Cariani P. (2012) Infinity and the Observer: Radical Constructivism and the Foundations of Mathematics. Constructivist Foundations 7(2): 116–125. https://cepa.info/254

Problem: There is currently a great deal of mysticism, uncritical hype, and blind adulation of imaginary mathematical and physical entities in popular culture. We seek to explore what a radical constructivist perspective on mathematical entities might entail, and to draw out the implications of this perspective for how we think about the nature of mathematical entities. Method: Conceptual analysis. Results: If we want to avoid the introduction of entities that are ill-defined and inaccessible to verification, then formal systems need to avoid introduction of potential and actual infinities. If decidability and consistency are desired, keep formal systems finite. Infinity is a useful heuristic concept, but has no place in proof theory. Implications: We attempt to debunk many of the mysticisms and uncritical adulations of Gödelian arguments and to ground mathematical foundations in intersubjectively verifiable operations of limited observers. We hope that these insights will be useful to anyone trying to make sense of claims about the nature of formal systems. If we return to the notion of formal systems as concrete, finite systems, then we can be clear about the nature of computations that can be physically realized. In practical terms, the answer is not to proscribe notions of the infinite, but to recognize that these concepts have a different status with respect to their verifiability. We need to demarcate clearly the realm of free creation and imagination, where platonic entities are useful heuristic devices, and the realm of verification, testing, and proof, where infinities introduce ill-defined entities that create ambiguities and undecidable, ill-posed sets of propositions. Constructivist content: The paper attempts to extend the scope of radical constructivist perspective to mathematical systems, and to discuss the relationships between radical constructivism and other allied, yet distinct perspectives in the debate over the foundations of mathematics, such as psychological constructivism and mathematical constructivism.

Context: The infinite has long been an area of philosophical and mathematical investigation. There are many puzzles and paradoxes that involve the infinite. Problem: The goal of this paper is to answer the question: Which objects are the infinite numbers (when order is taken into account)? Though not currently considered a problem, I believe that it is of primary importance to identify properly the infinite numbers. Method: The main method that I employ is conceptual analysis. In particular, I argue that the infinite numbers should be as much like the finite numbers as possible. Results: Using finite numbers as our guide to the infinite numbers, it follows that infinite numbers are of the structure w + (w* + w) a + w*. This same structure also arises when a large finite number is under investigation. Implications: A first implication of the paper is that infinite numbers may be large finite numbers that have not been investigated fully. A second implication is that there is no number of finite numbers. Third, a number of paradoxes of the infinite are resolved. One change that should occur as a result of these findings is that “infinitely many” should refer to structures of the form w + (w* + w) a + w*; in contrast, there are “indefinitely many” natural numbers. Constructivist content: The constructivist perspective of the paper is a form of strict finitism.

Context: Strict finitism is usually not taken seriously as a possible view on what mathematics is and how it functions. This is due mainly to unfamiliarity with the topic. Problem: First, it is necessary to present a “decent” history of strict finitism (which is now lacking) and, secondly, to show that common counterarguments against strict finitism can be properly addressed and refuted. Method: For the historical part, the historical material is situated in a broader context, and for the argumentative part, an evaluation of arguments and counterarguments is presented. Results: The main result is that strict finitism is indeed a viable option, next to other constructive approaches, in (the foundations of) mathematics. Implications: Arguing for strict finitism is more complex than is usually thought. For future research, strict finitist mathematics itself needs to be written out in more detail to increase its credibility. In as far as strict finitism is a viable option, it will change our views on such “classics” as the platonist-constructivist discussion, the discovery-construction debate and the mysterious applicability problem (why is mathematics so successful in its applications?). Constructivist content: Strict finitism starts from the idea that counting is an act of labeling, hence the mathematician is an active subject right from the start. It differs from other constructivist views in that the finite limitations of the human subject are taken into account.

Van Kerkhove B. & Van Bendegem J. P. (2012) The Many Faces of Mathematical Constructivism. Constructivist Foundations 7(2): 97–103. https://cepa.info/251

Context: As one of the major approaches within the philosophy of mathematics, constructivism is to be contrasted with realist approaches such as Platonism in that it takes human mental activity as the basis of mathematical content. Problem: Mathematical constructivism is mostly identified as one of the so-called foundationalist accounts internal to mathematics. Other perspectives are possible, however. Results: The notion of “meaning finitism” is exploited to tie together internal and external directions within mathematical constructivism. The various contributions to this issue support our case in different ways. Constructivist content: Further contributions from a multitude of constructivist directions are needed for the puzzle of an integrative, overarching theory of mathematical practice to be solved.