Mathematical rigor, proof gap and the validity of mathematical inference
Mathematical rigor is commonly formulated by mathematicians and philosophers using the notion of proof gap: a mathematical proof is rigorous when there is no gap in the mathematical reasoning of the proof. Any philosophical approach to mathematical rigor along this line requires then an account of what a proof gap is. However, the notion of proof gap makes sense only relatively to a given conception of valid mathematical reasoning, i.e., to a given conception of the validity of mathematical inference. A proof gap can in particular be conceived as a failure in drawing a valid mathematical inference. The aim of this paper is to discuss two possible views of the validity of mathematical inference with respect to their capacity to yield a plausible account of the intuitive notion(s) of proof gap present in mathematical practice. The first view is the one provided by the contemporary standards of mathematical rigor: a mathematical inference is valid if and only if its conclusion can be formally derived from its premises. We will argue that this conception does not lead to a plausible account of the intuitive notion(s) of proof gap. The second view is based on a new account of the validity of inference proposed by Prawitz: an inference is valid if and only if it consists in an operation that provides a ground for its conclusion given (previously obtained) grounds for its premises. We will first specify Prawitz's account to mathematical inference and we will then argue that the resulting ground-based account is able to capture various intuitive notions of proof gap as different types of failure in drawing valid mathematical inferences. We conclude that the ground-based account appears of particular interest for the philosophy of mathematical practice, and we finally raise several challenges facing a full development of a ground-based account of the notions of mathematical rigor, proof gap and the validity of mathematical inference.
Hamami, Y. (2014). Mathematical rigor, proof gap and the validity of mathematical inference. Philosophia Scientiae 18 (1), pp. 7-26.
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