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Ideas of Geoffrey Hellman, by Text

[American, fl. 1989, Professor at the University of Minnesota. An active concert pianist.]

1989 Mathematics without Numbers
p.86 Modal structuralism says mathematics studies possible structures, which may or may not be actualised
     Full Idea: The modal structuralist thinks of mathematical structures as possibilities. The application of mathematics is just the realisation that a possible structure is actualised. As structures are possibilities, realist ontological problems are avoided.
     From: report of Geoffrey Hellman (Mathematics without Numbers [1989]) by Michèle Friend - Introducing the Philosophy of Mathematics 4.3
     A reaction: Friend criticises this and rejects it, but it is appealing. Mathematics should aim to be applicable to any possible world, and not just the actual one. However, does the actual world 'actualise a mathematical structure'?
p.114 Statements of pure mathematics are elliptical for a sort of modal conditional
     Full Idea: Hellman represents statements of pure mathematics as elliptical for modal conditionals of a certain sort.
     From: report of Geoffrey Hellman (Mathematics without Numbers [1989]) by Charles Chihara - A Structural Account of Mathematics 5.3
     A reaction: It's a pity there is such difficulty in understanding conditionals (see Graham Priest on the subject). I intuit a grain of truth in this, though I take maths to reflect the structure of the actual world (with possibilities being part of that world).
p.229 Modal structuralism can only judge possibility by 'possible' models
     Full Idea: The usual way to show that a sentence is possible is to show that it has a model, but for Hellman presumably a sentence is possible if it might have a model (or if, possibly, it has a model). It is not clear what this move brings us.
     From: comment on Geoffrey Hellman (Mathematics without Numbers [1989]) by Stewart Shapiro - Philosophy of Mathematics 7.3
     A reaction: I can't assess this, but presumably the possibility of the model must be demonstrated in some way. Aren't all models merely possible, because they are based on axioms, which seem to be no more than possibilities?
2007 Structuralism
§1 p.537 Maybe mathematical objects only have structural roles, and no intrinsic nature
     Full Idea: There is the tantalizing possibility that perhaps mathematical objects 'have no nature' at all, beyond their 'structural role'.
     From: Geoffrey Hellman (Structuralism [2007], §1)
     A reaction: This would fit with a number being a function rather than an object. We are interested in what cars do, not the bolts that hold them together? But the ontology of mathematics is quite separate from how you do mathematics.
§1 p.537 Structuralism is now common, studying relations, with no regard for what the objects might be
     Full Idea: With developments in modern mathematics, structuralist ideas have become commonplace. We study 'abstract structures', having relations without regard to the objects. As Hilbert famously said, items of furniture would do.
     From: Geoffrey Hellman (Structuralism [2007], §1)
     A reaction: Hilbert is known as a Formalist, which suggests that modern Structuralism is a refined and more naturalist version of the rather austere formalist view. Presumably the sofa can't stand for six, so a structural definition of numbers is needed.