Platonism vs. Formalism

Here is the link to my presentation on mathematical platonism vs. formalism.

What do you make of the term ‘a useful fiction’? To which AOK(s) do you think this idea may also apply?

‘A useful fiction’ is definitely not an oxymoron. Just because something is fictitious does not necessarily mean that it is not useful. For example, mathematical knowledge is based on axioms, which are logical assumptions upon which all other deductions are based. For this reason it could be argued that mathematical knowledge is a form of fiction. But it is obvious that, despite being based on axioms, math is useful both in our daily lives and in various professional fields. A professional in a field like engineering, physics, finance, or data encryption would use math on a daily basis, but so would an average shopper at a grocery store. The practicality of math perhaps stems from the fact that the axioms were first defined in an intuitive way, naturally lending themselves to applications in real life.

The idea of ‘a useful fiction’ is not limited to just mathematics – I think it could also be applied to religious knowledge systems. As an atheist I do not believe in the existence of a God due to a lack of empirical evidence. I do feel, however that religion could have a number of positive benefits on the believer and understand why many people may turn to religion for reasons other than being certain of the existence of a God. Some people, for example, find religion to be a source of catharsis for them during stressful periods, despite being uncertain of whether a God actually exists. I personally know a few Buddhists who turned to their religion for the sole purpose of finding inner peace and calm, which I can empathise with even though I may not necessarily do the same if I were in their position. Similarly, indigenous knowledge may not be the most scientifically rigorous form of knowledge, but people who possess a lot of it can gain status in their community and be recognised for their grasp of a very specialised kind of knowledge.

In summary, an area of knowledge containing fictitious elements does not preclude it from being useful for the knower.

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