Evading truth commitments: the problem reanalyzed

Jody Azzouni


While evaluating a version of the Quine-Putnam indispensability argument that’s stronger than standard ones found in the literature, weak conditions for the dispensability of statements that quantify over mathematical entities — weaker than paraphrase — are argued for. These conditions are contoured to apply once a distinction between publicly held science and private belief is drawn. Dispensability projects face two problems: the representation problem and the deduction problem. The former is shown to be unsolvable. The deduction problem is no obstacle provided the representation problem can be solved. Because of the intractability of the latter problem, however, this is no comfort for nominalists committed to the dispensability of statements that quantify over mathematical entities. An important lesson is that “the Quine-Putnam indispensability argument” is concerned with practical dispensability not with in-principle dispensability. The assertoric use of a theory — by scientists — is a practical matter.

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