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Andersen, Line Edslev, Hanne Andersen, Kragh Sørensen, Henrik. The Role of Testimony in Mathematics
2021, Synthese, 199(1): 859-870.
Added by: Fenner Stanley Tanswell
Abstract:
Mathematicians appear to have quite high standards for when they will rely on testimony. Many mathematicians require that a number of experts testify that they have checked the proof of a result p before they will rely on p in their own proofs without checking the proof of p. We examine why this is. We argue that for each expert who testifies that she has checked the proof of p and found no errors, the likelihood that the proof contains no substantial errors increases because different experts will validate the proof in different ways depending on their background knowledge and individual preferences. If this is correct, there is much to be gained for a mathematician from requiring that a number of experts have checked the proof of p before she will rely on p in her own proofs without checking the proof of p. In this way a mathematician can protect her own work and the work of others from errors. Our argument thus provides an explanation for mathematicians’ attitude towards relying on testimony.

Comment (from this Blueprint): The orthodox picture of mathematical knowledge is so individualistic that it often leaves out the mathematician themselves. In this piece, Andersen et al. look at what role testimony plays in mathematical knowledge. They thereby emphasise social features of mathematical proofs, and why this can play an important role in deciding which results to trust in the maths literature.

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