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Real Relations between Possible Objects

On the Philosophy of Poincaré

Henri Poincaré may be read as having multiple metaphysical personalities. Philosophers of physics read him as a conventionalist, while philosophers of mathematics read him as an intuitionist; philosophers of mind read him as a phenomenalist. But did Poincaré, le philosophe, articulate three distinct positions, one each for physics, mathematics, and the mind?

Did this great mathematician, who articulated such innovative theories of space, time and experience, adhere to an old-fashioned Kantian metaphysics of mathematics? A more highly integrated interpretation of Poincaré’s philosophy recognizes the significant influence evolutionary theory had on his view of mind-world relations. What we know about the world resembles evolved species insofar as knowledge is neither inert nor eternal, but comes into being gradually over time. What we know is largely contingent yet rarely arbitrary, for it is always constrained by what has come before. Our knowledge is incomplete yet capable of growing in both scope and unity. To understand how knowledge grows, we must recognize that there are many different kinds of minds and why this diversity matters. For example, to understand the growth of mathematics, we must see how the tensions between universal mind of the logician and the inherited mind of the psychologist call our attention to real relations between possible objects. By attending to the ways in which representational systems are employed during the process of discovery we get a more holistic interpretation of Poincaré’s dynamic epistemology.


Muntersbjorn teaches philosophy of science at the University of Toledo, in Toledo, Ohio. She wrote her dissertation on 17th C. algebra at the University of Pittsburgh with Kenneth Manders. She has published in Synthese, Philosophia Mathematica and Philosophy of Science and is a member of the newly formed Association for the Philosophy of Mathematical Practice. Currently she is writing a monograph on Poincaré’s philosophy.


At 10.00 h, a second lecture, by Helen De Cruz and Johan De Smedt will take place at the same location


Friday, 28 October, 2011 9.00-10.00 h
Oude Boteringestraat 52, room Beta

Laatst gewijzigd:30 oktober 2012 20:39