## Should Philosophy Seek Help from Mathematics?

• 7.5k
I was on this other thread on antinatalism and despite it being the hot topic for about 4 weeks with many participants, no resolution is in sight.

Then it dawned on me that if we mathematize the problem we can settle the matter once and for all. One questions we can formulate to aid us on the issue:

1. What is the probability, given the givens, of the child you're planning on having will find life worth it? If the probability is < 50%, you should refrain from having this child and if the probability is > 50%, go ahead, birth the child.

Generalizing from the above:

2. What are the chances that a baby, any baby, will find life worth it? The same logic applies in this case too but notice we can make the case for natalism/antinatalism depending on the results of the calculations.

At the very least we've established the utility of probability in philosophy; other subdisciplines of math may also aid in finding solutions to different philosophical problems.
1. Should philosophers ask mathematicians for help? (12 votes)
Yes
17%
No
83%
• 1.3k

Using probabilities and statistics in any framework of thought, philosophical or other, is not mathematizing. Probabilities and statistics are used everywhere and concern almost everything, in every bit and corner in life. (As besides is Math, in general.) Probabilities, in particular, are part of logic, and logic, although a basic element in Philosophy, it is not and exclusivity of or copyrighted by it. It is used in all kinds of arguments, descriptions, positions, solutions, explanations, proofs, and so forth, by people from all walks of life.
• 848

To ask this question for this topic is misplaced. Antinatalism is an ethics argument. As such, argumentation in the form of statements and reasoning will suffice. I think you mean to say that we need to provide mathematical proof to win this argument. No. If anything, that's a charlatan's way of weasling itself into making a point, but really it's just hiding behind numbers because they couldn't articulate their argument properly.

Why not point out the idea that this issue could not be won?
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Using probabilities and statistics in any framework of thought, philosophical or other, is not mathematizing.

Could you explain what you mean here? Aren't probabilities and statistics mathematical?
• 2.7k
Mathematics once had a direct and unambiguous relationship with philosophy, Pythagoras, Euclid, Plato (Let No One Ignorant of Geometry Enter Here). Back then, there was not much of a distinction between philosophy and anything else that could be studied rationally.

Today, the relationship is much more strained. Perhaps there are things of interest in the philosophy of math. But, outside of extremely broad and general questions, which are of little interest to most mathematicians I'd imagine, I think this topic won't lead to much.
• 2.4k
What is the probability, given the givens, of the child you're planning on having will find life worth it?

Not really using math, just guesstimating probabilities. In any event, the idea is dreadful. :roll:
• 7.5k
Pardon?

Continuing with the example of antinatalism, why would you not mathematize the problem? The issue is by and large about uncertainty, just what the mathematics of probability was invented to deal with.

For antinatalists, all that needs to be done is prove/demonstrate that any random child has a high likelihood of a miserable existence. The exact same thing is required of natalists as well - show that a happy life is more probable than a sad one.

:chin: If uncertainty is key to an issue as it is in antinatalism vs. natalism, probability is just what the doctor ordered, oui monsieur?

the idea is dreadful.

Why? See my replies to other posters $\uparrow$.
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Aren't probabilities and statistics mathematical?
Of course they are. Simple arithmetic is too. I didn't say they aren't. I said "Using probabilities and statistics in any framework of thought, philosophical or other, is not mathematizing." So, you should most probably check the meaning of the word "mathematize".
It's one thing to use use probabilities in discussing a subject and another thing to consider or treat a subject as a mathematical one (i.e, "mathematize" it.) Because then, all mathematical questions and problems could be considered also as philosophical ones!
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The issue is by and large about uncertainty, just what the mathematics of probability was invented to deal with.
Uncertainty refers to something that is not certain, i.e. not known or definite and not to be relied on. Where does Math come in this? Even if we attach numbers to uncertainly, e.g; 1/3, 50%, etc., this would not be enough for qualifying a subject as a mathematical one. Probability, chances, certaintly, uncertainty, and so forth may be terms used in Math of probabilities, but also in all kinds of fields or areas, including everyday language.

