The issue of what constitutes a valid logical inference is a difficult question. At a minimum, we believe a permissible step in a proof must provide the reader with rational grounds to believe that the new step is a logically necessary consequence of previous assertions. However, this begs the question of what constitutes these rational grounds. Formalist accounts typically describe valid rules of inferences as those that can be found by applying one of the explicit rules of inference in the for…
Read moreThe issue of what constitutes a valid logical inference is a difficult question. At a minimum, we believe a permissible step in a proof must provide the reader with rational grounds to believe that the new step is a logically necessary consequence of previous assertions. However, this begs the question of what constitutes these rational grounds. Formalist accounts typically describe valid rules of inferences as those that can be found by applying one of the explicit rules of inference in the formal system in which the proof is couched. However, philosophers of mathematics find such a description unhelpful because many inferences in the proofs that mathematicians actually produce cannot be expressed in a formal language, at least not without seriously distorting the semantic content of the inference (e.g., Larvor, 2012).
In this chapter, we investigate mathematicians’ perceptions of a particular kind of inference in a particular setting. Specifically, we shed light on what types of graphical inferences mathematicians find permissible in a real analysis proof. Following Larvor (in press), we examine mathematicians’ reactions to metrical graphical inferences (i.e., inferences whose validity depends on the accuracy of the graph that was drawn and whose validity can be changed by minor deformations) and nonmetrical graphical inferences (i.e., inferences whose validity does not depend on a the accuracy of the graph and whose validity is not vulnerable to local deformations). The goal of this chapter is threefold. First, we demonstrate that most mathematicians reject metrical graphical inferences as impermissible in a real analysis proof. Second, we show that many mathematicians regard nonmetrical graphical inferences as permissible in a real analysis proofs. Third, we illustrate how mathematicians collectively disagree on the permissibility of nonmetrical inferences.