De Re and De Dicto Knowledge of Mathematical Statements

Marianna Antonutti

In this talk, I will apply the de re/de dicto distinction to the analysis of mathematical statements and knowledge claims in mathematics. A proof will be said to provide de dicto knowledge of a mathematical statement if it provides knowledge of a purely existential statement, and to provide de re knowledge when it carries additional information concerning the identity criteria for the objects that are proven to exist. I will examine two case studies, one from abstract algebra and one from discrete mathematics, and I will suggest that reverse mathematics can help measuring the ‘de re content’ of two different proofs of the same theorem, and that the de re/de dicto distinction introduced here lines up with certain model theoretic properties of subsystems of second order arithmetic, such as the existence of certain kinds of minimal model. Furthermore, I will argue that there are good reasons not to identify the de re content of a proof with its constructive content nor with its predicative content.