And, BTW, asking "What are the chances that a baby, any baby, will find life worth it?" that you mentioned as an example, is not only far from being a mathematical one but it also has no meaning, because what is the criterion for life to be considered worthy or not? This is totally subjective/personal. One can only ask this question to himself, based on the criteria one has regarding a worthy life. And that could be qualified as a philosophical question.
Then, what is the acceptable smallest percentage of chances for a baby not to have a worthy life --based on whatever criteria-- that one is willing to accept in deciding to have a baby oir not? Some decide not to have a baby based on the idea that the slightest chance for their baby not having a worthy life is enough. Other may put that to 50% and other --the vast majority-- do not consider such a question at all in their decision to have a baby!

No, there's absolutely no mathematics in any of that! :smile:
• 7.5k
Uncertainty refers to something that is not certain, i.e. not known or definite and not to be relied on. Where does Math come in this? Even if we attach numbers to uncertainly, e.g; 1/3, 50%, etc., this would not be enough for qualifying a subject as a mathematical one. Probability, chances, certaintly, uncertainty, and so forth may be terms used in Math of probabilities, but also in all kinds of fields or areas, including everyday language.

Well, uncertainty can be quantified and that's mathematical probability. So we begin with doubt/uncertainty; e.g. it's possible that the world is a simulation. We then bring math to bear on the issue and, after the relevant calculations, we arrive at a better answer viz. the probability that the world is a simulation is x%.
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An attempt at explainin' how math can help make the case for antinatalism.

On average, poor people have larger families than rich folks. Suppose the ratio is 9 poor babies : 1 rich baby.

The probability that anyone will be born poor = $\frac{9}{10}$ = 90%.

The probability that you'll be born rich = $\frac{1}{10}$ = 10%.

Once we have concrete numbers like 90% and 10%, we can use 'em to make rational choices/decisions.
• 10.4k
Of course they are. Simple arithmetic is too. I didn't say they aren't. I said "Using probabilities and statistics in any framework of thought, philosophical or other, is not mathematizing." So, you should most probably check the meaning of the word "mathematize".
It's one thing to use use probabilities in discussing a subject and another thing to consider or treat a subject as a mathematical one (i.e, "mathematize" it.) Because then, all mathematical questions and problems could be considered also as philosophical ones!

So if using mathematics in a field of study does not constitute mathematizing it, then what does? Is physics mathematized? Is music mathematized?
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So if using mathematics in a field of study does not constitute mathematizing it, then what does?
You still didn't look up the term "mathematize", did you?
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So if using mathematics in a field of study does not constitute mathematizing it, then what does? Is physics mathematized? Is music mathematized?

Yes, I agree, although using simple percentages is near the lower bound of the definition. At this intellectual level grocery shopping might be, "Well, one can is $2, so two cans will be$4".
• 10.4k

It means to treat mathematically. So, I would assume that using mathematics in a field of study constitutes mathematizing.
At this intellectual level grocery shopping might be, "Well, one can is $2, so two cans will be$4".

I think it depends on how you do your shopping. Many people figure the price per 100 grams, or oz., and stuff like that, to compare pricing, which requires mathematical thinking. But if you go into the store with a list of products and already know the brand and sizes of containers you will get, there is no mathematizing involved. They even add everything up for you, and all you do is put your card in and accept the charges.
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Some people could get carried away with overthinking about which is heavier -- a kilo of cotton balls or a kilo of rocks!
• 7.5k
which is heavier denser -- a kilo of cotton balls or a kilo of rocks! — L'éléphant
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Mathematize

/ˈmaθ(ə)mətʌɪz/

verb

regard or treat (a subject or problem) in mathematical terms.

"Keynes resisted attempts to be overprecise and mathematize his insights"
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Actually, philosophy should seek help wherever it can be found. :meh:
• 7.5k
Actually, philosophy should seek help wherever it can be found. :meh:

:up: Yep, and math has proven itself as the master key of sorts, unlocking doors to rooms in the house of wisdom that were previously out of bounds.
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It means to treat mathematically
Right. Which is totally different than just use Math/Arithmetic/Probability terms which I have already pointed out. Just using words like multiply/divide, constant, cube, diameter, probable/improbable, 50% chances or one in two cases, average, and so on is not mathematizing.
When people utter common phrases like "Life is not fair", "Humans are intelligent beings", etc., this doesn't mean that they are philosophizing. Most probably they are not able to expand or explain or argue on those statements in a (standard) philosophical way.
• 10.4k
Actually, philosophy should seek help wherever it can be found. :meh:

isn't that really what philosophy is, an act of seeking help.?

Right. Which is totally different than just use Math/Arithmetic/Probability terms which I have already pointed out.

