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Mathematical Structuralism, Essay 3

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The third essay in The Pre-history of Mathematical Structuralism is by José Ferreirós and Erich H. Reck, on ‘Dedekind’s Mathematical Structuralism: From Galois Theory to Numbers, Sets, and Functions’. The title promises something rather more exciting than we get. Why? Let’s work backwards by quoting from (some of) their concluding summary. They write: From … Dirichlet and Riemann, Dedekind inherited a conceptual way of doing mathematics. This involves replacing complicated calculations by more transparent deductions from basic concepts. “Replacing”? That seems rather misleading to me: isn’t it more a matter of a change of focus to new, more abstract, general questions, rather than a replacement of methods for tackling the old questions that required “complicated calculations”? Both Dedekind’s mainstream work in mathematics, such as his celebrated ideal theory, and his more foundational writings reflect that influence. Thus, he distilled out as central the concepts of group, field, continuity, infinity, and simple infinity. A related and constant aspect in his work is the attempt to characterize whole systems of objects through global properties. From early on, Dedekind also pursued the program of the arithmetization of analysis … . A decisive triumph came in 1858, with Dedekind’s reductive treatment of the real numbers. From the 1870s on, he added a reduction of the natural numbers to a general theory of sets and mappings. This led to an early form of logicism, since he conceived of set theory as a central part of logic … [H]is attempt to execute a logicist program had a decisive effect on the rise of axiomatic set theory in the 20th century. Its conceptualist and set-theoretic aspects are central ingredients in Dedekind’s mathematical structuralism. But we emphasized another characteristic aspect that goes beyond both. This is the method of studying systems or structures with respect to their interrelations with other kinds of structures, and in. . .

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News source: Logic Matters

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