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Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


P hilosophy of mathematics, philosophy of science, ethics The view that human conventions rather than independent realities or necessities shape our basic concepts of the world, scientific theories, ethical principles, and the like. On this view, scientific laws and theories are conventions or postulates, rather than absolute and independent. They depend on our choices from among alternative ways of organizing and explaining experience. Human arrangements are the measure and final source of their authority. We choose a given theory on the basis of its convenience or simplicity, but it is not any more true than the rival theories. This position developed out of Kant 's claims that the laws we find in the natural world are dependent on the character of our rational human minds and on our conceptual structure, although Kant argued that the basic concepts and principles so originating were unique and not open to successful challenge. The major proponent of conventionalism was H. Poincaré , who held that mathematical theorems are relative to our framework of knowledge, are subject to revision, and may even be totally abandoned. The difference between Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry is not factual but conventional. The only necessary limitation on our choice of theorems and laws is the avoidance of contradiction. Other proponents include E. Mach , P. Duhem , and, in some respects, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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