Ground and Explanation in MathematicsSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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This paper explores whether there is any relation between mathematical proofs that specify the grounds of the theorem being proved and mathematical proofs that explain why the theorem obtains. The paper argues that a mathematical fact’s grounds do not, simply by virtue of grounding it, thereby explain why that fact obtains. It argues that oftentimes, a proof specifying a mathematical fact’s grounds fails to explain why that fact obtains whereas any explanation of the fact does not specify its ground. The paper offers several examples from mathematical practice to illustrate these points. These examples suggest several reasons why explaining and grounding tend to come apart, including that explanatory proofs need not exhibit purity, tend not to be brute force, and often unify separate cases by identifying common reasons behind them even when those cases have distinct grounds. The paper sketches an account of what makes a proof explanatory and uses that account to defend the morals drawn from the examples already given.