[FOM] Profound flexibility

Hartley Slater slaterbh at cyllene.uwa.edu.au
Thu Oct 16 21:26:25 EDT 2003

Arnon Avron gets into a tangle (FOM Digest Vol 10 Issue 24):

>I had stated it clearly that I  dont attach
>much importance to the question what are the Natural numbers ...
>  I do like von Neumann's answer, but I would not
>mind other suggestions (or no answer at all).
>  The only question is: why are they
>bothering the people on this list who are really interested in the foundations

There is clearly some conflict in Avron's mind if he can be 
interested in the Foundations of Mathematics but not attach much 
importance to what Natural Numbers are.

But I pick up of more general concern his mentioning of 'liking von 
Neumann's answer'.  This kind of language also arises much more 
widely, of course, and there were similar references to what people 
like in Harvey Freidman's first posting under this head; indeed they 
were crucial, as the heading itself witnesses.  The underlying belief 
is that there is no right answer, but more to the point is the reason 
why many people want there to be some freedom in the matter, since it 
is that which relates to why there is a need to 'bother' people about 
these issues.   The danger is that the mathematics people like to do 
might be just recreational.

Maybe Aaron has tenure, or a private income, so he does not have to 
justify what he likes to do to anybody, but more regularly there are 
research funding bodies to convince, and times have changed from when 
tenure was so easily available, and aristocratic lifestyles were 
common.   Von Neumann's answer is wrong (remember the word 'wrong'?).
Barry Hartley Slater
Honorary Senior Research Fellow
Philosophy, M207 School of Humanities
University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Highway
Crawley WA 6009, Australia
Ph: (08) 9380 1246 (W), 9386 4812 (H)
Fax: (08) 9380 1057
Url: http://www.arts.uwa.edu.au/PhilosWWW/Staff/slater.html

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