (instead of
a metaphysical consideration of knowledge as a given product).
One of the main problems in the philosophy of mathematics as well as
mathematical education concerns the relationship of intuition and logical
reasoning, as two different sources of mathematical knowledge. Knowing or
awareness as immediate perception on the one hand, and as discursive procedure
on the other, are two kinds of thought that seem to remain in tension. This
tension is real and fictitious at the same time. It is real insofar as the cognitive
subject has only limited powers, is finite, "time" being the source of that tension
(Otto, 1984, 65). It seems at the same time not essential, as intuition and logic
together define just one type of mathematics, namely synthetic constructive
mathematics in the Cartesian sense.
During the 19th century the limitations of the Cartesian approach were more
and more felt and mathematicians sought, thereby creating what is nowadays
called "pure" mathematics, to introduce a conceptual analytical element into
mathematics. Mathematics was after Kant like all other academic disciplines
defined more in contrast and in relationship to philosophy instead of being one