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In the philosophy of mathematics, intuitionism, or neointuitionism (opposed to preintuitionism), is an approach to mathematics as the constructive mental activity of humans. That is, mathematics does not consist of analytic activities wherein deep properties of existence are revealed and applied. Instead, logic and mathematics are the application of internally consistent methods to realize more complex mental constructs.


Truth and proof

The fundamental distinguishing characteristic of intuitionism is its interpretation of what it means for a mathematical statement to be true. As the name suggests, in Brouwer's original intuitionism, the truth of a statement is taken to be equivalent to the mathematician being able to intuit the statement. The vagueness of the intuitionistic notion of truth often leads to misinterpretations about its meaning. Kleene formally defined intuitionistic truth from a realist position, yet Brouwer would likely reject this formalization as meaningless, given his rejection of the realist/Platonist position. Intuitionistic truth therefore remains somewhat ill defined. Regardless of how it is interpreted, intuitionism does not equate the truth of a mathematical statement with its provability. However, because the intuitionistic notion of truth is more restrictive than that of classical mathematics, the intuitionist must reject some assumptions of classical logic to ensure that everything he/she proves is in fact intuitionistically true. This gives rise to intuitionistic logic.

To an intuitionist, the claim that an object with certain properties exists is a claim that an object with those properties can be constructed. Any mathematical object is considered to be a product of a construction of a mind, and therefore, the existence of an object is equivalent to the possibility of its construction. This contrasts with the classical approach, which states that the existence of an entity can be proved by refuting its non-existence. For the intuitionist, this is not valid; the refutation of the non-existence does not mean that it is possible to find a constructive proof of existence. As such, intuitionism is a variety of mathematical constructivism; but it is not the only kind.

As well, to say A or B, to an intuitionist, is to claim that either A or B can be proved. In particular, the law of excluded middle, A or not A, is disallowed since one can construct, via Gödel's incompleteness theorems, a mathematical statement that can be neither proven nor disproved.

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