A Role for Mathematics in the Physical Sciences

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Abstract

Conflicting accounts of the role of mathematics in our physical theories can be traced to two principles. Mathematics appears to be both (1) theoretically indispensable, as we have no acceptable non-mathematical versions of our theories, and (2) metaphysically dispensable, as mathematical entities, if they existed, would lack a relevant causal role in the physical world. I offer a new account of a role for mathematics in the physical sciences that emphasizes the epistemic benefits of having mathematics around when we do science. This account successfully reconciles theoretical indispensability and metaphysical dispensability and has important consequences for both advocates and critics of indispensability arguments for platonism about mathematics.

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