Ernst Cassirer’s Transcendental Account of Mathematical Reasoning – Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A – article

Ernst Cassirer’s Transcendental Account of Mathematical Reasoning

Francesca Biagioli | Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A

2019-10-15

Cassirer’s philosophical agenda revolved around what appears to be a paradoxical goal, that is, to reconcile the Kantian explanation of the possibility of knowledge with the conceptual changes of nineteenth and early twentieth-century science. This paper offers a new discussion of one way in which this paradox manifests itself in Cassirer’s philosophy of mathematics. Cassirer articulated a unitary perspective on mathematics as an investigation of structures independently of the nature of individual objects making up those structures. However, this posed the problem of how to account for the applicability of mathematical concepts to empirical reality. My suggestion is that Cassirer was able to address this problem by giving a transcendental account of mathematical reasoning, according to which the very formation of mathematical concepts provides an explanation of the extensibility of mathematical knowledge. In order to spell out what this argument entails, the first part of the paper considers how Cassirer positioned himself within the Marburg neo-Kantian debate over intellectual and sensible conditions of knowledge in 1902–1910. The second part compares what Cassirer says about mathematics in 1910 with some relevant examples of how structural procedures developed in nineteenth-century mathematics.

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