A source of tension between Philosophers of Mathematics and Mathematicians is the fact that each group feels ignored by the other; daily mathematical practice seems barely affected by the questions the Philosophers are considering. In this talk I will describe an issue that does have an impact on mathematical practice, and a philosophical stance on mathematics that is detectable in the work of practising mathematicians. No doubt controversially, I will call this issue ‘morality’, but the term is not of my coining: there are mathematicians across the world who use the word ‘morally’ to great effect in private, and I propose that there should be a public theory of what they mean by this. The issue arises because proofs, despite being revered as the backbone of mathematical truth, often contribute very little to a mathematician’s understanding. ‘Moral’ considerations, however, contribute a great deal. I will first describe what these ‘moral’ considerations might be, and why mathematicians have appropriated the word ‘morality’ for this notion. However, not all mathematicians are concerned with such notions, and I will give a characterisation of ‘moralist’ mathematics and ‘moralist’ mathematicians, and discuss the development of ‘morality’ in individuals and in mathematics as a whole. Finally, I will propose a theory for standardising or universalising a system of mathematical morality, and discuss how this might help in the development of good mathematics.
Cheng, Eugenia. Mathematics, Morally
2004, Cambridge University Society for the Philosophy of Mathematics.
Added by: Fenner Stanley Tanswell
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Comment (from this Blueprint): Cheng is a mathematician working in Category Theory. In this article she complains about traditional philosophy of mathematics that it has no bearing on real mathematics. Instead, she proposes a system of “mathematical morality” about the normative intuitions mathematicians have about how it ought to be.