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Elaine M. Landry

Education

  • Ph.D., Philosophy, University of Western Ontario, 1998
  • M.T.M., Master in Teaching Mathematics, Concordia University, 1992
  • B.A., Mathematics and Philosophy, Concordia University, 1990 (Double Major with Distinction)

About

I am Canadian. I grew up in Chateauguay and moved to Montreal to attend Dawson CEGEP in the Pure and Applied Science programme. But, as all CEGEP students must, I took four philosophy courses and was hooked by the level of rigorous argumentation. I was also intrigued by philosophers’ whose analyses were motivated by mathematical considerations, e.g., Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, Galileo, Russell, etc. I then began my undergraduate degree as a mathematics major at Concordia University in Montreal. But I missed philosophy. So I opted for a double major in both mathematics and philosophy. As I neared the end of my BA, I knew I wanted to do a graduate degree but constantly wavered between mathematics and philosophy. Given my deep commitment to teaching, I opted for the Masters in the Teaching of Mathematics (MTM), also at Concordia University. My MTM thesis looked to the history and philosophy of the concept of infinity, from Aristotle to Russell, to investigate the extent to which various philosophical objections to taking infinity as a completed totality could be used as teaching episodes in overcoming obstacles that mathematics majors had with understanding set-theoretic concepts and proofs. While researching my thesis, I read Michael Hallett’s awesome book, Cantorian Set Theory and the Limitation of Size, and discovered that I needn’t chose between mathematics and philosophy – there was an entire area of research in philosophy of mathematics! Having completed my MTM, I began my PhD studies in the philosophy of science programme at the University of Western Ontario. After surviving the intense learning curve of my first two years of course work, I began work on my thesis under the supervision of John Bell, a noted category-theorist. Inspired by the research of Hallett, I had initially wanted to work on Hilbert’s account of mathematical structuralism, but was persuaded to work on using category theory to frame a version of mathematical structuralism, wherein, as a nod to Hilbert, the category axioms are taken as implicit definitions. Three years later, after much sweat and tears, my PhD thesis was completed. My research with category theory was further enhanced by a postdoc in the Philosophy Department at McGill University, where I was able to enjoy fruitful discussions with Michael Hallett and attend the many category theory talks, seminars, etc., in the Mathematics Department. Next, I was off to Oxford for yet another postdoc. I continued to work on structuralism in mathematics, but also turned to consider structuralism in science and its relation to structural realist arguments in philosophy of physics. Just as I accepted the postdoc at Oxford, I was excited to be offered a tenure-track job at the University of Calgary, where I remained for seven years. During this time I developed my methodological version of structural realism and made further use of this methodological stance to begin my research on Plato’s philosophy of mathematics. In 2008, my partner Aldo Antonelli, were thrilled to solve our “two body problem” by accepting positions at the University of California, Davis.

Research Focus

My research spans three broad areas: history and philosophy of mathematics, history and philosophy of science, and Plato’s philosophy of mathematics. The common thread that weaves through each is realism, both mathematical and scientific. Realism is the philosophical position that objects exists independently of us and they fix the truth of statements about them.

My work in philosophy of mathematics uses category-theory to frame a version of mathematical structuralism that is then used to argue that mathematical realism (typically called Platonism) is philosophically tenable. In contrast to my stance against mathematical realism, I do believe that there are good structural realist reasons for being a scientific realist. But I also believe that this claim ought to be taken as a claim about methodology, as opposed to being taken as a claim about ontology or epistemology. Interestingly, this methodological position finds its roots in my investigations of the writings of Plato. Indeed, my most recent research argues that even Plato himself, was not a mathematical Platonist.

My overall objective, in all three broad areas of research, is to inform current debates by showing that, from a methodological standpoint, we do not have to reify either objects or structures. 

Selected Publications

  • Landry, E. M. (2013) The genetic versus the axiomatic method: Responding the Feferman 1977, Review of Symbolic Logic, Volume 6 (1), Special Issue on Feferman’s 1977 Paper, Landry, E., Guest Editor, pp. 24-50.
  • Landry, E. M. (2012) Methodological structural realism, in Structural Realism: Structure, Objects and Causality, Western Ontario Series for Philosophy of Science, Reidel, Landry, E., and Rickles, D., (Eds.), pp. 29-59.
  • Landry, E. M. (2012) Recollection and the mathematician’s method in Plato’s Meno, Philosophia Mathematica, Volume 20 (2), Special Issue on Plato’s Mathematical Methodology, pp. 143-169.
  • Landry, E. M. (2011) How to be a structuralist all the way down, Synthese, 179 pp. 435-454.
  • Landry, E. M. (2007) Shared structure need not be shared set-structure, Synthese 158, pp. 1-17.
  • Landry, E. M. (2006) Scientific structuralism: Presentation and representation (co-author Katherine Brading), Philosophy of Science, 73 (5), 2006, pp. 571-581.
  •  Landry, E. M. (2005) Categories in context: Historical, foundational and philosophical (co-author Jean- Pierre Marquis), Philosophia Mathematica, Volume, 13 (1), pp. 1- 43. 

Teaching

My teaching, as my research, spans three areas: history and philosophy of mathematics, history and philosophy of science, and Plato’s philosophy of mathematics. I teach undergraduate courses in logic, history and philosophy of mathematics and history and philosophy of science. My graduate seminars focus on structuralism in philosophy of mathematics and philosophy of science; with special interest on recent structural realist arguments in philosophy of physics. These courses, as do my graduate seminars on Plato’s philosophy of mathematics, consider the interplay between metaphysics and methodology.

Awards

  • 2014 – 2015, FBF France-Berkeley Fund
  • 2007, SSHRC International Opportunities Fund Grant, University of Calgary
  • 2004 – 2010, CIHR Research Collaborator (+2 year HPS Postdoctoral Fellowship)
  • 2003 – 2006, SSHRC Standard Research Grant, University of Calgary
  • 2000 – 2001, SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Scholarship, Oxford University
  • 1998 – 2000, FCAR Postdoctoral Research Scholarship, McGill University