No I don't see the difference you are claiming. To use math is to apply mathematics. And to apply mathematics is to treat the thing which you apply mathematics to, mathematically. Therefore to use math is to mathematize the thing you apply it to.

When people utter common phrases like "Life is not fair", "Humans are intelligent beings", etc., this doesn't mean that they are philosophizing.

Unless they are just parroting (repeating what was heard without understanding), then they are philosophizing when they use such phrases. But people always need some understanding when they apply mathematics, so they cannot be just repeating without understanding.
• 2.2k
Mathematics once had a direct and unambiguous relationship with philosophy, Pythagoras, Euclid, Plato (Let No One Ignorant of Geometry Enter Here). Back then, there was not much of a distinction between philosophy and anything else that could be studied rationally.

Today, the relationship is much more strained. Perhaps there are things of interest in the philosophy of math. But, outside of extremely broad and general questions, which are of little interest to most mathematicians I'd imagine, I think this topic won't lead to much.

Without math how do we have a good understanding of reality such as the many ways to use pi and if we do not have a good understanding of reality, how can we have good philosophy? I have skipped over a few threads because the complete lack of an understanding of math means nothing is being said that interest me.

The constant π helps us understand our universe with greater clarity. The definition of π inspired a new notion of the measurement of angles, a new unit of measurement. This important angle measure is known as “radian measure” and gave rise to many important insights in our physical world.

Pi: The Most Important Number in the Universe?
• 1.3k
To use math is to apply mathematics. A
There's a big difference between using and applying in this context. Using a screwdriver or a key is not applying mechanics! Using multiplication or division is not applying mathematics. Both Mechanics and Mathematics are sciences containing laws, theorems, axioms, and othe theory as well as applications. So applying mechanics or math means taking such laws, theorems, axioms, and other theory into consideration. A boy can fly a toy airplane without having the slightest idea about and aerodynamics, and yet he uses aerodynamics without knowning what that is. And I can use a car without knowing and/or applying knowingly any elements of car mechanics.
I hope that all this makes the difference between using and applying in the context of Mathematics, as it is layout in this topic.

That's all for me. I won't come back on this issue.
• 2.4k
To use math is to apply mathematics. And to apply mathematics is to treat the thing which you apply mathematics to, mathematically. Therefore to use math is to mathematize the thing you apply it to.

See why I love this forum? :cool:
• 2.7k

I mean, Pi and mathematical formulas belong to mathematics. Applied math, the kind the gives us theories, usually belong to physics.
• 2.4k
Applied math, the kind the gives us theories, usually belong to physics.

Sorry to be picky, but applied math goes beyond physics. Physics, in fact, almost has its own math.
• 2.7k

Not at all, thank you for the correction.

Quick question, for my benefit: does this applied math give us insight into the nature of the world?
• 2.4k
Quick question, for my benefit: does this applied math give us insight into the nature of the world?

Quick answer: insomuch as there are existing patterns in the world that we identify and attempt to codify with mathematics. But applied math can go any number of directions, like computing the stresses on bridges, calculating the orbit of a satellite, building the pyramids, etc. :cool: Sometimes pure math finds surprising applications, like a result of mine from 1991 that was recently used in a paper on decision making in group environments.
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like a result of mine from 1991 that was recently used in a paper on decision making in group environments.

Very cool. Congrats man, well deserved! :clap:
• 10.4k
There's a big difference between using and applying in this context. Using a screwdriver or a key is not applying mechanics!

Of course using a screwdriver is not applying mechanics. But using a screw driver is applying a screw driver, just like using mathematics is applying mathematics. In the context of mathematics, there is no difference between using and applying.

Using multiplication or division is not applying mathematics

But it is, because multiplication and division are branches of mathematics. So apply multiplication is applying mathematics.

So applying mechanics or math means taking such laws, theorems, axioms, and other theory into consideration.

To apply multiplication requires taking the laws of multiplication into consideration. It does not require taking the many other laws of mathematics into consideration. But to apply mathematics doesn't require that one knows all the laws of mathematics.

A boy can fly a toy airplane without having the slightest idea about and aerodynamics, and yet he uses aerodynamics without knowning what that is. And I can use a car without knowing and/or applying knowingly any elements of car mechanics.

The boy in this example is not using aerodynamics, the boy is using the airplane. The person who made the airplane used aerodynamics, or maybe just copied another one. When you drive a car you are using the car, you are not using car mechanics.
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