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The Applicability of Mathematics as a Philosophical Problem Hardcover – November 20, 1998

1 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Editorial Reviews


The book is clear despite its often technical subject matter, and the main theses are well argued for. It's packed with interesting examples from physics—particularly quantum mechanics…[and] is a valuable addition to the philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics literature. It presents a rigorous and detailed presentation of a puzzle that I believe is crying out for attention. (Mark Colyvan Mind)

If mathematics is about finding solutions to well-defined problems, then philosophy is about finding problems in what previously we thought were well-established solutions. Mark Steiner's The Applicability of Mathematics as a Philosophical Problem mirrors both sides of this statement, admitting that mathematics is the key to solving problems in the physical sciences, but also asserting that this very applicability of mathematics to physics constitutes a problem...Steiner's challenge to naturalism is accessible, powerful, and well worth pondering. (William A. Dembski Books & Culture)

About the Author

Mark Steiner is Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 20, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067404097X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674040977
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,409,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
The "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the physical world" as E.P. Wigner once called it is an very interesting and forgotten problem which is now a hot topic of philosophical speculation (Max Tegmark's recent article in Scientific American called "Parallel Universes" is a good introduction to the way physicists are trying to unravel it). But Mark Steiner's misleadingly titled book is not about this subject at all! Though he mentions Wigner's query --- and idiotically faults him for only counting the successes of math in physics, as if any or all of the "failures", none of which he identifies, would make the successes less surprising! --- the book turns out to be little more than a diatribe aiming to show that physicists, since Maxwell, have been (sin of sins!) resorting to "anthropocentric" reasoning! He identifies two "strains" of this dangerous trend which he calls "Pythagorianism" and "Formalism" and he gives some anedoctical historically unfounded episodes which he diagnoses as examples of either of these nasty habits suggesting this shows some sort of reasoning in bad faith (ah ha!). It is clear from the text that Steiner has no background in contemporary physics and his examples rely on what he heard from other people and was quite unable to digest. But his real failings are, however, as a philosopher who seems as completely unaware of the recent debates
which animate the Philosophy of Physics as, for that matter, of any Philosophy of Math this side of Frege! Perhaps the most glaring misaprehension in this book is his unquestioned assimilation of Pythagorianism --- the belief that the ultimate components of the world are mathematical entities, as he puts it) with anthropocentrism (the notion that human interests, values, concerns must take center stage in any explanation).
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