No one I've talked to is really sure what's going on. Especially me. But here's my current best guess. Maybe the magic powers of saying something wrong on the internet will help us work our way incrementally to a better interpretation.
1. Abstract objects defined + generic worries about them
Mathematical objects would be abstract objects = acausal, not located in space and time.
Worry: They aren't perceptable, if perceiving something requires locating it. Maybe this suggests there are no such things?
- electrons don't seem to be directly perceptable either, but they exist
- if we say that mathematical objects don't exist then we will have to explain why talking as if they did is so helpful for science.
- it's not clear whether we can avoid quantifying over abstract objects, hence (if we accept Quine's criterion) saying that they do exist.
2-3 What is an object?
It's hard to answer the question 'what is an object?' since unlike with gorillas we can't point out a contrast class of things that aren't objects.
the right answer: logical role
Philosophers usually ask 'what's an object?' in the context of trying to figure out how language can relate to the world - how we can talk about objects. For these purposes we can define being an object in terms of logical role: objects are what we talk about by using singular terms (e.g. 'Bob' in Bob is happy= Happy(Bob)) and quantification (e.g. 'Ex x happy').
other conceptions of objects/requirements philosophers have had for objects...
i. actuality/causal powers
Digression about Kant: general notion of object vs. "Wirklichkeit"
Kant invented the phrase 'concept of an object in general'. Kant's "categories" are concepts of an object in general. He is conflicted about whether these categories have to be perceivable by the senses [and hence whether "the concept of an object in general" would allow abstract objects?]
a) the categories are supposed to be derivable from logic and general considerations that don't take into account anything specific about the kind of object involved.
b) applying the categories is only supposed to generate knowledge when combined with stuff from the senses (namely: " the manifold given in sensory intuition")
Kant and Frege seem to have a notion of the actual = "wirklich" which only applies to objects you can causally interact with
Kant clearly accepts mathematical objects in some sense, but it's not clear whether he somehow thinks they are merely possible.
Idea: Many people find abstract objects spooky because they assume that they would have to be Wirklich, or something like it. The merely logical conception of object above doesn't require any such thing. So maybe mathematical objects exist in the logical sense i.e. we can state truths using singular terms for them and using quantifiers, but they are somehow not Wirklich.
You use intuition to discover whether things could fall under it. [presumably round square would be an example of a putative concept that doesn't pass this test.]
geometric figures = forms of empirical objects
We can learn about them using intuition.
Perhaps it's an requirement that all objects are 'intuitable'?
We will use intuition to mean a kind of perception that could apply to physical objects or abstract objects. We can distinguish
- having an intuition of an object, like perceiving an object (e.g. 'I intuit the equilateral triangle')
- having an intuition that some proposition about the object holds (e.g. 'I intuit that the interior angles of the equilateral triangle add up to 180')
-Should we require that one can have intuition *of* the object, rather than merely intuiting some suitable proposition about it? (call this strong intuitability) Or is it enough if you have an intuition of concrete objects that represent abstract objects, like the sequence of strokes Kant appeals to in his proof that 7+5=12? (call such a representation a quasi-concrete representation)
-On what sense does need to be possible to intuit something for that something to count as intuit*able*, and hence satisfy the requirement?
Idea cont. - Maybe mathematical objects are real in the logical sense, and intuitable, but not wirklich/causally effecations...
4. objecthood=having the logical role of an object
We will stick with Quine and Frege and say that the logical criterion (not wirklichkeit or intuitability) is all that's required for objecthood.
Some questions arise if you accept this definition of "object", about how to further spell out the view.
a) Which logic has the property that *its* singular terms and quantifiers correspond to objecthood? Maybe we should allow modal or other intentional notions, and if we do we will get different answers about what objects there are.
b) Maybe there are some entities which aren't objects? (i.e. maybe there's some important ontological category that's wider than objecthood - like some kind of meinogian being)
c) Maybe there are some objects which don't exist? (i.e. maybe there's some important ontological category that's narrower than objecthood - like fictional objects might be said to logically objects, but not really exist)
5-6 are about b and c respectively
7. Quasi-concrete objects
We will call abstract objects quasi concrete if they have a special relationship to certain concrete objects that 'represent' them e.g.
strings of letters --- inscriptions of strings of letters
sense qualities --- experiences of those sense qualities
shapes --- physical things that have that shape
We can look at the physical representatives, and keep in mind individuation criteria for the abstract objects. These individuation criteria say when two different concrete things 'represent' the same abstract one.
Some sets are quasi-concrete: sets with concrete ur-elements are represented by those ur-elements. But pure sets are not quasi concrete.
Overall Conclusion: mathematical objects exist in the logical sense, although they are not Wirklich, and although some of them are not intuitiable even in the weak sense allowed by looking at concrete objects that represent them.