The Formulation and Justification of Mathematical
Definitions Illustrated By Deterministic Chaos.
The general theme of this article is the actual practice of how definitions are justified and formulated in mathematics. The theoretical insights of this article are based on a case study of topological definitions of chaos. After introducing this case study, I identify the three kinds of justification which are important for topological definitions of chaos: natural-world-justification, condition-justification and redundancy-justification. To my knowledge, the latter two have not been identified before. I argue that these three kinds of justification are widespread in mathematics. After that, I first discuss the state of the art in the literature about the justification of definitions in the light of actual mathematical practice. I then go on to criticize Lakatos’s account of proof-generated definitions—the main account in the literature on this issue—as being limited and also misguided: as for topological definitions of chaos, in nearly all mathematical fields various kinds of justification are found and are also reasonable.
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